It was over the Sunday paper that I first learned that a forty-one-year-old man named Hamish Mactavish of Inverness, Scotland, was eating a bus.
The Sunday paper was a family thing at the Donaldson house. Mom and Dad dreamed it up as a weekly ceasefire in the war between me and my worst enemy on earth, that waste of bathroom tissue, my brother, Chase the Disgrace.
Chase and I are twins–not identical, that’s for sure. I can’t believe we once shared the same womb together. It’s all I can bear to be in the same town as the guy, let alone the same house, and three of the same classes. Mom said she experienced a lot of kicking during pregnancy. My theory is that all that action was me trying to strangle Chase with the umbilical cord. I’ve always been blessed with a good dose of common sense, although I’m not very smart in a schoolish way. Chase got all the academic ability–not to mention the athletic talent, good looks, popularity, and the bigger room, with a view of the mountains, not the garage.
Neither of us could have eaten a bus. That might be the only area Chase didn’t have it over me.
“I don’t understand why you two can’t make a better effort to get along,” our mother was always complaining.
Of course she didn’t understand. She was lucky enough to have been born an only child. She would never accept that we were natural enemies: Lion and antelope; Macintosh and IBM; matter and antimatter; Warren and Chase.
So naturally Chase jumped all over me when I found that tiny little story squeeze between brassiere ads in the wilds of page G27.
“Get out of here!” Chase scoffed. “It’s impossible to eat a bus!”
“It’s not impossible for Hamish Mactavish,” I told him. “He’s already half-done with the front fender. So there, pinhead.”
“Doofus,” Chase countered.
“Look who’s talking–”
“I’d like to know how he’s doing it,” my mother said quickly. “Surely the man can’t chew metal and glass.”
“I bet he’s just eating the body,” my father put in. “I mean, nobody could eat a differential.”
I held up the short article. “It says here that he cuts the chassis into bite-sized pieces with a hacksaw and swallows them whole. Then the natural acids of his stomach break them down.” I turned to Mom. “Can that happen?”
“Over time, I suppose so,” she replied dubiously. “This Mactavish fellow certainly must have a strong stomach.”
“Strong? He’s amazing!” I exclaimed. “I can’t believe this didn’t make the front page, with a big picture of Hamish Mactavish with what’s left of the bus. This guy should be famous!”
“Star of the insane asylum,” put in Chase.
I couldn’t wait for the six o’clock news. I was positive Hamish Mactavish was going to be the top story. Instead it was something boring about the president. The president! I mean, what had he ever eaten? Not so much as a rearview mirror!
Hamish Mactavish wasn’t the second story either. Or the third. In fact, he didn’t make the news at all. I figured they were waiting for the late-breaking developments to come in over the wire from Scotland. I switched over to CNN, and watched the entire broadcast.
I could hear Chase in the next room laughing at me over the phone on his nightly calls to eighty-five of his nearest and dearest friends. “Yeah, he’s been glued to the tube for three and a half hours! Man, talk about stupid…”
And when I went to bed that night, bug-eyed from staring at the TV, I still hadn’t heard a single solitary word about Hamish Mactavish.
Kevin Connolly and Amanda Pace were talking about last night’s Bulls game when I slipped into my seat next to them in social studies class.
“Michael Jordan was unbelievable!” Amanda raved. “He scored forty and still had enough rebounds and assists for a triple double.”
“Yeah,” I agreed. “That guy’s the Hamish Mactavish of basketball.”
“The who of basketball?” Kevin asked.
“Don’t tell me you’ve never heard of Hamish Mactavish!” I exclaimed in disbelief. “He’s only the top-ranked bus eater in the world today!”
“Bus eater?” echoed Amanda.
“He eats buses,” I explained. “At least, he’s eating one now.”
“How much money does he get?” inquired Kevin.
I stared at him. “How should I know?”
“It’s important,” argued Kevin, who wouldn’t even bother to breathe unless he was getting paid for it. “If I was going to eat a bus, I’d expect my agent to cut a monster deal, with a big signing bonus, and a six-figure payoff when I was done.”
“He’s not doing it for the money–” I began.
But how did I know that Hamish Mactavish wasn’t getting paid for his amazing feat? After all, a bus wasn’t an extra slice of pizza that you ate because you were too lazy to wrap it up and put it in the refrigerator. It wasn’t even like the time Chase swallowed a caterpillar to impress Leticia Hargrove so she’d like him and hate me. This was huge!
“Maybe some rich guy is offering a million dollars to anyone who can eat a bus,” Kevin speculated. “Or maybe the Scottish government is running out of dump space. They’d pay big bucks to get rid of out-of-use vehicles.”
“I think it’s more like the Olympics,” I told him. “You don’t get paid for the actual thing, but afterwards you clean up on endorsements.”
“What kind of endorsements?” Amanda asked dubiously.
“Stomach medicines,” I suggested. “Can’t you picture the TV commercial? ‘Hi, I’m Hamish Mactavish. If you think you get heartburn, you should see how much eating a bus can upset your stomach. So when a windshield wiper is giving me nausea, I reach for the instant relief of Gas-Away…’”
Kevin looked thoughtful. “I wonder what kind of contract he’d get for that.”
“Not as good as Michael Jordan,” mused Amanda.
“Don’t be so sure,” I put in. “I mean, there are hundreds of basketball players. But if you want a guy who can eat a bus, it’s Hamish Mactavish or nobody.”
I could tell this made a big impression on Kevin. “What a great negotiating position!” he remarked. “Does this Hamish guy need a manager?”
Amanda looked at me with a new respect. “You know, Warren, I never thought of it that way–” Suddenly she tuned me out.
I craned my neck to see what had captured her attention. She was looking at Chase the Disgrace. Chase never just walked into a room; he made an entrance, usually surrounded by a couple of his caveman buddies from the football team.
“What’s going on, Chase?”
“What’s happening, man?”
My brother slapped his way through the forest of high-fives until he was standing over me. “Are you still babbling about that bus-eating geek?”
The whole class burst out laughing. Not that his comment was so brilliant, or even hilarious. Most of the kids have never even heard of Hamish Mactavish and what he had set out to do. That’s just how it was with Chase. He was the big shot, the cool guy, the sports hero, Mr. Popularity. Everything that came out of my mouth was an automatic gem. The football jerks were practically in hysterics. They had to pound each other on the back just to keep from choking.
Most painful of all, Amanda was laughing too, and gazing worshipfully up at my brother’s slick grin.
I could feel the crimson bubbling up from my collar until it had taken total possession of my face. “He’s not a geek,” I muttered tight-lipped.
“Hi, Amanda.” The Disgrace shifted his attention to the desk next to mine. “We’re going to hit the mall after school. Feel like meeting us?”
If I was Hamish Mactavish’s son, maybe people in our school wouldn’t be so impressed by a big phony like Chase. I mean, Amanda practically bit off her tongue promising that right after school she’d run home and get her bike. But, then again, if I was a Mactavish kid, Chase would be, too. And he’d still be better than me at absolutely everything.
That really burned me up. Even in my own fantasy, I couldn’t get the best of Chase. In a rage, I stood up and threw my pen at him as he high-fived the rest of the way to his desk. The ballpoint whizzed past his shoulder and landed in the fish tank. Chase wheeled and bounced a pencil sharpener with deadly accuracy off my nose. Chase was also a star pitcher during baseball season.
“Let’s take it easy on the brotherly love today,” suggested Mr. Chin, as he set his briefcase on the desk. “Now, this morning I promised we’d talk about the oral presentations. This semester the subject will be your hero, or the person you admire most. It can be someone you know, or even a figure for history. Warren Donaldson–” Suddenly, the teacher’s sharp eyes were on me. “This will be fifty percent of your grade. I think you’d bother to take a few notes.”
Scattered snickers buzzed through the room. I snuck a look over at the bottom of the fish tank, where the algae eater was nuzzling my pen.
“That’s okay, Mr. Chin,” I announced. “I already know who my subject is going to be.”
It wasn’t easy doing research on Hamish Mactavish. There must have been some kind of media blackout over in Scotland. There was nothing about him in any of the papers, and the radio and TV news programs were all about senators, and murderers, and embezzlers, and people who got killed in sewer pipe explosions.
“When are you going to face facts?” Chase taunted me. “Nobody cares about Hamish What’s-his-face except you!” The doorbell rang. “Oh, that must be Amanda. We’re going to the mall.”
“The guys who built the mall didn’t spend as much time there as you two,” I snapped at him.
Amanda poked her head around the corner and waved. “Hi, Warren.”
I buried my face in my Hamish Mactavish scrapbook and pretended to be too busy to reply. In reality, I still had only the one tiny article from between the brassiere ads–with fifty percent of my social studies grade hanging in the balance.
Did I give up? Would Hamish Mactavish have given up? Never!
The computer database in our school library found another piece on Hamish Mactavish. Okay, it was from fourteen years ago, and I had to go to the public library to get it–not the branch library near where we lived, but the main building downtown. But I was psyched. Even the forty-five-minute train ride couldn’t dampen my enthusiasm. I had unearthed another piece of the puzzle that was Hamish Mactavish.
It took all four research librarians, including the chief, who was about ninety, to find what I was looking for. My hands were shaking as I opened the June 1983 issue of U.K. Adventurer magazine. It turned out that my Hamish Mactavish, then twenty-seven, became the toast of the British Isles when he ate a grand piano, bench and all. It was an awesome achievement, but, I now knew, just a training mission for bigger and better things to come.
I squinted at the small picture of Mr. Mactavish, who was posed with a napkin around his neck, and the final piano key in his mouth. He was a pretty weird-looking guy, with wild, almost bulging eyes, and a dazed expression. He was mostly bald, but several long strands of jet black hair hung down his forehead like jungle vines. He also seemed a little on the fat side, with rosy apple cheeks. I guess pianos are pretty high in calories.
Just looking at him, it came to me in a moment of perfect clarity: A guy like that would have to eat a bus if he expected to get any attention in this world! Especially if he had to compete with people like Chase.
The chief librarian gawked over my shoulder. “Good Lord, what kind of creature is that?”
“A role model,” I answered without hesitation.
“I don’t understand why you didn’t’ go to the mall with Chase and Amanda,” my mother nagged me.
I was absorbed in pasting the second article in my Hamish Mactavish scrapbook. “They didn’t want me,” I said without looking up.
She stared at me. “Yes, they did. They asked you to go!”
“They were lying.”
Mom shook her head. “What is the problem between you two?”
“We have irreconcilable differences,” I said stubbornly.
She folded her arms in front of her. “What irreconcilable differences?”
“We hate each other,” I told her. “You can’t get more irreconcilable than that.”
“Open your eyes, Warren,” she insisted. “Who put Vicks VapoRub in Chase’s toothpaste? Who poured ketchup on the cat the day Chase was trying out his new BB gun? Who called the police and reported the car stolen the day of the big tennis championship so we all got arrested, and Chase missed his match? Poor Chase doesn’t hate anybody! It’s you who have declared all-out war on your brother, who has never done anything to you!”
“He’s done something to me,” I shot back. “He’s done a lot of somethings to me. Every time Chase draws a breath it just points out how much more brains, talent, good looks, and athletic ability he has than I do. Compared to all that, I’d say I’m pretty innocent!”
At that moment, the side door flew open, and Chase bounded into the kitchen–in his underwear! “I’ll kill him!” he seethed.
Mom’s eyes bulged. “Where are your pants?”
I looked casually out the kitchen window. Chase’s bike leaned against the garage, with his jeans still attached to the seat. I struggled to contain the smile that was crystallizing inside of me. I had applied just the right amount of Krazy Glue.
Best of all, Amanda was nowhere to be seen.
“Good thing he took off his pants instead of ripping them,” Kevin said at school the next day. “Otherwise your parents would probably make you pay for a new pair.”
“It still would have been worth it,” I assured him. “You should’ve seen the look on his face. It was like the day he threw that big interception with three seconds to play.”
Loyal brother that I am, I’ve never missed one of Chase’s football games. Of course, I always sit in the Visitors bleachers and root for the other team. I can usually work the opposing fans into a pretty good chorus of:
He’s a disgrace!
Knock that ugly face
Into outer space!
My family spent a lot of time trying to figure out how all the other teams seemed to develop the same chant.
“Hi, Kevin.” Amanda slipped into her seat. She gave me a dirty look.
I know I should have been upset. But I just couldn’t shake the image of Chase riding up to the mall beside Amanda, and then trying to get off his bike. He had probably struggled a little–imperceptibly at first, then with increasing effort until his front tire was bouncing up and down on the pavement.
AMANDA: What’s wrong, Chase?”
CHASE: Uh… just checking the air in my tires… (more bouncing, becoming violent)
Kevin sensed the tension and decided to change the subject. “I’ve been thinking of some marketing angles for Hamish Mactavish. How about this: A coast-to-coast bus trip where he actually eats the bus in different cities as he goes along. He could roll into the L.A. Coliseum on just the motor and four wheels, and scarf down the chassis in front of fifty thousand screaming fans. I call it ‘The Hamish Mactavish Disappearing Bus Tour.’”
“It doesn’t work that way,” I replied. “He has to cut everything into small pieces and swallow it. It takes months.”
“Oh.” Kevin seemed disappointed. “Well, how about a TV miniseries, then? Or we could set up a hotline, 1-900-EAT-A-BUS, and charge people three bucks a minute to hear him talk about how–”
I didn’t catch the rest because my chair was yanked out from under me, sending me crashing to the floor. Rough hands grabbed me by the collar, and I was yanked to my feet by two of Chase’s football linemen. Hot breath from their bull nostrils too the curl out of my hair.
“Let him go,” muttered Chase.
“Come on, take a punch!” I egged him on. “I’d rather lose all my teeth than owe anything to the likes of you!”
“Don’t push your luck, Warren,” he warned as he took his seat, followed by his two goons.
I concentrated on Amanda. She was now staring at Chase with twice as much admiration and adoration as before I guess he’d been wearing his very best underwear yesterday. Unbelievable.
To make matters even worse, Mr. Chin was trying to get me to change my topic for the oral presentation.
“I know you’re disappointed, Warren,” the teacher told me. “But I really don’t see that there’s enough material available about the man for a whole term assignment.”
“I know that,” I defended myself. “That’s why I wrote Mr. Mactavish a letter. I’ll bet he can send me tons of information.”
Mr. Chin frowned. “How did you find his address?”
“Oh, I just put Inverness, Scotland, on the envelope,” I replied airily. “After all, how many Hamish Mactavishes could there be?”
“Mactavish is one of the most popular names in Scotland!” he exploded. “Hamish Mactavish is like being named Joe Smith over here!”
“Oh.” My face fell. “I just figured it was taking him a long time to get back to me because he was so busy, what with eating a bus and all.”
The teacher sighed. “There’s still time to choose a new topic. I think you’ll have no trouble finding someone a lot more admirable than a wild eccentric who’s doing something silly.”
I leaped to my feet, feeling the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end. “It’s not silly,” I protested. “Don’t you get it? Hamish Mactavish is a total loser. He’s fat, he’s ugly, he’s not too bright–if there’s anyone with a good excuse to throw in the towel in life, it’s him. But he didn’t! He found the one thing he can do that’s absolutely unique! Okay, it’s a crazy, stupid thing, but it’s his crazy, stupid thing, and nobody can touch him at it! And in a world where Hamish Mactavish can hit it big, none of us are ever hopeless!”
I sat down amidst the laughter and jeers. Spitballs and erasers bounced off of me. People were whistling inspirational music, and playing imaginary violins. In one short speech, I had cemented my position as the class joke. Even the teacher wore a big grin, although he was trying to hide it.
In fact, the only nonparticipant in this party at my expense was Chase, who sat staring straight forward, his expression inscrutable. Still mad over the Krazy Glue thing, I guess.
It was the night before the oral presentations were set to begin. All in all, a pretty ordinary night at our house except that Chase had wrangled the best spot on the couch, so I was crammed into the corner with a lousy view of the TV.
“…and finally,” the news anchor was saying, “the latest word from Inverness, Scotland, is that Hamish Mactavish has given up his bid to eat a bus. According to the forty-one-year-old Mactavish, he was having trouble digesting the tires.”
The sportscaster started to make some wisecrack, but I was already running for the stairs.
“Warren–” my father called.
I burst into my room and slammed the door. I couldn’t believe it was all over. Just like that. One minute something special, historic was going on, and I was part of it. The next I was nobody again.
I don’t know why I felt so betrayed. Hamish Mactavish didn’t owe me anything. Who was I to talk? I wouldn’t even eat broccoli, let alone seven tons of metal and glass and rubber.
There was a knock at my door. “Warren, open up.”
It wasn’t my folks. It was Chase the Disgrace, probably to rub salt in my wounds.
“Get lost,” I snarled.
“I’m really sorry, Warren,” Chase said from the hall. “I know how much Hamish What’s-his-name meant to you.”
“He’s a quitter!” I rasped.
“He made an amazing run,” Chase amended. “Nobody could have come as close as he did.”
It hit me right then: fighting with my brother got on my nerves, sure. But Chase actually being nice–that drove me absolutely insane!
“Leave me alone!” I bellowed. “Go call Amanda! Go be the star of the world!”
Calm down, I told myself. My heart was pounding in my throat. This was 50 percent of my social studies grade, and I was poised to flunk in spectacular style. I had until morning to think up another subject–like Sting, or maybe Harriet Tubman. Then the plan was to get down on my knees, howl at the moon, tear my hair out, and beg, plead, entreat, and cajole Mr. Chin to please, please, please have a heart, and give me an extension!
“I knew he couldn’t do it,” Kevin greeted me in class the next morning.
“Shut up, Kevin,” I yawned, bleary-eyed from a sleepless night. “You were ready to send the guy on a coast-to-coast publicity tour!”
“Not anymore,” he replied. “His marketability is permanently damaged. I couldn’t book him into a grade-school cafeteria, let alone the L.A. Coliseum. You know what our mistake was? The Scotland thing. Why should we go to some foreign country for our superstar? There’s plenty of talent right here at home. If we searched the Midwest, I’ll bet we could find some farm boy who could eat a combine harvester on national television. Now that’s American.”
Mr. Chin breezed into the room, and I immediately put my plan into action. “Sir? Could I have a word with–”
“Later, Warren,” he cut me off. “I want to get started on the oral presentations. Who would like to be first?”
Normally, no one would volunteer, and the teacher would have to pick somebody. But this time there was a hand raised in our social studies class. Most amazing of all, it belonged to Chase the Disgrace. I couldn’t believe it. My brother would never put his image on the line and be first at something.”
“Ah, Chase,” the teacher approved. “Go ahead.”
As Chase walked to the front of the class, I checked out Amanda. Instead of staring at my brother in nauseating rapture, she was looking at me! What was going on here?
“Most people think of heroes as winners,” Chase read from his notes, “but I’m not convinced that’s always true. It’s no big deal to pick up a basketball if you’re Michael Jordan, or to do something you know you’re going to be great at. What’s a lot harder is to try something even when the odds are stacked up against you. Sometimes failing is more admirable than succeeding…”
It all clicked into place in a moment of exquisite agony–Chase’s sudden kindness last night, his volunteering to go first, Amanda watching me, not him. After a lifetime of beating, outperforming, and besting me in every imaginable way, Chase was delivering the final ultimate insult. He had figured out a way to do his oral presentation on Hamish Mactavish when I couldn’t. He was even better than me at being me!
The dam burst, and white-hot blinding rage flooded my brain. “Why you double-crossing–” I leaped out of my chair, and made a run at my brother, with every intention of leaving this class an only child.
“Warren!” Mr. Chin stopped me a scant six inches from Chase’s throat. “Have you lost your mind?” He held me by the shoulders, his face flushed, but not half as red as mine must have been.
“You’re the lowest of the low!” I seethed at Chase. “You’re the slime trail of the mutant parasites that crawl around the sludge of the toxic waste dump!”
“Warren, go to the principal’s office!” ordered the teacher.
Chase stepped in. “Please, Mr. Chin, let him stay. I want him to hear this.” He returned to his notes, and continued his presentation. “The person I picked isn’t always successful, but he’s heroic because he never gives up when a lot of us would. When I definitely would. That person is my brother Warren.”
There are times in this life when you feel like the biggest total moron in the galaxy, but you just have to stand there and take it, because anything you say will only make things twenty times worse. My jaw was hanging around my knees, as Chase went on amout my strength of character and my resilience; how others fell to pieces when the cards didn’t come up aces, while I was always ready to do my best with the two of clubs.
When he finished, all eyes in the class were on me. And for the first time ever, I couldn’t think of a single rotten thing to say to Chase the Disgrace.
“This doesn’t mean I like you,” I managed finally.
He stuck out his jaw. “You either.”
“Of course, you’re not such a bad guy,” I added quickly.
“We’re brothers,” he replied with a grin. “We’ve got to support each other.”
I pounced on this. “Switch rooms with me?”
“In your dreams!” laughed Chase.
“Look who’s talking–”
Well, at least I was his hero. That was a start.
This story is from the collection called “The Sheik of Alexandria and his Slaves,” and is supposed to be told by a slave to the Sheik.
Sir, those people are much mistaken who fancy that there were no fairies and enchanters, except in the time of Haroun Al Raschid, Lord of Bagdad, or even pronounce untrue those accounts of the deeds of genii and their princes, which one hears the story-tellers relate in the market-places of the town. There are fairies now-a-days, and it is but a short time since that I myself was witness of an occurrence in which genii were evidently playing a part, as you will see from my narrative. In a considerable town of my dear fatherland, Germany, there lived many years ago a cobbler, with his wife, in an humble but honest way. In the daytime he used to sit at the corner of a street mending shoes and slippers; he did not refuse making new ones if any body would trust him, but then he was obliged to buy the leather first, as his poverty did not enable him to keep a stock. His wife sold vegetables and fruit, which she cultivated in a small garden outside the town-gates, and many people were glad to buy of her, because she was dressed cleanly and neatly, and knew well how to arrange and lay out her things to the best advantage.
Now this worthy couple had a beautiful boy, of a sweet countenance, well made, and rather tall for his age, which was eight years. He was in the habit of sitting in the market with his mother, and often carried home part of the fruit and vegetables for the women and cooks who had made large purchases; he seldom, however, returned from one of these journeys without bringing either a beautiful flower, a piece of money, or a cake, which the mistresses of such cooks gave him as a present, because they were always pleased to see the handsome boy come to the house.
One day the cobbler’s wife was sitting as usual in the marketplace, having before her some baskets with cabbages and other vegetables, various herbs and seeds, besides some early pears, apples, and apricots, in a small basket. Little James (this was the boy’s name) sat by her, crying the things for sale in a loud voice: “This way, gentlemen, see what beautiful cabbages, what fragrant herbs; early pears, ladies, early apples and apricots; who will buy? My mother sells cheap.”
While the boy was thus crying, an old woman was coming across the market; her dress was rather tattered and in rags, she had a small, sharp face, quite furrowed with age, red eyes, and a pointed, crooked nose, which reached down to her chin; in her walk she supported herself by a long stick, and yet it was difficult to say exactly how she walked, for she hobbled and shuffled along, and waddled as if she were on casters, and it was as if she must fall down every instant and break her pointed nose on the pavement.
The cobbler’s wife looked attentively at this old woman. For sixteen years she had been sitting daily in the market, yet she had never observed this strange figure, and therefore involuntarily shuddered when she saw the old hag hobbling towards her and stopping before her baskets.
“Are you Jane, the greengrocer?” she asked in a disagreeable, croaking voice, shaking her head to and fro.
“Yes, I am,” replied the cobbler’s wife; “what is your pleasure?”
“We’ll see, we’ll see, we’ll look at your herbs—look at your herbs, to see whether you have what I want,” answered the old woman; and stooping down she thrust her dark brown, unsightly hands into the herb-basket, and took up some that were beautifully spread out, with her long spider-legged fingers, bringing them one by one up to her long nose, and smelling them all over. The poor woman almost felt her heart break when she saw the old hag handle her herbs in this manner, but she dared not say any thing to her, the purchasers having a right to examine the things as they pleased; besides which, she felt a singular awe in the presence of this old woman. After having searched the whole basket, she muttered, “wretched stuff, wretched herbs, nothing that I want—were much better fifty years ago—wretched stuff! wretched stuff!”
Little James was vexed at these words. “Hark ye,” he cried, boldly, “you are an impudent old woman; first you thrust your nasty brown fingers into these beautiful herbs and squeeze them together, then you hold them up to your long nose, so that no one seeing this will buy them after you, and you abuse our goods, calling them wretched stuff, though nevertheless the duke’s cook himself buys all his herbs of us.”
The old woman leered at the bold boy, laughed disgustingly, and said in a hoarse voice, “Little son, little son, you like my nose then, my beautiful long nose? You shall have one too in the middle of your face that shall reach down to your chin.”
While she thus spoke she shuffled up to another basket containing cabbages. She took the most beautiful white heads up in her hand, squeezed them together till they squeaked, and then throwing them into the basket again without regard to order, said as before, “Wretched things! wretched cabbages!”
“Don’t wriggle your head about in that ugly fashion,” cried the little boy, somewhat frightened; “why your neck is as thin as a cabbage-stalk and might easily break, then your head would fall into the basket, and who would buy of us?”
“You don’t like such thin necks then, eh?” muttered the old woman with a laugh. “You shall have none at all, your head shall be fixed between your shoulders, that it may not fall down from the little body.”
“Don’t talk such nonsense to the little boy,” at length said the cobbler’s wife, indignant at the long-looking, examining, and smelling of the things; “if you wish to buy any thing be quick, for you scare away all my other customers.”
“Well, be it as you say,” cried the old woman, with a furious look, “I will buy these six heads of cabbages; but you see I must support myself by my stick, and cannot carry any thing, therefore, allow your little son to carry them home for me, I will reward him for it.”
The little boy would not go with her, and began to cry, for he was terrified at the ugly old woman, but his mother commanded him earnestly to go, as she thought it a sin to load the feeble old soul with this burden. Still sobbing, he did as he was ordered, and followed the old woman over the market.
She proceeded but slowly, and was almost three-quarters of an hour before she arrived at a very remote part of the town, where she at length stopped in front of a small dilapidated house. She now pulled out of her pocket an old rusty hook, and thrust it dexterously into a small hole in the door, which immediately opened with a crash. But what was the astonishment of little James as he entered! The interior of the house was magnificently adorned, the ceiling and walls were of marble, the furniture of the most beautiful ebony, inlaid with gold and polished stones, the floor was of glass, and so smooth, that little James several times slipped and fell down. The old woman now took a small silver whistle from her pocket, and blew a tune on it which sounded shrilly through the house. Immediately some guinea-pigs came down the stairs, and little James was much amazed at their walking upright on their hind legs, wearing on their paws nut-shells instead of shoes, men’s clothes on their bodies, and even hats in the newest fashion on their heads.
“Where are my slippers, ye rascally crew?” cried the old woman, striking at them with her stick, so that they jumped squeaking into the air; “how long am I to stand here waiting?”
They quickly scampered up the stairs and returned with a pair of cocoa-nut shells lined with leather, which they placed dexterously upon the old woman’s feet.
Now all her limping and shuffling was at an end. She threw away her stick, and glided with great rapidity over the glass floor, pulling little James after her with her hand. At length she stopped in a room which was adorned with a great variety of utensils, and which almost resembled a kitchen, although the tables were of mahogany, and the sofas covered with rich cloth, more fit for a drawing-room.
“Sit down,” said the old woman, very kindly, pressing him into a corner of a sofa, and placing a table before him in such a manner that he could not get out again; “sit down, you have had a heavy load to carry, human heads are not so light—not so light.”
“But, woman,” replied the little boy, “you talk very strangely; I am, indeed, tired, but they were cabbage heads I was carrying, and you bought them of my mother.”
“Why, you know but little about that,” said the old woman, laughing, as she took the lid from the basket and brought out a human head, which she held by the hair. The little boy was frightened out of his senses at this; he could not comprehend how it all came to pass; and thinking of his mother, he said to himself, “If any one were to hear of these human heads, my mother would certainly be prosecuted.”
“I must give you some reward now, as you are so good,” muttered the old woman; “have patience for a minute, and I will prepare you a soup which you will remember all your life.” Having said this, she whistled again, and immediately there came first some guinea-pigs dressed like human beings; they had tied round them kitchen aprons, fastened by a belt, in which were stuck ladles and carving-knives; after them came skipping in a number of squirrels, that wore large, wide Turkish trousers, walked upright, and had small caps of green velvet on their heads. These seemed to be the scullions, for they climbed very nimbly up the walls and brought down pans and dishes, eggs and butter, herbs and flour, and carried it to the hearth. The old woman slided continually to and fro upon her cocoa-nut slippers, and little James observed that she was very anxious to cook something good for him. Now the fire crackled and blazed up higher, there was a smoking and bubbling in the saucepan, and a pleasant odour spread over the room, but the old woman kept running up and down, the squirrels and guinea-pigs after her, and as often as she passed the hearth she poked her long nose into the pot. At length it began to boil and hiss, the steam rose from the pot, and the scum flowed down into the fire. She then took off the saucepan, and pouring some into a silver basin, gave it to James.
“Now, my dear little son, now,” said she, “eat this soup and you will have in your own person all that you admired so much in me. You shall moreover become a clever cook, that you may be something at least, but as for the herb, that you shall never find, because your mother did not have it in her basket.”
The little boy did not exactly understand what she was saying, but was the more attentive to eating his soup, which he relished uncommonly. His mother had cooked various savoury soups, but never any like this. The flavour of the fine herbs and spice ascended from it, and it was at the same time very sweet, and very sharp and strong. While he was sipping the last drops of the delicious soup, the guinea-pigs lighted some Arabian incense which floated through the room in blue clouds, which became thicker and thicker, and then descended. The smell of the incense had a stupifying effect upon the boy; in vain did he repeatedly say to himself that he must return to his mother, for as often as he endeavoured to rouse himself, as often did he relapse into slumber and, at length, actually fell into a profound sleep upon the old woman’s sofa.
Strange dreams came over him, while he thus slept. It seemed as if the old woman was taking off his clothes, and putting on him the skin of a squirrel. Now he could make bounds and climb like a squirrel; he associated with the other squirrels and guinea-pigs, who were all very polite, decent people, and he did his duty of waiting upon the old woman in his turn with the rest. At first he had to perform the service of a shoeblack, that is, he had to oil and polish the cocoa-nut shells which his mistress wore instead of slippers. Having often blacked and polished shoes at home, he performed his duty well and quickly. After the lapse of about one year, he dreamt again, (according to the sequel of his dream) that he was employed for more delicate work, that is, in company with some other squirrels, he was obliged to catch the atoms in the sun, and, when they had caught enough, to sift them through the finest hair-sieve, as the old woman considered them the nicest thing, and not being able to masticate well for want of teeth, had her bread prepared of such atoms.
At the end of another year, he was raised to the rank of one of the servants who had to collect the water the old woman drank. But you must not suppose that she had a cistern dug for that purpose, or a tub placed in the yard to catch the rain-water; she had a much finer plan. The squirrels, and James with them, had to collect in their hazel-nut shells the dew from roses, and this was the beverage of the old woman. The labour of these water-carriers was not a very light one, as she used to drink a prodigious quantity. After another year, he was employed in in-door service, his duty being to clean the floors, and as they were of glass and showed the least speck, it was not a very easy task. He and his fellow-servants were obliged to brush the floors, and with pieces of old cloth tied to their feet dexterously skated about the rooms. In the fourth year, he received an appointment in the kitchen, which was so honourable an office, that one could succeed to it only after a long probation. James here served from scullion upwards to the post of first pastrycook, and acquired such an extraordinary skill and experience in every thing relating to the culinary art, that often he could not help wondering at himself; the most difficult things, pies composed of two hundred different ingredients, soups prepared with all the herbs of the globe,—all these, and many other things, he learned to make quickly and efficiently.
Seven years had thus passed away in the service of the old woman, when one day, pulling off her shoes of cocoa-nut, and taking her basket and crutch in hand in order to go out, she told him to pluck a chicken, stuff it with herbs, and roast it nice and brown, during her absence. He did this according to the rules of his art; twisted the chicken’s neck, scalded it in hot water, pulled out the feathers cleverly, scraped its skin smooth and fine, and then drew it. Next he began gathering the herbs with which he was to stuff the chicken. Now when he came to the chamber where these herbs were kept, he perceived a small cupboard in the wall that he had never before noticed, and finding the door of it half open, he had the curiosity to go near, in order to see what it contained, when behold! there stood a great many little baskets in it, from which proceeded a strong pleasant smell. He opened one of these little baskets, and found in it a herb of a most singular form and colour; its stalks and leaves were of a bluish green, and it had a flower of burning red fringed with yellow at the top. He looked thoughtfully at this flower, and smelled it, when it emitted the same powerful odour as the soup which the old woman had cooked for him when he first came there. But the smell was so strong that he began to sneeze, was obliged to keep sneezing, and at last awoke, sneezing still.
He now found himself upon the old woman’s sofa, and looked around him with astonishment. “Heavens!” he said to himself, “how vividly one may dream; I would almost have sworn that I was a wanton squirrel,—a companion of guinea-pigs and other vermin, but at the same time had become a great cook. How my mother will laugh when I tell her all this! But will she not also scold me for falling asleep in a strange house instead of helping her in the market?” While engaged in these thoughts, he started up to run away; but his limbs were still quite stiff with sleep, and particularly his neck, for he was unable to move his head well to and fro. He could not help smiling at himself and his drowsiness, for every moment, before he was aware, he ran his nose against a cupboard or the wall, or turning suddenly round, struck it against a door-post. The squirrels and guinea-pigs crowded whining around him, as if anxious to accompany him, and he actually invited them to do so when he was on the threshold, for they were nice little creatures, but they glided quickly back into the house on their nutshells, and he only heard them howling at a distance.
As it was a very remote part of the town to which the old woman had brought him, he could hardly find his way through the narrow streets, and as, moreover, there was a great crowd of people, wherever he went, he could only account for this by supposing there must be a dwarf somewhere in the neighbourhood for show, for he heard everywhere cries of, “Only look at the ugly dwarf! Where does the dwarf come from? O! what a long nose he has, and how his head sits between his shoulders, and look at his brown ugly hands!” At any other time, he would probably have followed the cry, for he was very fond of seeing giants and dwarfs, and any sort of curious, foreign costume, but now he was obliged to hurry and get to his mother.
He felt quite weary when he arrived at the market. He found his mother still sitting there, and she had a tolerable quantity of fruit in the basket; he could not therefore have been sleeping long, but still it appeared to him, even at a distance, as if she were very melancholy, for she did not call to those coming past to buy, but supported her head by one hand, and on coming closer he likewise thought she looked paler than usual. He hesitated as to what he should do; and at length mustering up courage, crept gently behind her, and putting his hand familiarly upon her arm, asked, “Dear mother, what’s the matter with you? are you angry with me?”
The woman turned round, but started back with a shriek of terror, saying, “What do you want with me, you ugly dwarf? Begone, begone! I do not like such jokes.”
“But mother, what is the matter with you?” asked James, quite terrified; “surely you must be unwell, why will you turn your son away from you?”
“I have told you already to be gone,” replied Jane, angrily; “you will not get any money from me by your juggleries, you ill-favoured monster.”
“Surely God has deprived her of the light of her intellect,” said the dwarf, deeply grieved within himself; “what shall I do to get her home? Dear mother, pray do listen to reason; only look well at me, I am indeed your son—your own James.”
“Why this is carrying the joke too far,” she said to her neighbour; “only look at that ugly dwarf; there he stands, and will no doubt drive away all my customers; nay, he even dares to ridicule my misfortune, telling me that he is my son, my own James, the impudent fellow.”
At this her neighbours rose, and began as much abuse as possible, (every one knows that market women understand this well,) and reproaching him with making light of poor Jane’s misfortune, who seven years ago had had her beautiful boy kidnapped, with one accord they threatened to fall upon him and tear him to pieces, unless he took himself off immediately.
Poor James did not know what to make of all this. Indeed it seemed to him that he had that very morning, as usual, gone to market with his mother, had helped her to lay out her fruit, and had afterwards gone with the old woman to her house, eaten some soup, slept a little while, and had now come back; and yet his mother and her neighbours talked of seven years, calling him at the same time an ugly dwarf. What then was the change that had come over him? Seeing, at length, that his mother would no longer listen to any thing he said, he felt the tears come in his eyes, and went sorrowfully down the street towards the stall where his father sat in the daytime mending shoes.
“I am curious to see,” he thought to himself, “whether he, too, will disown me? I will place myself in the doorway and talk to him.” And having come there he did so and looked in.
The cobbler was so busily engaged at work that he did not see him; but happening to cast a look towards the door, he dropped shoe, twine, and awl on the ground, and cried, with astonishment, “For Heaven’s sake what is that?”
“Good evening, master,” said the little dwarf, stepping inside the booth. “How fare you?”
“Badly, badly, my little gentleman,” replied James’s father, to his utter amazement; for he, too, did not seem to recognise him. “I have to do all the work myself, for I am alone and now getting old, and yet I cannot afford to keep a journeyman.”
“But have you no son to assist you in your work?” inquired the dwarf further.
“Indeed I had one, whose name was James, and he now must be a handsome, quick lad, twenty years old, who might effectually assist me. Ah! what a pleasant life I should lead! Even when he was twelve years old he showed himself quite handy and clever, and understood a great deal of the business. He was a fine engaging little fellow; he would soon have brought me plenty of custom, so that I should no longer have been mending shoes and boots but making new ones. But so goes the world.”
“Where is your son, then?” asked James, in a tremulous voice.
“That God only knows,” replied his father. “Seven years ago, yes! it is just that now, he was stolen from us in the market-place.”
“Seven years ago, you say?” cried James, with astonishment.
“Yes, little gentleman, seven years ago; the circumstance is as fresh in my memory as if it had happened to-day, how my poor wife came home weeping and crying, saying that the child had not come back all day, and that she had inquired and searched everywhere without finding him. But I always said it would come to that; for James was a pretty child, no one could help saying so, therefore my poor wife was proud of him and fond of hearing people praise him, and often sent him with vegetables and such like things to the houses of the gentlefolks. All this was very well; he always received some present. But said I, mark me, the town is large, and there are many bad people in it, so take care of James. But it happened as I always said. Once there comes an ugly old woman to the market, bargains for some fruits and vegetables, and at length buys so much that she cannot carry it home herself. My wife, kind soul, sends the lad with her, and—has never seen him again since that hour.”
“And that is now seven years, say you?”
“Seven years this spring. We had him cried in the town, we went from house to house inquiring; many had known and liked the pretty lad, and searched with us, but all in vain. Neither did any one know the woman who bought the vegetables; a very aged woman, however, ninety years old, said, ‘it might possibly have been the wicked fairy, Krauterweis, who once in fifty years comes to the town to buy various articles.'”
Thus spoke James’s father hastily, hammering his shoes at the same time, and drawing out at great length the twine with both hands. Now by degrees light broke on the little dwarf’s mind, and he saw what had happened to him, viz., that he had not been dreaming, but had served as a squirrel seven years with the evil fairy. Rage and sorrow now filled his heart almost to bursting.
The old witch had robbed him of seven years of his youth, and what had he in exchange? What was it that he could polish slippers of cocoa-nut shell? that he could clean rooms with glass floors? that he had learned all the mysteries of cooking, from the guinea pigs? Thus he stood for some time meditating on his fate, when at length his father asked him—
“Do you want to purchase any thing, young gentleman? Perhaps a pair of new slippers or, peradventure, a case for your nose?” he added, smiling.
“What do you mean about my nose?” asked James; “why should I want a case for it?”
“Why,” replied the cobbler, “every one according to his taste; but I must tell you, that if I had such a terrible nose, I should have a case made for it of rose-coloured morocco. Look here, I have a beautiful piece that is just the thing; indeed we should at least want a yard for it. It would then be well guarded, my little gentleman; whereas now I am sure you will knock it against every door-post and carriage you would wish to avoid.”
The dwarf was struck dumb with terror; he felt his nose, it was full two hands long and thick in proportion. So then the old hag had likewise changed his person; and hence it was his mother did not know him, and people called him an ill-favoured dwarf.
“Master,” said he, half crying to the cobbler, “have you no looking-glass at hand in which I might behold myself?”
“Young gentleman,” replied his father, gravely, “you have not exactly been favoured as to appearance so as to make you vain, and you have no cause to look often in the glass. You had better leave it off altogether. It is with you a particularly ridiculous habit.”
“Oh! pray let me look in the glass,” cried the dwarf. “I assure you it is not from vanity.”
“Leave me in peace, I have none in my possession; my wife has a little looking-glass, but I do not know where she has hid it. If you really must look into one,—why then, over the way lives Urban, the barber, who has a glass twice as big as your head; look in there, and now, good morning.”
With these words his father pushed him gently out of the stall, locked the door after him, and sat down again to his work. The little dwarf, much cast down, went over the way to the barber, whom he well remembered in former times.
“Good morning, Urban,” said he to him, “I come to beg a favour of you, be so kind as to let me look a moment in your looking-glass.”
“With pleasure,” cried the barber, laughing, “there it is;” and his customers who were about to be shaved laughed heartily with him. “You are rather a pretty fellow, slim and genteel; you have a neck like a swan, hands like a queen, and a turn-up nose, such as one seldom sees excelled. A little vain you are of it, no doubt; but no matter, look at yourself, people shall not say that envy prevented me from allowing you to see yourself in my glass.”
Thus spoke the barber, and a yell of laughter resounded through the room. In the meantime the dwarf had stepped to the glass and looked at himself. The tears came in his eyes, while saying to himself; “Yes, dear mother, thus you could not indeed recognise your James, he did not look like this in the days of your happiness, when you delighted to show him off before the people?” His eyes had become little, like those of pigs; his nose was immense, hanging over his mouth down to his chin; his neck seemed to have been taken away altogether, for his head sat low between his shoulders, and it was only with the greatest pain that he could move it to the right or left; his body was still the same size as it had been seven years ago, when he was twelve years old, so that he had grown in width what others do in height, between the ages of twelve and twenty. His back and chest stood out like two short, well-filled bags; and this thick-set body was supported by small thin legs, which seemed hardly sufficient to support their burden; but so much the larger were his arms, which hung down from his body, being of the size of those of a full-grown man; his hands were coarse, and of a brownish hue, his fingers long, like spiders’ legs, and when he stretched them to their full extent, he could touch the ground without stooping. Such was little James’s appearance, now that he had become an ugly dwarf. He now remembered the morning on which the old woman had stopped before his mother’s baskets. All that he then had found fault with in her—viz., her long nose, and ugly fingers—all these she had given him, only omitting her long, palsied neck.
“Well, my prince, have you looked enough at yourself now?” said the barber, stepping up to him, and surveying him with a laugh. “Truly, if we wished to dream of such a figure, we could hardly see one so comical. Nevertheless, I will make you a proposition, my little man. My shaving-room is tolerably well frequented, but yet not so much so as I could wish. That arises from my neighbour, the barber Schaum, having discovered a giant, who attracts much custom to his house. Now, to become a giant is no great thing, after all, but to be such a little man as you, is indeed a different thing. Enter my service, little man, you shall have board and lodging, clothes and every thing; for this you shall stand in my door-way in the morning, and invite people to come in; you shall beat up the lather, hand the towel to the customers, and you may be sure that we shall both make it answer; I shall get more customers through you than my neighbour by his giant; and you will get many presents.”
The little man felt quite indignant at the proposal of serving as a decoy to a barber. But was he not obliged to submit patiently to this insulting offer? He, therefore, quietly told the barber he had no time for such services, and went away.
Although the evil hag had thus stunted his growth, yet she had had no power to affect his mind, as he felt full well; for he no longer thought and felt as he did seven years since, and believed that he had become wiser and more sensible in the interval. He did not mourn for the loss of his beauty, nor for his ugly appearance, but only that he was driven from his father’s door like a dog. However, he resolved to make another trial with his mother.
He went again to her in the market, and entreated her to listen to him patiently. He reminded her of the day on which he had gone with the old woman; he called to her mind all the particular incidents of his childhood, told her then how he had served seven years as a squirrel with the fairy, and how she had changed him because he had then ridiculed her person.
The cobbler’s wife did not know what to think of all this. All that he related of his childhood agreed with her own recollections, but when he talked of serving seven years as a squirrel, she said, “It is impossible; there are no fairies;” and when she looked at him she felt a horror at the ugly dwarf, and would not believe that he could be her son. At length she thought it would be best to talk the matter over with her husband; therefore she took up her baskets and bade him go with her.
On arriving at the cobbler’s stall she said: “Look, this fellow pretends to be our lost James. He has told me all the circumstances, how he was stolen from us seven years since, and how he was enchanted by a fairy.”
“Indeed,” interrupted the cobbler in a rage, “has he told you this? wait, you rogue!—I have told him all this an hour ago, and then he goes to make a fool of you. Enchanted you have been, my little chap, have you? Wait a bit, I will soon disenchant you!” So saying, he took a bundle of straps that he had just cut, jumped up towards the dwarf, and beat him on his humped back and his long arms, making the little fellow scream with pain and run crying away.
Now in that town, as in others, there were but few of those compassionate souls who will support a poor unfortunate with a ridiculous appearance. Hence it was that the unlucky dwarf remained all day without food, and was obliged in the evening to choose for his night’s quarters the steps of a church, though they were hard and cold.
When on the following morning the first rays of the sun awoke him, he began seriously to think how he should prolong his existence, now that his father and mother had rejected him; he was too proud to serve as a sign-board to a barber; he would not hire himself us a merry-andrew to be exhibited; what then should he do? It now occurred to him that as a squirrel he had made considerable progress in the culinary art, and thought he might justly expect to prove a match for any cook; he therefore resolved to turn his art to advantage.
As soon, therefore, as the morning had dawned, and the streets became animated, he entered a church and performed his devotions; thence he proceeded on his way. The duke (the sovereign of the country) was a notorious gourmand, who kept a good table, and sought cooks in all parts of the world. To his palace the dwarf went. When he arrived at the outer gate the porter asked his errand, and began to crack his jokes on him; when he asked for the chief cook they laughed and led him through the inner courts, and wherever he went the servants stood still, looked at him, laughed heartily, and followed him, so that in a short time a great posse of menials of all descriptions crowded up the steps of the palace. The grooms threw away their curry-combs, the running footmen ran with all their might, the carpet-spreaders ceased beating their carpets, all crowded and thronged around him, as if the enemy was at the gates, and the shouts of “A dwarf, a dwarf! have you seen the dwarf?” filled the air.
At this moment the steward of the palace, with a furious countenance and a large whip in his hand, made his appearance at the door, crying, “For Heaven’s sake, ye hounds, what is all this uproar for? Do you not know that our gracious master is still asleep?” At the same time he flourished his whip, laying it rather roughly about the backs of some grooms and porters.
“Why sir,” they all cried, “don’t you see that we are bringing a dwarf, such a dwarf as you never saw?” The steward suppressed, though with difficulty, a loud laugh, when he got sight of the little man, for he was afraid that laughter would derogate from his dignity. He therefore drove them all away with his whip except the dwarf, whom he led into the house and asked what he wanted. Hearing that the little man wished to see the master of the kitchen, he replied, “You make a mistake, my little son; I suppose you want to see me, the steward of the palace, do you not? You wish to become dwarf to the duke, is it not so?”
“No, sir,” replied the dwarf, “I am a clever cook and skilled in the preparation of all sorts of choice meats; be so kind as to bring me to the master of the kitchen, perhaps he may be in want of my skill.”
“Every one according to his wish, my little man; but you are an inconsiderate youth. To the kitchen! why, as the duke’s dwarf you would have nothing to do and plenty to eat and drink to your heart’s desire, and fine clothes into the bargain. But we shall see; your skill in the culinary art will hardly be such as a cook to the duke is required to possess, and you are too good for a scullion.” As he said the last words he took the dwarf by the hand and conducted him to the apartments of the master of the kitchen.
On arriving there the dwarf said, with so deep a bow that his nose touched the floor, “Gracious, sir, are you in want of a skilful cook?”
The master of the kitchen, surveying him from top to toe, burst into a loud fit of laughter, and said, “What, you a cook? Do you think that our hearths are so low that you could even look on one, though you should stand on tiptoe, and stretch your head ever so much out of your shoulders? My good little fellow, whoever sent you here to hire yourself as a cook, has been making a fool of you.” Thus saying, the master cook laughed heartily, and was joined by the steward of the palace and all the servants in the room.
But the dwarf was not to be discomposed by this. “Of what consequence is it to waste a few eggs, a little syrup and wine, some flour and spice, upon trial, in a house where there are plenty? Give me some dainty dish to prepare,” said he, “procure all that is necessary for it, and it shall be immediately prepared before your eyes, so that you shall be constrained to avow that I am a first-rate cook.”
While the dwarf was saying all this, and many other things, it was strange to see how his little eyes sparkled, how his long nose moved to and fro, and his fingers, which were like spider’s legs, suited their movements to his words.
“Well!” exclaimed the master cook, taking the steward by the arm, “Well! be it so for the sake of the joke, let us go to the kitchen.”
They walked through several large rooms and corridors till they came to the kitchen. This was a large spacious building magnificently fitted up; on twenty hearths fires were constantly burning, clear water was flowing through the midst, serving also as a fishpond; in cupboards of marble and choice wood, the stores were piled, which it was necessary to have at hand for use, and on either side were ten rooms, in which were kept all the delicious dainties for the palate which can be obtained in all the countries of Europe or even the East. Servants of all descriptions were running to and fro, handling and rattling kettles and pans, with forks and ladles; but when the master cook entered, all stood motionless, and the crackling of the fire, and the rippling of the brook were alone to be heard.
“What has the duke ordered for breakfast this morning?” he asked an old cook, who always prepared the breakfast.
“Sir, his highness has pleased to order the Danish soup, with the small red Hamburg dumplings.”
“Well,” continued the master cook, “did you hear what the duke wishes to eat? Are you bold enough to attempt this difficult dish? At all events the dumplings you will not be able to make, that is quite a secret.”
“Nothing easier than that,” replied the dwarf, to their astonishment; for he had often made this dish when he was a squirrel. “Nothing easier, only give me the herbs, the spices, fat of a wild boar, roots and eggs for the soup; but for the dumplings,” said he, in a low voice, so that only the master cook and the breakfast-maker could hear, “for the dumplings I want various meats, wine, duck’s fat, ginger, and the herb called the stomach comforter.”
“Ah, by St. Benedict, to what enchanter have you been apprenticed?” cried the cook in astonishment. “You have hit all to a hair, and as to the noted herb, we did not know of that ourselves; yes! that must make the dish still more delicious. Oh! you miracle of a cook!”
“I should never have thought this,” said the master cook, “but let us make the trial, give him all he asks and let him prepare the breakfast.”
His orders were obeyed, and the necessary preparations were made on the hearth; but they now found that the dwarf could not reach it. They therefore put two chairs together, laid a slab of marble on them, and asked the little wonder to step up and begin his skill. In a large circle stood the cooks, scullions, servants, and others, looking at him in amazement, to see how readily and quickly he proceeded, and how cleanly and neatly he prepared every thing. When he had finished, he ordered both dishes to be put to the fire, and to be boiled until he should call out; then he began to count one, two, three, and so on up to five hundred, when he cried out, “Stop, take them off,” and then invited the head cook to taste them.
The taster ordered the scullion to bring him a gold spoon, which he first rinsed in the brook, and then gave it to the head cook. The latter, stepping up to the hearth with a grave mien, took a spoonful, tasted it, and shutting his eyes, smacked his lips with delight, saying, “Delicious! by the duke’s life, delicious! Would you not like to taste a spoonful, Mr. Steward?” The latter, bowing, took the spoon, tasted it, and was beside himself with delight.
“With all due respect to your skill, dear breakfast-maker, you aged and experienced cook, you have never been able to make the soup or dumplings so delicious.”
The cook also tasted it, shook the dwarf reverentially by the hand, saying, “My little man, you are a master of your art, yes, that herb ‘stomach comforter’ imparts a peculiar charm to the whole.”
At this moment the duke’s valet entered the kitchen, and informed them that the duke wished his breakfast. The preparations were now dished up in silver, and sent up to the duke; but the head cook took the dwarf to his own room to converse with him. They had scarcely sat down long enough to say half a paternoster, when a messenger came and called the head cook to the duke. He quickly put on his best clothes, and followed the messenger.
The duke looked well pleased, He had eaten all they had served, and was just wiping his beard as the master-cook entered. “Master,” said he, “I have hitherto always been well satisfied with your cooks; but tell me who prepared the breakfast this morning? It never was so delicious since I sat on the throne of my fathers; tell me the name of the cook, that I may send him a ducat as a present.”
“My lord, this is a strange story,” replied the master; and he told the duke that a dwarf had been brought to him that morning, who earnestly solicited the place of a cook, and how all had happened. The duke was greatly astonished, ordered the dwarf to appear, and asked him who he was, and whence he came. Now poor James did not exactly wish to say that he had been enchanted, and had served as a squirrel. But yet he adhered to truth, telling him that he now had neither father nor mother, and had learned cooking of an old woman. Much amused by the strange appearance of his new cook, the duke asked no more questions, but said, “If you wish to remain here, I will give you fifty ducats a-year, a suit of livery, and two pair of breeches beside. Your duty shall be to prepare my breakfast; yourself every day to give directions how the dinner shall be prepared, and to take the general superintendence of the cooking. As each in my palace has his proper name, you shall be called ‘Nose,’ and hold the office of sub-master-cook.”
The dwarf prostrated himself before the mighty duke, kissed his feet, and promised to serve him faithfully.
Thus the dwarf was for the present provided for, and did honour to his office. And it must be remarked that the duke had become quite an altered man since Nose the dwarf had been in the palace. Formerly, he had often been pleased to throw the dishes and plates that were served up at the heads of the cooks; indeed, he even once, in a fit of rage, threw a fried calf’s foot that was not sufficiently tender, with such violence at the head of the master-cook, that the latter fell to the ground, and was compelled for three days to keep his bed. ‘Tis true, the duke made him amends for what he had done by some handfuls of ducats, but still no cook ever came before him with his dishes, without trembling and terror.
Ever since the dwarf had been in the palace, all seemed to be changed, as if by magic. The duke, instead of three, had now five meals a day, in order to relish properly the skill of his little servant, and yet never showed the least sign of discontent. Indeed, he found all new and excellent, was kind and pleasant, and became fatter daily.
He would often in the midst of a meal send for the master-cook and the dwarf, set one on his right, and the other on the left hand, and put with his own gracious fingers some morsels of the delicious viands into their mouths; a favour which both knew how to appreciate fully. The dwarf was the wonder of the whole town, and people requested the permission of the master-cook to see him cook, while some of the principal folks prevailed upon the duke to permit their servants to profit by the instructions of the dwarf in his kitchen, by which he obtained much money, for those who came to learn paid daily half a ducat. In order, however, to keep the other cooks in good humour, and prevent jealousy, Nose let them have the money that was paid by the masters for instruction.
Thus Nose lived almost two years in great comfort and honour, the thought of his parents alone saddening him, and nothing remarkable occurring until the following circumstance happened. The dwarf being particularly clever, and fortunate in his purchases, went himself, as often as time permitted, to the market, to buy poultry and fruit. One morning he went to the poultry-market, and walking up and down inquired for fat geese such as his master liked. His appearance, far from creating laughter and ridicule, commanded respect, since he was known as the duke’s celebrated cook, and each poultry-woman felt herself happy if he but turned his nose to her. At length coming to the end of a row of stalls, he perceived in a corner, a woman with geese for sale, who did not, like the others, praise her goods, nor call to the customers.
He stepped up to her, examined the geese, weighed them in his hand, and finding them to his liking, bought three, with the cage they were in, put them on his shoulders and trotted home. It appeared singular to him that only two of the geese cackled and cried like others, the third being quite quiet and thoughtful, and occasionally groaning and moaning like a human being.
“She is not well,” said he to himself, “I must hasten to get home and dress her.” But the goose replied, distinctly,
“If thou stick’st me,
Why I’ll bite thee,
And if my neck thou twistest round.
Thou soon wilt lie below the ground.”
Quite startled, the dwarf put down the basket, and the goose, looking at him with her fine intelligent eyes, sighed. “Why what have we here?” cried Nose. “You can talk, Miss Goose. I never expected that. Well, make yourself easy; I know the world and will not harm so rare a bird. But I would wager something that you have not always been covered with feathers. Indeed I was once a poor squirrel myself.”
“You are right,” replied the goose, “in saying I was not born with this disgraceful disguise. Alas! it was never sung at my cradle that Mimi, the great Wetterbock’s daughter, would be killed in the kitchen of a duke.”
“Pray be easy, dear Miss Mimi,” said the dwarf, comforting her, “for as sure as I am an honest fellow, and sub-master cook to his highness, no one shall touch your throat. I will give you a stall in my own apartments, you shall have enough food, and I will devote my leisure time to converse with you. I’ll tell the others in the kitchen that I am fattening a goose with various herbs for the duke, and at the first opportunity you shall be set at liberty.”
The goose thanked him, with tears in her eyes, and the dwarf, as he had promised, killed the other two geese, but built a stall for Mimi, under the pretence of preserving her for some special occasion. Instead of feeding her on grain he gave her pastry and sweetmeats. As often as he had time he went to converse with her and comfort her. They related their histories to each other, and Nose learnt that she was the daughter of the enchanter, Wetterbock, who lived in the island of Gothland. Being involved in a quarrel with an old fairy, her father had been conquered by stratagems and cunning, and out of revenge the fairy had changed her into a goose, and brought her to the town.
When the dwarf told his history, she said, “I am not inexperienced in these matters, my father having given me and my sisters what instruction he was allowed to impart. The story of the dispute at your mother’s fruit stall, your sudden metamorphosis, when you smelled the herb, as well as the words the old woman used, show me that you are enchanted through herbs; that is to say, if you can find out the herb of which the fairy thought when she bewitched you, you may be disenchanted.” This was but poor consolation for the dwarf, for how should he find the herb? Yet he thanked her and felt some hope.
About this time the duke had a visit from a neighbouring prince, his friend. He, therefore, ordered the dwarf to appear, and said, “Now is the time for you to show whether you serve me faithfully and are master of your art. The prince, who is now visiting me, keeps, as is well known, the best table after me. He is a great connoisseur in good living, and a wise man. Let it now be your care to supply my table every day so that his astonishment shall daily become greater. But you must not, under pain of my displeasure, repeat the same dish during his visits. You may ask of my treasurer all you want, and should it be needful to fry gold and diamonds you must do it. I would rather become poor than forfeit his good opinion of my taste.”
When the duke had concluded, the dwarf bowed most respectfully, saying, “be it as you say, my lord; please God I shall do all to gratify the palate of this prince of gourmands.”
The little cook now mustered all his skill. He did not spare his master’s treasures, and still less did he spare himself. He was seen all day at the fire, enveloped by clouds of smoke, and his voice constantly resounded through the vaults of the kitchen, for he governed the scullions and under cooks.
During a fortnight the foreign prince lived happily, and feasted sumptuously with the duke. They ate not less than five times a day, and the duke was delighted with his dwarf, seeing satisfaction expressed on the countenance of his guest. But on the fifteenth day it happened, that the duke, while at table, sent for the dwarf, presented him to his guest, and asked how he was satisfied with his cooking?
“You are a wonderful cook,” replied the prince, “and know what good living is. All the time I have been here you have not repeated a single dish, and have prepared every thing exquisitely. But pray tell me, why have you not all this time prepared that queen of dishes, the pie called ‘souzeraine?'”
The dwarf was startled at this question, for he had never heard of this queen of pies; however he recovered himself and replied, “My lord, I was in hopes that your serene countenance would shine some time yet on this court, therefore I deferred this dish; for with what dish but the queen of pies should the cook honour the day of your departure?”
“Indeed!” said the duke, laughing; “I suppose then you wish to wait for the day of my death to honour me, for you have never yet sent it up to me. But think of another dish to celebrate the departure, for to-morrow that pie must be on the table.”
“Your pleasure shall be done, my lord,” replied the dwarf, and retired. But he went away uneasy, for the day of his disgrace and misfortune had come. He did not know how to prepare this pie. He went therefore to his chamber, and wept over his fate, when the goose Mimi, who was allowed to walk about, came up and inquired the cause of his grief. When she heard of the pie, “Dry your tears,” said she, “this dish came often to my father’s table, and I know pretty well what is necessary for it; you have only to take such and such things in certain quantities, and should these not be all that are really necessary, I trust that the taste of these gentlemen is not sufficiently refined to discover the deficiency.”
At these words the dwarf danced with joy, blessed the day on which he had purchased the goose, and set about making this queen of pies. He first made a trial in miniature, and lo! the flavour was exquisite, and the master-cook, to whom he gave the small pie to taste, praised once more his great skill.
The following day he prepared the pie on a larger scale, and, after having garnished it with flowers, sent it hot as it came from the oven to table. After which he dressed in his best and went to the dining-hall. On entering, he found the steward engaged in carving the pie, and presenting it on silver dishes to the duke and his guest. The duke swallowed a large piece, turned his eyes upward, saying “ha! ha! ha! justly is this called the queen of pies; but my dwarf is also a king of cooks. Is it not so, my friend?”
His guest took a small morsel, tasted it carefully, and smiled somewhat scornfully and mysteriously.
“The thing is made pretty well,” replied he, pushing his plate away, “but it is not quite the Souzeraine, as I well imagined.”
At this the duke frowned with indignation, and turned red, saying, “You hound of a dwarf, how dare you do this to your lord? I will have your big head cut off as a punishment for your bad cooking.”
“Ah, my lord,” said the dwarf trembling, “for Heaven’s sake have compassion on me; I have made that dish, indeed, according to the proper receipt, and am sure that nothing is wanting.”
“‘Tis a lie, you knave,” replied the duke, giving him a kick, “’tis a lie; else my guest would not say there was something wanting. I will have you yourself cut up and baked in a pie.”
“Have compassion on me!” exclaimed the dwarf, shuffling on his knees up to the prince, and clasping his feet; “tell me what is wanting to this pie and why it does not suit your palate: let me not die for a handful of meat or flour.”
“This will not avail you, my good Nose,” replied the prince, laughing; “even yesterday I thought you would not be able to make this dish as well as my cook. Know there is wanting a herb called Sneeze-with-pleasure, which is not even known in this country. Without it this pie is insipid, and your master will never eat it in such perfection as I do.”
At this the duke flew into a rage, and cried with flashing eyes:
“I will eat it in perfection yet, for I swear by my princely honour, that by to-morrow I will either have the pie set before you, such as you desire it, or the head of this fellow shall be spiked on the gate of my palace. Go, you hound, I give you once more twenty-four hours!” cried the duke.
The dwarf again went to his chamber and mourned over his fate with the goose that he must die, as he had never heard of this herb. “If it is nothing more,” said she, “I can help you out of the difficulty, as my father has taught me to know all herbs. At any other time your death, no doubt would have been certain, and it is fortunate for you that we have a new moon, as the herb is only then in flower. Now tell me, are there any old chesnut trees in the neighbourhood of the palace?”
“Oh yes,” replied Nose, with a lighter heart, “near the lake, about two hundred yards from the palace, there is a clump of them; but what of them?”
“Why,” said Mimi, “the herb only flowers at the foot of them. Now let us lose no time but go to fetch what you want; take me on your arm, and put me down when we get out, that I may search for you.”
He did as she requested, and went towards the gate of the palace, but here the porter levelled his gun and said: “My good Nose, it is all over with you, you must not pass; I have strict orders respecting you.”
“But I suppose I may go into the garden,” replied the dwarf. “Be so good as to send one of your fellow servants to the master of the palace, and ask whether I may not go into the garden to fetch herbs.” The porter did so and permission was given, since, the garden having high walls, escape was impossible. But when Nose and Mimi had got out he put her carefully down, and she ran quickly before him towards the lake, where the chesnuts were. He followed with a heavy heart, since this was his last and only hope. If she did not find the herb he was resolved rather to plunge into the lake than to have his head cut off. The goose searched in vain under all the chesnut trees; she turned every herb with her beak, but no trace of the one wanted was to be found, and she now began to cry out of compassion and fear for the dwarf, as the evening was already growing dusk, and the objects around were difficult to distinguish.
At this moment the dwarf cast a glance across the lake, and cried suddenly: “Look, look, yonder across the lake there stands a large old tree; let us go there and search; perhaps my luck may bloom there.” The goose hopped and flew before him, and he ran after her as quickly as his short legs would permit him; the chesnut tree cast a large shade, and it was so dark around that scarcely anything could be distinguished; but suddenly the goose stopped, flapped her wings for joy, put her head quickly into the high grass, and plucked something which she reached gracefully with her bill to the astonished Nose, saying; “There is the herb, and plenty is growing here, so that you will never want for it.”
The dwarf looked thoughtfully at the herb, and a sweet odour arose from it, which immediately reminded him of the scene of his metamorphosis; the stalk and leaves were of a blueish green, bearing a glowing red flower, with a yellow edge.
“God be praised!” he now exclaimed, “What a miracle! I believe this is the very herb that transformed me from a squirrel into this hideous form; shall I make a trial, to see what effect it will have on me!”
“Not yet,” entreated the goose. “Take a handful of this herb with you, let us go to your room and put up all the money and whatever you have, and then we will try the virtue of the herb.”
They did so, and went again to his room, the dwarf’s heart beating audibly with anticipation. After having put up about fifty or sixty ducats which he had saved, he tied up his clothes in a bundle, and said: “If it please God, I shall get rid of my burthensome deformity.” He then put his nose deep into the herb and inhaled its odour.
Now his limbs began to stretch and crack, he felt how his head started from his shoulders, he squinted down on his nose and saw it became smaller and smaller, his back and chest became straight, and his legs longer.
The goose viewed all this with great astonishment, exclaiming, “Ah, what a tall handsome fellow you have now become. God be praised, there is no trace left in you of what you were before.” Now James was highly rejoiced, he folded his hands and prayed. But his joy did not make him forget what he owed to Mimi the goose; his heart indeed urged him to go to his parents, yet from gratitude he overcame his wish and said, “To whom but to you am I indebted that I am again restored to my former self? Without you I should never have found this herb, but should have continued for ever in that form, or else have died under the axe of the executioner. Well, I will repay you. I will bring you back to your father; he being so experienced in magic will be able easily to disenchant you.”
The goose shed tears of joy and accepted his offer. James fortunately escaped unknown from the palace with his goose, and started on his way for the sea-coast towards Mimi’s home.
It is needless to add that their journey was successful, that Wetterbock disenchanted his daughter, and dismissed James laden with presents; that the latter returned to his native town, that his parents with delight recognized in the handsome young man their lost son, that he, with the presents that he had received, purchased a shop and became wealthy and happy.
Only this much may be added, that after his departure from the duke’s palace, there was a great sensation, for when, on the next morning, the duke was about to fulfil his oath, and to have the dwarf beheaded in case he had not discovered the herbs, he was nowhere to be found; and the prince maintained that the duke had let him escape secretly rather than lose his best cook, and accused him of breaking his word of honour. This circumstance gave rise to a great war between the two princes, which is well known in history by the name of the “Herb War.” Many battles were fought, but at length a peace was concluded, which is now called the “Pie Peace,” because at the festival of reconciliation the Souzeraine, queen of pies, was prepared by the prince’s cook, and relished by the duke in the highest degree.
Thus the most trifling causes often lead to the greatest result; and this, reader, is the story of “Nose, the Dwarf.”
There once was a woman who wanted so very much to have a tiny little child, but she did not know where to find one. So she went to an old witch, and she said:
“I have set my heart upon having a tiny little child. Please could you tell me where I can find one?”
“Why, that’s easily done,” said the witch. “Here’s a grain of barley for you, but it isn’t at all the sort of barley that farmers grow in their fields or that the chickens get to eat. Put it in a flower pot and you’ll see what you shall see.”
“Oh thank you!” the woman said. She gave the witch twelve pennies, and planted the barley seed as soon as she got home. It quickly grew into a fine large flower, which looked very much like a tulip. But the petals were folded tight, as though it were still a bud.
“This is such a pretty flower,” said the woman. She kissed its lovely red and yellow petals, and just as she kissed it the flower gave a loud pop! and flew open. It was a tulip, right enough, but on the green cushion in the middle of it sat a tiny girl. She was dainty and fair to see, but she was no taller than your thumb. So she was called Thumbelina.
A nicely polished walnut shell served as her cradle. Her mattress was made of the blue petals of violets, and a rose petal was pulled up to cover her. That was how she slept at night. In the daytime she played on a table where the woman put a plate surrounded with a wreath of flowers. Their stems lay in the water, on which there floated a large tulip petal. Thumbelina used the petal as a boat, and with a pair of white horsehairs for oars she could row clear across the plate-a charming sight. She could sing, too. Her voice was the softest and sweetest that anyone ever has heard.
One night as she lay in her cradle, a horrible toad hopped in through the window-one of the panes was broken. This big, ugly, slimy toad jumped right down on the table where Thumbelina was asleep under the red rose petal.
“Here’s a perfect wife for my son!” the toad exclaimed. She seized upon the walnut shell in which Thumbelina lay asleep, and hopped off with it, out the window and into the garden. A big broad stream ran through it, with a muddy marsh along its banks, and here the toad lived with her son. Ugh! he was just like his mother, slimy and horrible. “Co-ax, co-ax, brek-ek-eke-kex,” was all that he could say when he saw the graceful little girl in the walnut shell.
“Don’t speak so loud, or you will wake her up,” the old toad told him. “She might get away from us yet, for she is as light as a puff of swan’s-down. We must put her on one of the broad water lily leaves out in the stream. She is so small and light that it will be just like an island to her, and she can’t run away from us while we are making our best room under the mud ready for you two to live in.”
Many water lilies with broad green leaves grew in the stream, and it looked as if they were floating on the surface. The leaf which lay furthest from the bank was the largest of them all, and it was to this leaf that the old toad swam with the walnut shell which held Thumbelina.
The poor little thing woke up early next morning, and when she saw where she was she began to cry bitterly. There was water all around the big green leaf and there was no way at all for her to reach the shore. The old toad sat in the mud, decorating a room with green rushes and yellow water lilies, to have it looking its best for her new daughter-in-law. Then she and her ugly son swam out to the leaf on which Thumbelina was standing. They came for her pretty little bed, which they wanted to carry to the bridal chamber before they took her there.
The old toad curtsied deep in the water before her, and said:
“Meet my son. He is to be your husband, and you will share a delightful home in the mud.”
“Co-ax, co-ax, brek-ek-eke-kex,” was all that her son could say.
Then they took the pretty little bed and swam away with it. Left all alone on the green leaf, Thumbelina sat down and cried. She did not want to live in the slimy toad’s house, and she didn’t want to have the toad’s horrible son for her husband. The little fishes who swam in the water beneath her had seen the toad and heard what she had said. So up popped their heads to have a look at the little girl. No sooner had they seen her than they felt very sorry that anyone so pretty should have to go down to live with that hideous toad. No, that should never be! They gathered around the green stem which held the leaf where she was, and gnawed it in two with their teeth. Away went the leaf down the stream, and away went Thumbelina, far away where the toad could not catch her.
Thumbelina sailed past many a place, and when the little birds in the bushes saw her they sang, “What a darling little girl.” The leaf drifted further and further away with her, and so it was that Thumbelina became a traveler.
A lovely white butterfly kept fluttering around her, and at last alighted on the leaf, because he admired Thumbelina. She was a happy little girl again, now that the toad could not catch her. It was all very lovely as she floated along, and where the sun struck the water it looked like shining gold. Thumbelina undid her sash, tied one end of it to the butterfly, and made the other end fast to the leaf. It went much faster now, and Thumbelina went much faster too, for of course she was standing on it.
Just then, a big May-bug flew by and caught sight of her. Immediately he fastened his claws around her slender waist and flew with her up into a tree. Away went the green leaf down the stream, and away went the butterfly with it, for he was tied to the leaf and could not get loose.
My goodness! How frightened little Thumbelina was when the May-bug carried her up in the tree. But she was even more sorry for the nice white butterfly she had fastened to the leaf, because if he couldn’t free himself he would have to starve to death. But the May-bug wasn’t one to care about that. He sat her down on the largest green leaf of the tree, fed her honey from the flowers, and told her how pretty she was, considering that she didn’t look the least like a May-bug. After a while, all the other May-bugs who lived in the tree came to pay them a call. As they stared at Thumbelina, the lady May-bugs threw up their feelers and said:
“Why, she has only two legs-what a miserable sight!”
“She hasn’t any feelers,” one cried.
“She is pinched in at the waist-how shameful! She looks like a human being-how ugly she is!” said all of the female May-bugs.
Yet Thumbelina was as pretty as ever. Even the May-bug who had flown away with her knew that, but as every last one of them kept calling her ugly, he at length came to agree with them and would have nothing to do with her-she could go wherever she chose. They flew down out of the tree with her and left her on a daisy, where she sat and cried because she was so ugly that the May-bugs wouldn’t have anything to do with her.
Nevertheless, she was the loveliest little girl you can imagine, and as frail and fine as the petal of a rose.
All summer long, poor Thumbelina lived all alone in the woods. She wove herself a hammock of grass, and hung it under a big burdock leaf to keep off the rain. She took honey from the flowers for food, and drank the dew which she found on the leaves every morning. In this way the summer and fall went by. Then came the winter, the long, cold winter. All the birds who had sung so sweetly for her flew away. The trees and the flowers withered. The big burdock leaf under which she had lived shriveled up until nothing was left of it but a dry, yellow stalk. She was terribly cold, for her clothes had worn threadbare and she herself was so slender and frail. Poor Thumbelina, she would freeze to death! Snow began to fall, and every time a snowflake struck her it was as if she had been hit by a whole shovelful, for we are quite tall while she measured only an inch. She wrapped a withered leaf about her, but there was no warmth in it. She shivered with cold.
Near the edge of the woods where she now had arrived, was a large grain field, but the grain had been harvested long ago. Only the dry, bare stubble stuck out of the frozen ground. It was just as if she were lost in a vast forest, and oh how she shivered with cold! Then she came to the door of a field mouse, who had a little hole amidst the stubble. There this mouse lived, warm and cozy, with a whole store-room of grain, and a magnificent kitchen and pantry. Poor Thumbelina stood at the door, just like a beggar child, and pled for a little bit of barley, because she hadn’t had anything to eat for two days past.
“Why, you poor little thing,” said the field mouse, who turned out to be a kind-hearted old creature. “You must come into my warm room and share my dinner.” She took such a fancy to Thumbelina that she said, “If you care to, you may stay with me all winter, but you must keep my room tidy, and tell me stories, for I am very fond of them.” Thumbelina did as the kind old field mouse asked and she had a very good time of it.
“Soon we shall have a visitor,” the field mouse said. “Once every week my neighbor comes to see me, and he is even better off than I am. His rooms are large, and he wears such a beautiful black velvet coat. If you could only get him for a husband you would be well taken care of, but he can’t see anything. You must tell him the very best stories you know.”
Thumbelina did not like this suggestion. She would not even consider the neighbor, because he was a mole. He paid them a visit in his black velvet coat. The field mouse talked about how wealthy and wise he was, and how his home was more than twenty times larger than hers. But for all of his knowledge he cared nothing at all for the sun and the flowers. He had nothing good to say for them, and had never laid eyes on them. As
Thumbelina had to sing for him, she sang, “May-bug, May-bug, fly away home,” and “The Monk goes afield.” The mole fell in love with her sweet voice, but he didn’t say anything about it yet, for he was a most discreet fellow.
He had just dug a long tunnel through the ground from his house to theirs, and the field mouse and Thumbelina were invited to use it whenever they pleased, though he warned them not to be alarmed by the dead bird which lay in this passage. It was a complete bird, with feather and beak. It must have died quite recently, when winter set in, and it was buried right in the middle of the tunnel.
The mole took in his mouth a torch of decayed wood. In the darkness it glimmered like fire. He went ahead of them to light the way through the long, dark passage. When they came to where the dead bird lay, the mole put his broad nose to the ceiling and made a large hole through which daylight could fall. In the middle of the floor lay a dead swallow, with his lovely wings folded at his sides and his head tucked under his feathers. The poor bird must certainly have died of the cold. Thumbelina felt so sorry for him. She loved all the little birds who had sung and sweetly twittered to her all through the summer. But the mole gave the body a kick with his short stumps, and said, “Now he won’t be chirping any more. What a wretched thing it is to be born a little bird. Thank goodness none of my children can be a bird, who has nothing but his ‘chirp, chirp’, and must starve to death when winter comes along.”
“Yes, you are so right, you sensible man,” the field mouse agreed. “What good is all his chirp-chirping to a bird in the winter time, when he starves and freezes? But that’s considered very grand, I imagine.”
Thumbelina kept silent, but when the others turned their back on the bird she bent over, smoothed aside the feathers that hid the bird’s head, and kissed his closed eyes.
“Maybe it was he who sang so sweetly to me in the summertime,” she thought to herself. “What pleasure he gave me, the dear, pretty bird.”
The mole closed up the hole that let in the daylight, and then he took the ladies home. That night Thumbelina could not sleep a wink, so she got up and wove a fine large coverlet out of hay. She took it to the dead bird and spread it over him, so that he would lie warm in the cold earth. She tucked him in with some soft thistledown that she had found in the field mouse’s room.
“Good-by, you pretty little bird,” she said. “Good-by, and thank you for your sweet songs last summer, when the trees were all green and the sun shone so warmly upon us.” She laid her head on his breast, and it startled her to feel a soft thump, as if something were beating inside. This was the bird’s heart. He was not dead- he was only numb with cold, and now that he had been warmed he came to life again.
In the fall, all swallows fly off to warm countries, but if one of them starts too late he gets so cold that he drops down as if he were dead, and lies where he fell. And then the cold snow covers him.
Thumbelina was so frightened that she trembled, for the bird was so big, so enormous compared to her own inch of height. But she mustered her courage, tucked the cotton wool down closer around the poor bird, brought the mint leaf that covered her own bed, and spread it over the bird’s head.
The following night she tiptoed out to him again. He was alive now, but so weak that he could barely open his eyes for a moment to look at Thumbelina, who stood beside him with the piece of touchwood that was her only lantern.
“Thank you, pretty little child,” the sick swallow said. “I have been wonderfully warmed. Soon I shall get strong once more, and be able to fly again in the warm sunshine.”
“Oh,” she said, “It’s cold outside, it’s snowing, and freezing. You just stay in your warm bed and I’ll nurse you.”
Then she brought him some water in the petal of a flower. The swallow drank, and told her how he had hurt one of his wings in a thorn bush, and for that reason couldn’t fly as fast as the other swallows when they flew far, far away to the warm countries. Finally he had dropped to the ground. That was all he remembered, and he had no idea how he came to be where she found him.
The swallow stayed there all through the winter, and Thumbelina was kind to him and tended him with loving care. She didn’t say anything about this to the field mouse or to the mole, because they did not like the poor unfortunate swallow.
As soon as spring came and the sun warmed the earth, the swallow told Thumbelina it was time to say good-by. She reopened the hole that the mole had made in the ceiling, and the sun shone in splendor upon them. The swallow asked Thumbelina to go with him. She could sit on his back as they flew away through the green woods. But Thumbelina knew that it would make the old field mouse feel badly if she left like that, so she said:
“No, I cannot go.”
“Fare you well, fare you well, my good and pretty girl,” said the swallow, as he flew into the sunshine. Tears came into Thumbelina’s eyes as she watched him go, for she was so fond of the poor swallow.
“Chirp, chirp!” sang the bird, at he flew into the green woods.
Thumbelina felt very downcast. She was not permitted to go out in the warm sunshine. Moreover, the grain that was sown in the field above the field mouse’s house grew so tall that, to a poor little girl who was only an inch high, it was like a dense forest.
“You must work on your trousseau this summer,” the field mouse said, for their neighbor, that loathsome mole in his black velvet coat, had proposed to her. “You must have both woolens and linens, both bedding and wardrobe, when you become the mole’s wife.”
Thumbelina had to turn the spindle, and the field mouse hired four spiders to spin and weave for her day and night. The mole came to call every evening, and his favorite remark was that the sun, which now baked the earth as hard as a rock, would not be nearly so hot when summer was over. Yes, as soon as summer was past he would be marrying Thumbelina. But she was not at all happy about it, because she didn’t like the tedious mole the least bit. Every morning at sunrise and every evening at sunset, she would steal out the door. When the breeze blew the ears of grain apart she could catch glimpses of the blue sky. She could dream about how bright and fair it was out of doors, and how she wished she would see her dear swallow again. But he did not come back, for doubtless he was far away, flying about in the lovely green woods.
When fall arrived, Thumbelina’s whole trousseau was ready.
“Your wedding day is four weeks off,” the field mouse told her. But Thumbelina cried and declared that she would not have the tedious mole for a husband.
“Fiddlesticks,” said the field mouse. “Don’t you be obstinate, or I’ll bite you with my white teeth. Why, you’re getting a superb husband. The queen herself hasn’t a black velvet coat as fine as his. Both his kitchen and his cellar are well supplied. You ought to thank goodness that you are getting him.”
Then came the wedding day. The mole had come to take Thumbelina home with him, where she would have to live deep underground and never go out in the warm sunshine again, because he disliked it so. The poor little girl felt very sad that she had to say good-by to the glorious sun, which the field mouse had at least let her look out at through the doorway.
“Farewell, bright sun!” she said. With her arm stretched toward it she walked a little way from the field mouse’s home. The grain had been harvested, and only the dry stubble was left in the field. “Farewell. farewell!” she cried again, and flung her little arms around a small red flower that was still in bloom. “If you see my dear swallow, please give him my love.”
“Chirp, chirp! Chirp, chirp!” She suddenly heard a twittering over her head. She looked up and there was the swallow, just passing by. He was so glad to see Thumbelina although, when she told him how she hated to marry the mole and live deep underground where the sun never shone, she could not hold back her tears.
“Now that the cold winter is coming,” the swallow told her, “I shall fly far, far away to the warm countries. Won’t you come along with me? You can ride on my back. Just tie yourself on with your sash, and away we’ll fly, far from the ugly mole and his dark hole-far, far away, over the mountains to the warm countries where the sun shines so much fairer than here, to where it is always summer and there are always flowers. Please fly away with me, dear little Thumbelina, you who saved my life when I lay frozen in a dark hole in the earth.”
“Yes, I will go with you!” said Thumbelina. She sat on his back, put her feet on his outstretched wings, and fastened her sash to one of his strongest feathers. Then the swallow soared into the air over forests and over lakes, high up over the great mountains that are always capped with snow. When Thumbelina felt cold in the chill air, she crept under the bird’s warm feathers, with only her little head stuck out to watch all the wonderful sights below.
At length they came to the warm countries. There the sun shone far more brightly than it ever does here, and the sky seemed twice as high. Along the ditches and hedgerows grew marvelous green and blue grapes. Lemons and oranges hung in the woods. The air smelled sweetly of myrtle and thyme. By the wayside, the loveliest children ran hither and thither, playing with the brightly colored butterflies.
But the swallow flew on still farther, and it became more and more beautiful. Under magnificent green trees, on the shore of a blue lake there stood an ancient palace of dazzling white marble. The lofty pillars were wreathed with vines, and at the top of them many swallows had made their nests. One nest belonged to the swallow who carried Thumbelina.
“This is my home,” the swallow told her. “If you will choose one of those glorious flowers in bloom down below, I shall place you in it, and you will have all that your heart desires.”
“That will be lovely,” she cried, and clapped her tiny hands.
A great white marble pillar had fallen to the ground, where it lay in three broken pieces. Between these pieces grew the loveliest large white flowers. The swallow flew down with Thumbelina and put her on one of the large petals. How surprised she was to find in the center of the flower a little man, as shining and transparent as if he had been made of glass. On his head was the daintiest of little gold crowns, on his shoulders were the brightest shining wings, and he was not a bit bigger than Thumbelina. He was the spirit of the flower. In every flower there lived a small man or woman just like him, but he was the king over all of them.
“Oh, isn’t he handsome?” Thumbelina said softly to the swallow. The king was somewhat afraid of the swallow, which seemed a very giant of a bird to anyone as small as he. But when he saw Thumbelina he rejoiced, for she was the prettiest little girl he had ever laid eyes on. So he took off his golden crown and put it on her head. He asked if he might know her name, and he asked her to be his wife, which would make her queen over all the flowers. Here indeed was a different sort of husband from the toad’s son and the mole with his black velvet coat. So she said “Yes” to this charming king. From all the flowers trooped little ladies and gentlemen delightful to behold. Every one of them brought Thumbelina a present, but the best gift of all was a pair of wings that had belonged to a large silver fly. When these were made fast to her back, she too could flit from flower to flower. Everyone rejoiced, as the swallow perched above them in his nest and sang his very best songs for them. He was sad though, deep down in his heart, for he liked Thumbelina so much that he wanted never to part with her.
“You shall no longer be called Thumbelina,” the flower spirit told her. “That name is too ugly for anyone as pretty as you are. We shall call you Maia.”
“Good-by, good-by,” said the swallow. He flew away again from the warm countries, back to far-away Denmark, where he had a little nest over the window of the man who can tell you fairy tales. To him the bird sang, “Chirp, chirp! Chirp, chirp!” and that’s how we heard the whole story.
Søren Kierkegaard was a young university student who lived in the city of Copenhagen, Denmark in the nineteenth century. He enjoyed his university studies, but he felt that they were missing something. His professors taught the views of thinkers from hundreds of years earlier and classified them according to their various beliefs pertaining to the meaning of the world. However, none of them helped young Kierkegaard find the meaning of his own world.
In his diary, he wrote: “What I seek is to find my own philosophy – the philosophy of Søren Kierkegaard – first name, last name – not the philosophy of all people.” Despite his confused thoughts, he was by no means a lonesome person. Indeed, he was extremely popular among his friend and was invited to many parties, although, there too, he felt like something was missing.
One night, while returning home from a party where he had been witty and entertaining and the center of attention, he felt that he was not having a good time at all. The immense boredom of a life without meaning was simply preventing him from enjoying himself.
So Kierkegaard decided to try to be a good, moral person – the kind of person that does what everyone should actually be doing. Perhaps by doing so, he hoped, he would find the solution to his problem. Now, he crossed the street only at crosswalks, he returned all his books to the library on time, and, even though he was not at all ready for the life of a family man, he asked his girlfriend Regine Olsen to marry him. Soon after, the two announced that they planned to be wed.
That’s how it should be, thought Kierkegaard: study at university, get married, bring children into the world, work, and… and what? Is that all that life has to offer me?
Kierkegaard was terribly depressed. The way of life that appeared to suit everyone else did not suit him at all. And now he had also made a commitment to marry Regine, who was a wonderful young woman. Did she truly deserve to be with someone who found no interest in the way of life that was so well suited to everyone else?
Suddenly, an idea struck him. All the elderly professors had tried to speak to him using intellect, to explain how the world worked and how he, as a person in the world, should act. But Kierkegaard did not want to live in the world like an ordinary person: his intellect was satisfied by the professors’ arguments, but his soul wanted more.
He then tried to follow the path of the heart. After all, everyone says that people need to follow their hearts, and he truly did love Regine. However, deep down in his soul, he knew that despite his feelings for Regine, he was destined for a different path in life: a path that, were he not to take it – even if it ran counter to his intellect and his heart – he could never truly be happy.
Therefore, to the great surprise of the citizens of Copenhagen, Kierkegaard called off his engagement to Regine, closed himself up in his house, and sent a notice to the press: “Dear citizens of Copenhagen – A number of books will soon be published under various names. Please do not relate to these books as if they were written by Søren Kierkegaard.” It was a strange notice by all accounts. Books were always being published under the names of different authors: why would people think they were written by Søren Kierkegaard?
Not long passed before a book titled Either/Or, Part I was published by a man named Victor Eremita. The book was very thick and consisted of different chapters emphasizing that what was important in life was simply to enjoy life without thinking too much about it: to go to parties, to love, to eat, and to be happy.
The book was well written, humorous, and persuasive, and all of Copenhagen quickly entered a craze of parties and recreation. But as every lover of recreation knows, too many parties ultimately results in boredom. And if a good party was no longer something that could be enjoyed, then what could be enjoyed?
Fortunately, around the time when Copenhagen began to understand that a life of continuous partying can be extremely boring, another book, written by a man who introduced himself as a judge and a family man, was published under the title Either/Or, Part II. This book praised moral life, family life, and the law.
Like Part I, Either/Or Part II was written so persuasively that all of Copenhagen now decided to live moral lives. They stopped speaking profanities in public, crossed the street only at crosswalks, and checked their children’s homework everyday. But when everyone lives like everyone else, it is hard to feel that my life holds something special. And who wants to feel that there is nothing special in their life?
By this point, people already knew that the author of these books was none other than Søren Kierkegaard. The citizens of the city were quick to approach the philosopher living among them and to ask him: “So… How should life be lived: as a life of parties or a life of morals?”
Because the books he wrote were titled Either/Or, they expected a simple answer – either this or that. Kierkegaard, however, responded with another book titled Fear and Trembling, this time under another pseudonym: Johannes de Silentio.
In this book, he spoke not about the life of all people but rather about the life of one man: Abraham the Patriarch. In the Bible, God asks Abraham to kill his only son Isaac. Although the act was demanded by God, it by no means pleasant or enjoyable in nature, and it was also not the good and moral act of a family man. Nonetheless, Abraham, the “knight of faith,” set out to fulfill God’s commandment – without asking what about it was enjoyable or moral, but rather simply by virtue of the faith in his heart.
The citizens of Copenhagen thought that this time they understood Kierkegaard: they were not supposed to live a life of debauchery or a life of morals, but rather a religious life – a life of faith. Therefore, the confused people of the city decided to abandon the life of debauchery and family life for a life in the bosom of religion. They began saying prayers each night before going to sleep, consulting with the scriptures regarding every decision, and visiting houses of worship every weekend.
Quite disappointed with the response of the citizens of his city, Kierkegaard published another book, this time not under a pseudonym but rather using his own name. In this book, titled The Point of View of My Work as an Author, Kierkegaard explained that people live their lives in society and try to judge themselves according to the standards of others or to find their path in the books of others. Society, from its part, moves like a herd, following every new fashion that arrives in the city. As a result, people are carried from here to there, from fashion to fashion, and from one kind of life to another, without ever pausing momentarily to ask: “What kind of life is best suited for me?”
Suddenly, the citizens of Copenhagen understood just how mistaken they had been in their understanding of the previously published books: they had quickly changed their lives in accordance with every new book they found sufficiently convincing, without stopping to ask themselves whether the life in question was one that suited them.
And what about you, my dear readers – Have you ever stopped to ask yourselves: “What kind of life is best suited me?”
*This story is taken from: “True Tales Project”, That will be published in 2018 by Fennec Publishing.
Raggedy Ann had been away all day.
Marcella had come early in the morning and dressed all the dolls and placed them about the nursery.
Some of the dolls had been put in the little red chairs around the little doll table. There was nothing to eat upon the table except a turkey, a fried egg and an apple, all made of plaster of paris and painted in natural colors. The little teapot and other doll dishes were empty, but Marcella had told them to enjoy their dinner while she was away.
The French dolly had been given a seat upon the doll sofa and Uncle Clem had been placed at the piano.
Marcella picked up Raggedy Ann and carried her out of the nursery when she left, telling the dolls to “be real good children, while Mamma is away!”
When the door closed, the tin soldier winked at the Dutch-boy doll and handed the imitation turkey to the penny dolls. “Have some nice turkey?” he asked.
“No thank you!” the penny dolls said in little penny-doll, squeaky voices, “We have had all we can eat!”
“Shall I play you a tune?” asked Uncle Clem of the French doll.
At this all the dolls laughed, for Uncle Clem could not begin to play any tune. Raggedy Ann was the only doll who had ever taken lessons, and she could play Peter-Peter-Pumpkin-Eater with one hand.
In fact, Marcella had almost worn out Raggedy Ann’s right hand teaching it to her.
“Play something lively!” said the French doll, as she giggled behind her hand, so Uncle Clem began hammering the eight keys on the toy piano with all his might until a noise was heard upon the stairs.
Quick as a wink, all the dolls took the same positions in which they had been placed by Marcella, for they did not wish really truly people to know that they could move about.
But it was only Fido. He put his nose in the door and looked around.
All the dolls at the table looked steadily at the painted food, and Uncle Clem leaned upon the piano keys looking just as unconcerned as when he had been placed there.
Then Fido pushed the door open and came into the nursery wagging his tail.
He walked over to the table and sniffed, in hopes Marcella had given the dolls real food and that some would still be left.
“Where’s Raggedy Ann?” Fido asked, when he had satisfied himself that there was no food.
“Mistress took Raggedy Ann and went somewhere!” all the dolls answered in chorus.
“I’ve found something I must tell Raggedy Ann about!” said Fido, as he scratched his ear.
“Is it a secret?” asked the penny dolls.
“Secret nothing,” replied Fido, “It’s kittens!”
“How lovely!” cried all the dolls, “Really live kittens?”
“Really live kittens!” replied Fido, “Three little tiny ones, out in the barn!”
“Oh, I wish Raggedy Ann was here!” cried the French doll. “She would know what to do about it!”
“That’s why I wanted to see her,” said Fido, as he thumped his tail on the floor, “I did not know there were any kittens and I went into the barn to hunt for mice and the first thing I knew Mamma Cat came bouncing right at me with her eyes looking green! I tell you I hurried out of there!”
“How did you know there were any kittens then?” asked Uncle Clem.
“I waited around the barn until Mamma Cat went up to the house and then I slipped into the barn again, for I knew there must be something inside or she would not have jumped at me that way! We are always very friendly, you know.” Fido continued. “And what was my surprise to find three tiny little kittens in an old basket, ‘way back in a dark corner!”
“Go get them, Fido, and bring them up so we can see them!” said the tin soldier.
“Not me!” said Fido, “If I had a suit of tin clothes on like you have I might do it, but you know cats can scratch very hard if they want to!”
“We will tell Raggedy when she comes in!” said the French doll, and then Fido went out to play with a neighbor dog.
So when Raggedy Ann had been returned to the nursery the dolls could hardly wait until Marcella had put on their nighties and left them for the night.
Then they told Raggedy Ann all about the kittens.
Raggedy Ann jumped from her bed and ran over to Fido’s basket; he wasn’t there.
Then Raggedy suggested that all the dolls go out to the barn and see the kittens. This they did easily, for the window was open and it was but a short jump to the ground.
They found Fido out near the barn watching a hole.
“I was afraid something might disturb them,” he said, “for Mamma Cat went away about an hour ago.”
All the dolls, with Raggedy Ann in the lead, crawled through the hole and ran to the basket.
Just as Raggedy Ann started to pick up one of the kittens there was a lot of howling and yelping and Fido came bounding through the hole with Mamma Cat behind him. When Mamma Cat caught up with Fido he would yelp.
When Fido and Mamma Cat had circled the barn two or three times Fido managed to find the hole and escape to the yard; then Mamma Cat came over to the basket and saw all the dolls.
“I’m s’prised at you, Mamma Cat!” said Raggedy Ann, “Fido has been watching your kittens for an hour while you were away. He wouldn’t hurt them for anything!”
“I’m sorry, then,” said Mamma Cat.
“You must trust Fido, Mamma Cat!” said Raggedy Ann, “because he loves you and anyone who loves you can be trusted!”
“That’s so!” replied Mamma Cat. “Cats love mice, too, and I wish the mice trusted us more!”
The dolls all laughed at this joke.
“Have you told the folks up at the house about your dear little kittens?” Raggedy Ann asked.
“Oh, my, no!” exclaimed Mamma Cat. “At the last place I lived the people found out about my kittens and do you know, all the kittens disappeared! I intend keeping this a secret!”
“But all the folks at this house are very kindly people and would dearly love your kittens!” cried all the dolls.
“Let’s take them right up to the nursery!” said Raggedy Ann, “And Mistress can find them there in the morning!”
“How lovely!” said all the dolls in chorus. “Do, Mamma Cat! Raggedy Ann knows, for she is stuffed with nice clean white cotton and is very wise!”
So after a great deal of persuasion, Mamma Cat finally consented. Raggedy Ann took two of the kittens and carried them to the house while Mamma Cat carried the other.
Raggedy Ann wanted to give the kittens her bed, but Fido, who was anxious to prove his affection, insisted that Mamma Cat and the kittens should have his nice soft basket.
The dolls could hardly sleep that night; they were so anxious to see what Mistress would say when she found the dear little kittens in the morning.
Raggedy Ann did not sleep a wink, for she shared her bed with Fido and he kept her awake whispering to her.
In the morning when Marcella came to the nursery, the first thing she saw was the three little kittens.
She cried out in delight and carried them all down to show to Mamma and Daddy. Mamma Cat went trailing along, arching her back and purring with pride as she rubbed against all the chairs and doors.
Mamma and Daddy said the kittens could stay in the nursery and belong to Marcella, so Marcella took them back to Fido’s basket while she hunted names for them out of a fairy tale book.
Marcella finally decided upon three names; Prince Charming for the white kitty, Cinderella for the Maltese and Princess Golden for the kitty with the yellow stripes.
So that is how the three little kittens came to live in the nursery.
And it all turned out just as Raggedy Ann had said, for her head was stuffed with clean white cotton, and she could think exceedingly wise thoughts.
And Mamma Cat found out that Fido was a very good friend, too. She grew to trust him so much she would even let him help wash the kittens’ faces.
Raggedy Ann watched with interest the preparations.
A number of sticks were being fastened together with strings and covered with light cloth.
Raggedy Ann heard some of the boys talk of “The Kite,” so Raggedy Ann knew this must be a kite.
When a tail had been fastened to the kite and a large ball of heavy twine tied to the front, one of the boys held the kite up in the air and another boy walked off, unwinding the ball of twine.
There was a nice breeze blowing, so the boy with the twine called, “Let ‘er go” and started running.
Marcella held Raggedy up so that she could watch the kite sail through the air.
How nicely it climbed! But suddenly the kite acted strangely, and as all the children shouted advice to the boy with the ball of twine, the kite began darting this way and that, and finally making four or five loop-the-loops, it crashed to the ground.
“It needs more tail on it!” one boy shouted.
Then the children asked each other where they might get more rags to fasten to the tail of the kite.
“Let’s tie Raggedy Ann to the tail!” suggested Marcella. “I know she would enjoy a trip ‘way up in the sky!”
The boys all shouted with delight at this new suggestion. So Raggedy Ann was tied to the tail of the kite.
This time the kite rose straight in the air and remained steady. The boy with the ball of twine unwound it until the kite and Raggedy Ann were ‘way, ‘way up and far away. How Raggedy Ann enjoyed being up there! She could see for miles and miles! And how tiny the children looked!
Suddenly a great puff of wind came and carried Raggedy Ann streaming ‘way out behind the kite! She could hear the wind singing on the twine as the strain increased.
Suddenly Raggedy Ann felt something rip. It was the rag to which she was tied. As each puff of wind caught her the rip widened.
When Marcella watched Raggedy Ann rise high above the field, she wondered how much Raggedy Ann enjoyed it, and wished that she, too, might have gone along. But after the kite had been up in the air for five or ten minutes, Marcella grew restless. Kites were rather tiresome. There was more fun in tea parties out under the apple tree.
“Will you please pull down the kite now?” she asked the boy with the twine. “I want Raggedy Ann.”
“Let her ride up there!” the boy replied. “We’ll bring her home when we pull down the kite! We’re going to get another ball of twine and let her go higher!”
Marcella did not like to leave Raggedy Ann with the boys, so she sat down upon the ground to wait until they pulled down the kite.
But while Marcella watched Raggedy Ann, a dot in the sky, she could not see the wind ripping the rag to which Raggedy was tied.
Suddenly the rag parted and Raggedy Ann went sailing away as the wind caught in her skirts.
Marcella jumped from the ground, too surprised to say anything. The kite, released from the weight of Raggedy Ann began darting and swooping to the ground.
“We’ll get her for you!” some of the boys said when they saw Marcella’s troubled face, and they started running in the direction Raggedy Ann had fallen. Marcella and the other girls ran with them. They ran, and they ran, and they ran, and at last they found the kite upon the ground with one of the sticks broken, but they could not find Raggedy Ann anywhere.
“She must have fallen almost in your yard!” a boy said to Marcella, “for the kite was directly over here when the doll fell!”
Marcella was heartbroken. She went in the house and lay on the bed. Mamma went out with the children and tried to find Raggedy Ann, but Raggedy Ann was nowhere to be seen.
When Daddy came home in the evening he tried to find Raggedy, but met with no success. Marcella had eaten hardly any dinner, nor could she be comforted by Mamma or Daddy. The other dolls in the nursery lay forgotten and were not put to bed that night, for Marcella lay and sobbed and tossed about her bed.
Finally she said a little prayer for Raggedy Ann, and went to sleep. And as she slept Marcella dreamed that the fairies came and took Raggedy Ann with them to fairyland for a visit, and then sent Raggedy Ann home to her. She awakened with a cry. Of course Mamma came to her bed right away and said that Daddy would offer a reward in the morning for the return of Raggedy.
“It was all my fault, Mamma!” Marcella said. “I should not have offered the boys dear old Raggedy Ann to tie on the tail of the kite! But I just know the fairies will send her back.”
Mamma took her in her arms and soothed her with cheering words, although she felt indeed that Raggedy Ann was truly lost and would never be found again.
Now, where do you suppose Raggedy Ann was all this time?
When Raggedy Ann dropped from the kite, the wind caught in her skirts and carried her along until she fell in the fork of the large elm tree directly over Marcella’s house. When Raggedy Ann fell with a thud, face up in the fork of the tree, two robins who had a nest near by flew chattering away.
Presently the robins returned and quarreled at Raggedy Ann for laying so close to their nest, but Raggedy Ann only smiled at them and did not move.
When the robins quieted down and quit their quarreling, one of them hopped up closer to Raggedy Ann in order to investigate.
It was Mamma Robin. She called to Daddy Robin and told him to come. “See the nice yarn! We could use it to line the nest with,” she said.
So the robins hopped closer to Raggedy Ann and asked if they might have some of her yarn hair to line their nest. Raggedy Ann smiled at them. So the two robins pulled and tugged at Raggedy Ann’s yarn hair until they had enough to line their nest nice and soft.
Evening came and the robins sang their good night songs, and Raggedy Ann watched the stars come out, twinkle all night and disappear in the morning light. In the morning the robins again pulled yarn from Raggedy Ann’s head, and loosened her so she could peep over the side of the limb, and when the sun came up Raggedy Ann saw she was in the trees in her own yard.
Now before she could eat any breakfast, Marcella started out to find Raggedy Ann. And, it was Marcella herself who found her. And this is how she did it.
Mamma Robin had seen Marcella with Raggedy Ann out in the yard many times, so she began calling “Cheery! Cheery!” and Daddy Robin started calling “Cheery! Cheery! Cheer up! Cheer up! Cheerily Cheerily! Cheery! Cheery!” And Marcella looking up into the tree above the house to see the robins, discovered Raggedy Ann peeping over the limb at her.
Oh, how her heart beat with happiness. “Here is Raggedy Ann,” she shouted.
And Mamma and Daddy came out and saw Raggedy smiling at them, and Daddy got the clothes prop and climbed out of the attic window and poked Raggedy Ann out of the tree and she fell right into Marcella’s arms where she was hugged in a tight embrace.
“You’ll never go up on a kite again, Raggedy Ann!” said Marcella, “for I felt so lost without you. I will never let you leave me again.”
So Raggedy Ann went into the house and had breakfast with her little mistress and Mamma and Daddy smiled at each other when they peeped through the door into the breakfast room, for Raggedy Ann’s smile was wide and very yellow. Marcella, her heart full of happiness, was feeding Raggedy Ann part of her egg.
One day the dolls were left all to themselves.
Their little mistress had placed them all around the room and told them to be nice children while she was away.
And there they sat and never even so much as wiggled a finger, until their mistress had left the room.
Then the soldier dolly turned his head and solemnly winked at Raggedy Ann.
And when the front gate clicked and the dollies knew they were alone in the house, they all scrambled to their feet.
“Now let’s have a good time!” cried the tin soldier. “Let’s all go in search of something to eat!”
“Yes! Let’s all go in search of something to eat!” cried all the other dollies.
“When Mistress had me out playing with her this morning,” said Raggedy Ann, “she carried me by a door near the back of the house and I smelled something which smelled as if it would taste delicious!”
“Then you lead the way, Raggedy Ann!” cried the French dolly.
“I think it would be a good plan to elect Raggedy Ann as our leader on this expedition!” said the Indian doll.
At this all the other dolls clapped their hands together and shouted, “Hurrah! Raggedy Ann will be our leader.”
So Raggedy Ann, very proud indeed to have the confidence and love of all the other dollies, said that she would be very glad to be their leader.
“Follow me!” she cried as her wobbly legs carried her across the floor at a lively pace.
The other dollies followed, racing about the house until they came to the pantry door. “This is the place!” cried Raggedy Ann, and sure enough, all the dollies smelled something which they knew must be very good to eat.
But none of the dollies was tall enough to open the door and, although they pushed and pulled with all their might, the door remained tightly closed.
The dollies were talking and pulling and pushing and every once in a while one would fall over and the others would step on her in their efforts to open the door. Finally Raggedy Ann drew away from the others and sat down on the floor.
When the other dollies discovered Raggedy Ann sitting there, running her rag hands through her yarn hair, they knew she was thinking.
“Sh! Sh!” they said to each other and quietly went over near Raggedy Ann and sat down in front of her.
“There must be a way to get inside,” said Raggedy Ann.
“Raggedy says there must be a way to get inside!” cried all the dolls.
“I can’t seem to think clearly to-day,” said Raggedy Ann. “It feels as if my head were ripped.”
At this the French doll ran to Raggedy Ann and took off her bonnet. “Yes, there is a rip in your head, Raggedy!” she said and pulled a pin from her skirt and pinned up Raggedy’s head. “It’s not a very neat job, for I got some puckers in it!” she said.
“Oh that is ever so much better!” cried Raggedy Ann. “Now I can think quite clearly.”
“Now Raggedy can think quite clearly!” cried all the dolls.
“My thoughts must have leaked out the rip before!” said Raggedy Ann.
“They must have leaked out before, dear Raggedy!” cried all the other dolls.
“Now that I can think so clearly,” said Raggedy Ann, “I think the door must be locked and to get in we must unlock it!”
“That will be easy!” said the Dutch doll who says “Mamma” when he is tipped backward and forward, “For we will have the brave tin soldier shoot the key out of the lock!”
“I can easily do that!” cried the tin soldier, as he raised his gun.
“Oh, Raggedy Ann!” cried the French dolly. “Please do not let him shoot!”
“No!” said Raggedy Ann. “We must think of a quieter way!”
After thinking quite hard for a moment, Raggedy Ann jumped up and said: “I have it!” And she caught up the Jumping Jack and held him up to the door; then Jack slid up his stick and unlocked the door.
Then the dollies all pushed and the door swung open.
My! Such a scramble! The dolls piled over one another in their desire to be the first at the goodies.
They swarmed upon the pantry shelves and in their eagerness spilled a pitcher of cream which ran all over the French dolly’s dress.
The Indian doll found some corn bread and dipping it in the molasses he sat down for a good feast.
A jar of raspberry jam was overturned and the dollies ate of this until their faces were all purple.
The tin soldier fell from the shelf three times and bent one of his tin legs, but he scrambled right back up again.
Never had the dolls had so much fun and excitement, and they had all eaten their fill when they heard the click of the front gate.
They did not take time to climb from the shelves, but all rolled or jumped off to the floor and scrambled back to their room as fast as they could run, leaving a trail of bread crumbs and jam along the way.
Just as their mistress came into the room the dolls dropped in whatever positions they happened to be in.
“This is funny!” cried Mistress. “They were all left sitting in their places around the room! I wonder if Fido has been shaking them up!” Then she saw Raggedy Ann’s face and picked her up. “Why Raggedy Ann, you are all sticky! I do believe you are covered with jam!” and Mistress tasted Raggedy Ann’s hand. “Yes! It’s JAM! Shame on you, Raggedy Ann! You’ve been in the pantry and all the others, too!” and with this the dolls’ mistress dropped Raggedy Ann on the floor and left the room.
When she came back she had on an apron and her sleeves were rolled up.
She picked up all the sticky dolls and putting them in a basket she carried them out under the apple tree in the garden.
There she had placed her little tub and wringer and she took the dolls one at a time, and scrubbed them with a scrubbing brush and soused them up and down and this way and that in the soap suds until they were clean.
Then she hung them all out on the clothes-line in the sunshine to dry.
There the dolls hung all day, swinging and twisting about as the breeze swayed the clothes-line.
“I do believe she scrubbed my face so hard she wore off my smile!” said Raggedy Ann, after an hour of silence.
“No, it is still there!” said the tin solder, as the wind twisted him around so he could see Raggedy. “But I do believe my arms will never work without squeaking, they feel so rusted,” he added.
Just then the wind twisted the little Dutch doll and loosened his clothes-pin, so that he fell to the grass below with a sawdusty bump and as he rolled over he said, “Mamma!” in a squeaky voice.
Late in the afternoon the back door opened and the little mistress came out with a table and chairs. After setting the table she took all the dolls from the line and placed them about the table.
They had lemonade with grape jelly in it, which made it a beautiful lavender color, and little “Baby-teeny-weeny-cookies” with powdered sugar on them.
After this lovely dinner, the dollies were taken in the house, where they had their hair brushed and nice clean nighties put on.
Then they were placed in their beds and Mistress kissed each one good night and tiptoed from the room.
All the dolls lay as still as mice for a few minutes, then Raggedy Ann raised up on her cotton-stuffed elbows and said: “I have been thinking!”
“Sh!” said all the other dollies, “Raggedy has been thinking!”
“Yes,” said Raggedy Ann, “I have been thinking; our mistress gave us the nice dinner out under the trees to teach us a lesson. She wished us to know that we could have had all the goodies we wished, whenever we wished, if we had behaved ourselves. And our lesson was that we must never take without asking what we could always have for the asking! So let us all remember and try never again to do anything which might cause those who love us any unhappiness!”
“Let us all remember,” chimed all the other dollies.
And Raggedy Ann, with a merry twinkle in her shoe-button eyes, lay back in her little bed, her cotton head filled with thoughts of love and happiness.
In the month of September, 185–, I arrived at Frankfort-on-the-Maine. My passage through the principal German cities had been brilliantly marked by balloon ascents; but as yet no German had accompanied me in my car, and the fine experiments made at Paris by MM. Green, Eugene Godard, and Poitevin had not tempted the grave Teutons to essay aerial voyages.
But scarcely had the news of my approaching ascent spread through Frankfort, than three of the principal citizens begged the favour of being allowed to ascend with me. Two days afterwards we were to start from the Place de la Comédie. I began at once to get my balloon ready. It was of silk, prepared with gutta percha, a substance impermeable by acids or gasses; and its volume, which was three thousand cubic yards, enabled it to ascend to the loftiest heights.
The day of the ascent was that of the great September fair, which attracts so many people to Frankfort. Lighting gas, of a perfect quality and of great lifting power, had been furnished to me in excellent condition, and about eleven o’clock the balloon was filled; but only three-quarters filled,–an indispensable precaution, for, as one rises, the atmosphere diminishes in density, and the fluid enclosed within the balloon, acquiring more elasticity, might burst its sides. My calculations had furnished me with exactly the quantity of gas necessary to carry up my companions and myself.
We were to start at noon. The impatient crowd which pressed around the enclosed space, filling the enclosed square, overflowing into the contiguous streets, and covering the houses from the ground-floor to the slated gables, presented a striking scene. The high winds of the preceding days had subsided. An oppressive heat fell from the cloudless sky. Scarcely a breath animated the atmosphere. In such weather, one might descend again upon the very spot whence he had risen.
I carried three hundred pounds of ballast in bags; the car, quite round, four feet in diameter, was comfortably arranged; the hempen cords which supported it stretched symmetrically over the upper hemisphere of the balloon; the compass was in place, the barometer suspended in the circle which united the supporting cords, and the anchor carefully put in order. All was now ready for the ascent.
Among those who pressed around the enclosure, I remarked a young man with a pale face and agitated features. The sight of him impressed me. He was an eager spectator of my ascents, whom I had already met in several German cities. With an uneasy air, he closely watched the curious machine, as it lay motionless a few feet above the ground; and he remained silent among those about him.
Twelve o’clock came. The moment had arrived, but my travelling companions did not appear.
I sent to their houses, and learnt that one had left for Hamburg, another for Vienna, and the third for London. Their courage had failed them at the moment of undertaking one of those excursions which, thanks to the ability of living aeronauts, are free from all danger. As they formed, in some sort, a part of the programme of the day, the fear had seized them that they might be forced to execute it faithfully, and they had fled far from the scene at the instant when the balloon was being filled. Their courage was evidently the inverse ratio of their speed–in decamping.
The multitude, half deceived, showed not a little ill-humour. I did not hesitate to ascend alone. In order to re-establish the equilibrium between the specific gravity of the balloon and the weight which had thus proved wanting, I replaced my companions by more sacks of sand, and got into the car. The twelve men who held the balloon by twelve cords fastened to the equatorial circle, let them slip a little between their fingers, and the balloon rose several feet higher. There was not a breath of wind, and the atmosphere was so leaden that it seemed to forbid the ascent.
“Is everything ready?” I cried.
The men put themselves in readiness. A last glance told me that I might go.
There was a movement in the crowd, which seemed to be invading the enclosure.
The balloon rose slowly, but I experienced a shock which threw me to the bottom of the car.
When I got up, I found myself face to face with an unexpected fellow-voyager,–the pale young man.
“Monsieur, I salute you,” said he, with the utmost coolness.
“By what right–”
“Am I here? By the right which the impossibility of your getting rid of me confers.”
I was amazed! His calmness put me out of countenance, and I had nothing to reply. I looked at the intruder, but he took no notice of my astonishment.
“Does my weight disarrange your equilibrium, monsieur?” he asked. “You will permit me–”
And without waiting for my consent, he relieved the balloon of two bags, which he threw into space.
“Monsieur,” said I, taking the only course now possible, “you have come; very well, you will remain; but to me alone belongs the management of the balloon.”
“Monsieur,” said he, “your urbanity is French all over: it comes from my own country. I morally press the hand you refuse me. Make all precautions, and act as seems best to you. I will wait till you have done–”
“To talk with you.”
The barometer had fallen to twenty-six inches. We were nearly six hundred yards above the city; but nothing betrayed the horizontal displacement of the balloon, for the mass of air in which it is enclosed goes forward with it. A sort of confused glow enveloped the objects spread out under us, and unfortunately obscured their outline.
I examined my companion afresh.
He was a man of thirty years, simply clad. The sharpness of his features betrayed an indomitable energy, and he seemed very muscular. Indifferent to the astonishment he created, he remained motionless, trying to distinguish the objects which were vaguely confused below us.
“Miserable mist!” said he, after a few moments.
I did not reply.
“You owe me a grudge?” he went on. “Bah! I could not pay for my journey, and it was necessary to take you by surprise.”
“Nobody asks you to descend, monsieur!”
“Eh, do you not know, then, that the same thing happened to the Counts of Laurencin and Dampierre, when they ascended at Lyons, on the 15th of January, 1784? A young merchant, named Fontaine, scaled the gallery, at the risk of capsizing the machine. He accomplished the journey, and nobody died of it!”
“Once on the ground, we will have an explanation,” replied I, piqued at the light tone in which he spoke.
“Bah! Do not let us think of our return.”
“Do you think, then, that I shall not hasten to descend?”
“Descend!” said he, in surprise. “Descend? Let us begin by first ascending.”
And before I could prevent it, two more bags had been thrown over the car, without even having been emptied.
“Monsieur!” cried I, in a rage.
“I know your ability,” replied the unknown quietly, “and your fine ascents are famous. But if Experience is the sister of Practice, she is also a cousin of Theory, and I have studied the aerial art long. It has got into my head!” he added sadly, falling into a silent reverie.
The balloon, having risen some distance farther, now became stationary. The unknown consulted the barometer, and said,–
“Here we are, at eight hundred yards. Men are like insects. See! I think we should always contemplate them from this height, to judge correctly of their proportions. The Place de la Comédie is transformed into an immense ant-hill. Observe the crowd which is gathered on the quays; and the mountains also get smaller and smaller. We are over the Cathedral. The Main is only a line, cutting the city in two, and the bridge seems a thread thrown between the two banks of the river.”
The atmosphere became somewhat chilly.
“There is nothing I would not do for you, my host,” said the unknown. “If you are cold, I will take off my coat and lend it to you.”
“Thanks,” said I dryly.
“Bah! Necessity makes law. Give me your hand. I am your fellow-countryman; you will learn something in my company, and my conversation will indemnify you for the trouble I have given you.”
I sat down, without replying, at the opposite extremity of the car. The young man had taken a voluminous manuscript from his great-coat. It was an essay on ballooning.
“I possess,” said he, “the most curious collection of engravings and caricatures extant concerning aerial manias. How people admired and scoffed at the same time at this precious discovery! We are happily no longer in the age in which Montgolfier tried to make artificial clouds with steam, or a gas having electrical properties, produced by the combustion of moist straw and chopped-up wool.”
“Do you wish to depreciate the talent of the inventors?” I asked, for I had resolved to enter into the adventure. “Was it not good to have proved by experience the possibility of rising in the air?”
“Ah, monsieur, who denies the glory of the first aerial navigators? It required immense courage to rise by means of those frail envelopes which only contained heated air. But I ask you, has the aerial science made great progress since Blanchard’s ascensions, that is, since nearly a century ago? Look here, monsieur.”
The unknown took an engraving from his portfolio.
“Here,” said he, “is the first aerial voyage undertaken by Pilâtre des Rosiers and the Marquis d’Arlandes, four months after the discovery of balloons. Louis XVI. refused to consent to the venture, and two men who were condemned to death were the first to attempt the aerial ascent. Pilâtre des Rosiers became indignant at this injustice, and, by means of intrigues, obtained permission to make the experiment. The car, which renders the management easy, had not then been invented, and a circular gallery was placed around the lower and contracted part of the Montgolfier balloon. The two aeronauts must then remain motionless at each extremity of this gallery, for the moist straw which filled it forbade them all motion. A chafing-dish with fire was suspended below the orifice of the balloon; when the aeronauts wished to rise, they threw straw upon this brazier, at the risk of setting fire to the balloon, and the air, more heated, gave it fresh ascending power. The two bold travellers rose, on the 21st of November, 1783, from the Muette Gardens, which the dauphin had put at their disposal. The balloon went up majestically, passed over the Isle of Swans, crossed the Seine at the Conference barrier, and, drifting between the dome of the Invalides and the Military School, approached the Church of Saint Sulpice. Then the aeronauts added to the fire, crossed the Boulevard, and descended beyond the Enfer barrier. As it touched the soil, the balloon collapsed, and for a few moments buried Pilâtre des Rosiers under its folds.”
“Unlucky augury,” I said, interested in the story, which affected me nearly.
“An augury of the catastrophe which was later to cost this unfortunate man his life,” replied the unknown sadly. “Have you never experienced anything like it?”
“Bah! Misfortunes sometimes occur unforeshadowed!” added my companion.
He then remained silent.
Meanwhile we were advancing southward, and Frankfort had already passed from beneath us.
“Perhaps we shall have a storm,” said the young man.
“We shall descend before that,” I replied.
“Indeed! It is better to ascend. We shall escape it more surely.”
And two more bags of sand were hurled into space.
The balloon rose rapidly, and stopped at twelve hundred yards. I became colder; and yet the sun’s rays, falling upon the surface, expanded the gas within, and gave it a greater ascending force.
“Fear nothing,” said the unknown. “We have still three thousand five hundred fathoms of breathing air. Besides, do not trouble yourself about what I do.”
I would have risen, but a vigorous hand held me to my seat.
“Your name?” I asked.
“My name? What matters it to you?”
“I demand your name!”
“My name is Erostratus or Empedocles, whichever you choose!”
This reply was far from reassuring.
The unknown, besides, talked with such strange coolness that I anxiously asked myself whom I had to deal with.
“Monsieur,” he continued, “nothing original has been imagined since the physicist Charles. Four months after the discovery of balloons, this able man had invented the valve, which permits the gas to escape when the balloon is too full, or when you wish to descend; the car, which aids the management of the machine; the netting, which holds the envelope of the balloon, and divides the weight over its whole surface; the ballast, which enables you to ascend, and to choose the place of your landing; the india-rubber coating, which renders the tissue impermeable; the barometer, which shows the height attained. Lastly, Charles used hydrogen, which, fourteen times lighter than air, permits you to penetrate to the highest atmospheric regions, and does not expose you to the dangers of a combustion in the air. On the 1st of December, 1783, three hundred thousand spectators were crowded around the Tuileries. Charles rose, and the soldiers presented arms to him. He travelled nine leagues in the air, conducting his balloon with an ability not surpassed by modern aeronauts. The king awarded him a pension of two thousand livres; for then they encouraged new inventions.”
The unknown now seemed to be under the influence of considerable agitation.
“Monsieur,” he resumed, “I have studied this, and I am convinced that the first aeronauts guided their balloons. Without speaking of Blanchard, whose assertions may be received with doubt, Guyton-Morveaux, by the aid of oars and rudder, made his machine answer to the helm, and take the direction he determined on. More recently, M. Julien, a watchmaker, made some convincing experiments at the Hippodrome, in Paris; for, by a special mechanism, his aerial apparatus, oblong in form, went visibly against the wind. It occurred to M. Petin to place four hydrogen balloons together; and, by means of sails hung horizontally and partly folded, he hopes to be able to disturb the equilibrium, and, thus inclining the apparatus, to convey it in an oblique direction. They speak, also, of forces to overcome the resistance of currents,–for instance, the screw; but the screw, working on a moveable centre, will give no result. I, monsieur, have discovered the only means of guiding balloons; and no academy has come to my aid, no city has filled up subscriptions for me, no government has thought fit to listen to me! It is infamous!”
The unknown gesticulated fiercely, and the car underwent violent oscillations. I had much trouble in calming him.
Meanwhile the balloon had entered a more rapid current, and we advanced south, at fifteen hundred yards above the earth.
“See, there is Darmstadt,” said my companion, leaning over the car. “Do you perceive the château? Not very distinctly, eh? What would you have? The heat of the storm makes the outline of objects waver, and you must have a skilled eye to recognize localities.”
“Are you certain it is Darmstadt?” I asked.
“I am sure of it. We are now six leagues from Frankfort.”
“Then we must descend.”
“Descend! You would not go down, on the steeples,” said the unknown, with a chuckle.
“No, but in the suburbs of the city.”
“Well, let us avoid the steeples!”
So speaking, my companion seized some bags of ballast. I hastened to prevent him; but he overthrew me with one hand, and the unballasted balloon ascended to two thousand yards.
“Rest easy,” said he, “and do not forget that Brioschi, Biot, Gay-Lussac, Bixio, and Barral ascended to still greater heights to make their scientific experiments.”
“Monsieur, we must descend,” I resumed, trying to persuade him by gentleness. “The storm is gathering around us. It would be more prudent–”
“Bah! We will mount higher than the storm, and then we shall no longer fear it!” cried my companion. “What is nobler than to overlook the clouds which oppress the earth? Is it not an honour thus to navigate on aerial billows? The greatest men have travelled as we are doing. The Marchioness and Countess de Montalembert, the Countess of Podenas, Mademoiselle la Garde, the Marquis de Montalembert, rose from the Faubourg Saint-Antoine for these unknown regions, and the Duke de Chartres exhibited much skill and presence of mind in his ascent on the 15th of July, 1784. At Lyons, the Counts of Laurencin and Dampierre; at Nantes, M. de Luynes; at Bordeaux, D’Arbelet des Granges; in Italy, the Chevalier Andreani; in our own time, the Duke of Brunswick,–have all left the traces of their glory in the air. To equal these great personages, we must penetrate still higher than they into the celestial depths! To approach the infinite is to comprehend it!”
The rarefaction of the air was fast expanding the hydrogen in the balloon, and I saw its lower part, purposely left empty, swell out, so that it was absolutely necessary to open the valve; but my companion did not seem to intend that I should manage the balloon as I wished. I then resolved to pull the valve cord secretly, as he was excitedly talking; for I feared to guess with whom I had to deal. It would have been too horrible! It was nearly a quarter before one. We had been gone forty minutes from Frankfort; heavy clouds were coming against the wind from the south, and seemed about to burst upon us.
“Have you lost all hope of succeeding in your project?” I asked with anxious interest.
“All hope!” exclaimed the unknown in a low voice. “Wounded by slights and caricatures, these asses’ kicks have finished me! It is the eternal punishment reserved for innovators! Look at these caricatures of all periods, of which my portfolio is full.”
While my companion was fumbling with his papers, I had seized the valve-cord without his perceiving it. I feared, however, that he might hear the hissing noise, like a water-course, which the gas makes in escaping.
“How many jokes were made about the Abbé Miolan!” said he. “He was to go up with Janninet and Bredin. During the filling their balloon caught fire, and the ignorant populace tore it in pieces! Then this caricature of ‘curious animals’ appeared, giving each of them a punning nickname.”
I pulled the valve-cord, and the barometer began to ascend. It was time. Some far-off rumblings were heard in the south.
“Here is another engraving,” resumed the unknown, not suspecting what I was doing. “It is an immense balloon carrying a ship, strong castles, houses, and so on. The caricaturists did not suspect that their follies would one day become truths. It is complete, this large vessel. On the left is its helm, with the pilot’s box; at the prow are pleasure-houses, an immense organ, and a cannon to call the attention of the inhabitants of the earth or the moon; above the poop there are the observatory and the balloon long-boat; in the equatorial circle, the army barrack; on the left, the funnel; then the upper galleries for promenading, sails, pinions; below, the cafés and general storehouse. Observe this pompous announcement: ‘Invented for the happiness of the human race, this globe will depart at once for the ports of the Levant, and on its return the programme of its voyages to the two poles and the extreme west will be announced. No one need furnish himself with anything; everything is foreseen, and all will prosper. There will be a uniform price for all places of destination, but it will be the same for the most distant countries of our hemisphere–that is to say, a thousand louis for one of any of the said journeys. And it must be confessed that this sum is very moderate, when the speed, comfort, and arrangements which will be enjoyed on the balloon are considered–arrangements which are not to be found on land, while on the balloon each passenger may consult his own habits and tastes. This is so true that in the same place some will be dancing, others standing; some will be enjoying delicacies; others fasting. Whoever desires the society of wits may satisfy himself; whoever is stupid may find stupid people to keep him company. Thus pleasure will be the soul of the aerial company.’ All this provoked laughter; but before long, if I am not cut off, they will see it all realized.”
We were visibly descending. He did not perceive it!
“This kind of ‘game at balloons,'” he resumed, spreading out before me some of the engravings of his valuable collection, “this game contains the entire history of the aerostatic art. It is used by elevated minds, and is played with dice and counters, with whatever stakes you like, to be paid or received according to where the player arrives.”
“Why,” said I, “you seem to have studied the science of aerostation profoundly.”
“Yes, monsieur, yes! From Phaethon, Icarus, Architas, I have searched for, examined, learnt everything. I could render immense services to the world in this art, if God granted me life. But that will not be!”
“Because my name is Empedocles, or Erostratus.”
Meanwhile, the balloon was happily approaching the earth; but when one is falling, the danger is as great at a hundred feet as at five thousand.
“Do you recall the battle of Fleurus?” resumed my companion, whose face became more and more animated. “It was at that battle that Contello, by order of the Government, organized a company of balloonists. At the siege of Manbenge General Jourdan derived so much service from this new method of observation that Contello ascended twice a day with the general himself. The communications between the aeronaut and his agents who held the balloon were made by means of small white, red, and yellow flags. Often the gun and cannon shot were directed upon the balloon when he ascended, but without result. When General Jourdan was preparing to invest Charleroi, Contello went into the vicinity, ascended from the plain of Jumet, and continued his observations for seven or eight hours with General Morlot, and this no doubt aided in giving us the victory of Fleurus. General Jourdan publicly acknowledged the help which the aeronautical observations had afforded him. Well, despite the services rendered on that occasion and during the Belgian campaign, the year which had seen the beginning of the military career of balloons saw also its end. The school of Meudon, founded by the Government, was closed by Buonaparte on his return from Egypt. And now, what can you expect from the new-born infant? as Franklin said. The infant was born alive; it should not be stifled!”
The unknown bowed his head in his hands, and reflected for some moments; then raising his head, he said,–
“Despite my prohibition, monsieur, you have opened the valve.”
I dropped the cord.
“Happily,” he resumed, “we have still three hundred pounds of ballast.”
“What is your purpose?” said I.
“Have you ever crossed the seas?” he asked.
I turned pale.
“It is unfortunate,” he went on, “that we are being driven towards the Adriatic. That is only a stream; but higher up we may find other currents.”
And, without taking any notice of me, he threw over several bags of sand; then, in a menacing voice, he said,–
“I let you open the valve because the expansion of the gas threatened to burst the balloon; but do not do it again!”
Then he went on as follows:–
“You remember the voyage of Blanchard and Jeffries from Dover to Calais? It was magnificent! On the 7th of January, 1785, there being a north-west wind, their balloon was inflated with gas on the Dover coast. A mistake of equilibrium, just as they were ascending, forced them to throw out their ballast so that they might not go down again, and they only kept thirty pounds. It was too little; for, as the wind did not freshen, they only advanced very slowly towards the French coast. Besides, the permeability of the tissue served to reduce the inflation little by little, and in an hour and a half the aeronauts perceived that they were descending.
“‘What shall we do?’ said Jeffries.
“‘We are only one quarter of the way over,’ replied Blanchard, ‘and very low down. On rising, we shall perhaps meet more favourable winds.’
“‘Let us throw out the rest of the sand.’
“The balloon acquired some ascending force, but it soon began to descend again. Towards the middle of the transit the aeronauts threw over their books and tools. A quarter of an hour after, Blanchard said to Jeffries,–
“‘It is going up! We are lost, and yet there is the French coast.’
“A loud noise was heard.
“‘Has the balloon burst?’ asked Jeffries.
“‘No. The loss of the gas has reduced the inflation of the lower part of the balloon. But we are still descending. We are lost! Out with everything useless!’
“Provisions, oars, and rudder were thrown into the sea. The aeronauts were only one hundred yards high.
“‘We are going up again,’ said the doctor.
“‘No. It is the spurt caused by the diminution of the weight, and not a ship in sight, not a bark on the horizon! To the sea with our clothing!’
“The unfortunates stripped themselves, but the balloon continued to descend.
“‘Blanchard,’ said Jeffries, ‘you should have made this voyage alone; you consented to take me; I will sacrifice myself! I am going to throw myself into the water, and the balloon, relieved of my weight, will mount again.’
“‘No, no! It is frightful!’
“The balloon became less and less inflated, and as it doubled up its concavity pressed the gas against the sides, and hastened its downward course.
“‘Adieu, my friend,” said the doctor. ‘God preserve you!’
“He was about to throw himself over, when Blanchard held him back.
“‘There is one more chance,’ said he. ‘We can cut the cords which hold the car, and cling to the net! Perhaps the balloon will rise. Let us hold ourselves ready. But–the barometer is going down! The wind is freshening! We are saved!’
“The aeronauts perceived Calais. Their joy was delirious. A few moments more, and they had fallen in the forest of Guines. I do not doubt,” added the unknown, “that, under similar circumstances, you would have followed Doctor Jeffries’ example!”
The clouds rolled in glittering masses beneath us. The balloon threw large shadows on this heap of clouds, and was surrounded as by an aureola. The thunder rumbled below the car. All this was terrifying.
“Let us descend!” I cried.
“Descend, when the sun is up there, waiting for us? Out with more bags!”
And more than fifty pounds of ballast were cast over.
At a height of three thousand five hundred yards we remained stationary.
The unknown talked unceasingly. I was in a state of complete prostration, while he seemed to be in his element.
“With a good wind, we shall go far,” he cried. “In the Antilles there are currents of air which have a speed of a hundred leagues an hour. When Napoleon was crowned, Garnerin sent up a balloon with coloured lamps, at eleven o’clock at night. The wind was blowing north-north-west. The next morning, at daybreak, the inhabitants of Rome greeted its passage over the dome of St. Peter’s. We shall go farther and higher!”
I scarcely heard him. Everything whirled around me. An opening appeared in the clouds.
“See that city,” said the unknown. “It is Spires!”
I leaned over the car and perceived a small blackish mass. It was Spires. The Rhine, which is so large, seemed an unrolled ribbon. The sky was a deep blue over our heads. The birds had long abandoned us, for in that rarefied air they could not have flown. We were alone in space, and I in presence of this unknown!
“It is useless for you to know whither I am leading you,” he said, as he threw the compass among the clouds. “Ah! a fall is a grand thing! You know that but few victims of ballooning are to be reckoned, from Pilâtre des Rosiers to Lieutenant Gale, and that the accidents have always been the result of imprudence. Pilâtre des Rosiers set out with Romain of Boulogne, on the 13th of June, 1785. To his gas balloon he had affixed a Montgolfier apparatus of hot air, so as to dispense, no doubt, with the necessity of losing gas or throwing out ballast. It was putting a torch under a powder-barrel. When they had ascended four hundred yards, and were taken by opposing winds, they were driven over the open sea. Pilâtre, in order to descend, essayed to open the valve, but the valve-cord became entangled in the balloon, and tore it so badly that it became empty in an instant. It fell upon the Montgolfier apparatus, overturned it, and dragged down the unfortunates, who were soon shattered to pieces! It is frightful, is it not?”
I could only reply, “For pity’s sake, let us descend!”
The clouds gathered around us on every side, and dreadful detonations, which reverberated in the cavity of the balloon, took place beneath us.
“You provoke me,” cried the unknown, “and you shall no longer know whether we are rising or falling!”
The barometer went the way of the compass, accompanied by several more bags of sand. We must have been 5000 yards high. Some icicles had already attached themselves to the sides of the car, and a kind of fine snow seemed to penetrate to my very bones. Meanwhile a frightful tempest was raging under us, but we were above it.
“Do not be afraid,” said the unknown. “It is only the imprudent who are lost. Olivari, who perished at Orleans, rose in a paper ‘Montgolfier;’ his car, suspended below the chafing-dish, and ballasted with combustible materials, caught fire; Olivari fell, and was killed! Mosment rose, at Lille, on a light tray; an oscillation disturbed his equilibrium; Mosment fell, and was killed! Bittorf, at Mannheim, saw his balloon catch fire in the air; and he, too, fell, and was killed! Harris rose in a badly constructed balloon, the valve of which was too large and would not shut; Harris fell, and was killed! Sadler, deprived of ballast by his long sojourn in the air, was dragged over the town of Boston and dashed against the chimneys; Sadler fell, and was killed! Cokling descended with a convex parachute which he pretended to have perfected; Cokling fell, and was killed! Well, I love them, these victims of their own imprudence, and I shall die as they did. Higher! still higher!”
All the phantoms of this necrology passed before my eyes. The rarefaction of the air and the sun’s rays added to the expansion of the gas, and the balloon continued to mount. I tried mechanically to open the valve, but the unknown cut the cord several feet above my head. I was lost!
“Did you see Madame Blanchard fall?” said he. “I saw her; yes, I! I was at Tivoli on the 6th of July, 1819. Madame Blanchard rose in a small sized balloon, to avoid the expense of filling, and she was forced to entirely inflate it. The gas leaked out below, and left a regular train of hydrogen in its path. She carried with her a sort of pyrotechnic aureola, suspended below her car by a wire, which she was to set off in the air. This she had done many times before. On this day she also carried up a small parachute ballasted by a firework contrivance, that would go off in a shower of silver. She was to start this contrivance after having lighted it with a port-fire made on purpose. She set out; the night was gloomy. At the moment of lighting her fireworks she was so imprudent as to pass the taper under the column of hydrogen which was leaking from the balloon. My eyes were fixed upon her. Suddenly an unexpected gleam lit up the darkness. I thought she was preparing a surprise. The light flashed out, suddenly disappeared and reappeared, and gave the summit of the balloon the shape of an immense jet of ignited gas. This sinister glow shed itself over the Boulevard and the whole Montmartre quarter. Then I saw the unhappy woman rise, try twice to close the appendage of the balloon, so as to put out the fire, then sit down in her car and try to guide her descent; for she did not fall. The combustion of the gas lasted for several minutes. The balloon, becoming gradually less, continued to descend, but it was not a fall. The wind blew from the north-west and drove it towards Paris. There were then some large gardens just by the house No. 16, Rue de Provence. Madame Blanchard essayed to fall there without danger: but the balloon and the car struck on the roof of the house with a light shock. ‘Save me!’ cried the wretched woman. I got into the street at this moment. The car slid along the roof, and encountered an iron cramp. At this concussion, Madame Blanchard was thrown out of her car and precipitated upon the pavement. She was killed!”
These stories froze me with horror. The unknown was standing with bare head, dishevelled hair, haggard eyes!
There was no longer any illusion possible. I at last recognized the horrible truth. I was in the presence of a madman!
He threw out the rest of the ballast, and we must have now reached a height of at least nine thousand yards. Blood spurted from my nose and mouth!
“Who are nobler than the martyrs of science?” cried the lunatic. “They are canonized by posterity.”
But I no longer heard him. He looked about him, and, bending down to my ear, muttered,–
“And have you forgotten Zambecarri’s catastrophe? Listen. On the 7th of October, 1804, the clouds seemed to lift a little. On the preceding days, the wind and rain had not ceased; but the announced ascension of Zambecarri could not be postponed. His enemies were already bantering him. It was necessary to ascend, to save the science and himself from becoming a public jest. It was at Boulogne. No one helped him to inflate his balloon.
“He rose at midnight, accompanied by Andreoli and Grossetti. The balloon mounted slowly, for it had been perforated by the rain, and the gas was leaking out. The three intrepid aeronauts could only observe the state of the barometer by aid of a dark lantern. Zambecarri had eaten nothing for twenty-four hours. Grossetti was also fasting.
“‘My friends,’ said Zambecarri, ‘I am overcome by cold, and exhausted. I am dying.’
“He fell inanimate in the gallery. It was the same with Grossetti. Andreoli alone remained conscious. After long efforts, he succeeded in reviving Zambecarri.
“‘What news? Whither are we going? How is the wind? What time is it?’
“‘It is two o’clock.’
“‘Where is the compass?’
“‘Great God! The lantern has gone out!’
“‘It cannot burn in this rarefied air,’ said Zambecarri.
“The moon had not risen, and the atmosphere was plunged in murky darkness.
“‘I am cold, Andreoli. What shall I do?’
“They slowly descended through a layer of whitish clouds.
“‘Sh!’ said Andreoli. ‘Do you hear?’
“‘What?’ asked Zambecarri.
“‘A strange noise.’
“‘You are mistaken.’
“Consider these travellers, in the middle of the night, listening to that unaccountable noise! Are they going to knock against a tower? Are they about to be precipitated on the roofs?
“‘Do you hear? One would say it was the noise of the sea.’
“‘It is the groaning of the waves!’
“‘It is true.’
“After five fruitless attempts, Andreoli succeeded in obtaining light. It was three o’clock.
“The voice of violent waves was heard. They were almost touching the surface of the sea!
“‘We are lost!’ cried Zambecarri, seizing a large bag of sand.
“‘Help!’ cried Andreoli.
“The car touched the water, and the waves came up to their breasts.
“‘Throw out the instruments, clothes, money!’
“The aeronauts completely stripped themselves. The balloon, relieved, rose with frightful rapidity. Zambecarri was taken with vomiting. Grossetti bled profusely. The unfortunate men could not speak, so short was their breathing. They were taken with cold, and they were soon crusted over with ice. The moon looked as red as blood.
“After traversing the high regions for a half-hour, the balloon again fell into the sea. It was four in the morning. They were half submerged in the water, and the balloon dragged them along, as if under sail, for several hours.
“At daybreak they found themselves opposite Pesaro, four miles from the coast. They were about to reach it, when a gale blew them back into the open sea. They were lost! The frightened boats fled at their approach. Happily, a more intelligent boatman accosted them, hoisted them on board, and they landed at Ferrada.
“A frightful journey, was it not? But Zambecarri was a brave and energetic man. Scarcely recovered from his sufferings, he resumed his ascensions. During one of them he struck against a tree; his spirit-lamp was broken on his clothes; he was enveloped in fire, his balloon began to catch the flames, and he came down half consumed.
“At last, on the 21st of September, 1812, he made another ascension at Boulogne. The balloon clung to a tree, and his lamp again set it on fire. Zambecarri fell, and was killed! And in presence of these facts, we would still hesitate! No. The higher we go, the more glorious will be our death!”
The balloon being now entirely relieved of ballast and of all it contained, we were carried to an enormous height. It vibrated in the atmosphere. The least noise resounded in the vaults of heaven. Our globe, the only object which caught my view in immensity, seemed ready to be annihilated, and above us the depths of the starry skies were lost in thick darkness.
I saw my companion rise up before me.
“The hour is come!” he said. “We must die. We are rejected of men. They despise us. Let us crush them!”
“Mercy!” I cried.
“Let us cut these cords! Let this car be abandoned in space. The attractive force will change its direction, and we shall approach the sun!”
Despair galvanized me. I threw myself upon the madman, we struggled together, and a terrible conflict took place. But I was thrown down, and while he held me under his knee, the madman was cutting the cords of the car.
“One!” he cried.
I made a superhuman effort, rose up, and violently repulsed the madman.
The car fell, but I instinctively clung to the cords and hoisted myself into the meshes of the netting.
The madman disappeared in space!
The balloon was raised to an immeasurable height. A horrible cracking was heard. The gas, too much dilated, had burst the balloon. I shut my eyes–
Some instants after, a damp warmth revived me. I was in the midst of clouds on fire. The balloon turned over with dizzy velocity. Taken by the wind, it made a hundred leagues an hour in a horizontal course, the lightning flashing around it.
Meanwhile my fall was not a very rapid one. When I opened my eyes, I saw the country. I was two miles from the sea, and the tempest was driving me violently towards it, when an abrupt shock forced me to loosen my hold. My hands opened, a cord slipped swiftly between my fingers, and I found myself on the solid earth!
It was the cord of the anchor, which, sweeping along the surface of the ground, was caught in a crevice; and my balloon, unballasted for the last time, careered off to lose itself beyond the sea.
When I came to myself, I was in bed in a peasant’s cottage, at Harderwick, a village of La Gueldre, fifteen leagues from Amsterdam, on the shores of the Zuyder-Zee.
A miracle had saved my life, but my voyage had been a series of imprudences, committed by a lunatic, and I had not been able to prevent them.
May this terrible narrative, though instructing those who read it, not discourage the explorers of the air.
When Homai took the throne as the queen,
She was kind and victorious – supreme!
But when she had a son, the true heir to the crown,
He was sent on the river, unseen.
But the child in the chest did not drown,
Found by washers who yearned for a son.
They have named him Darab, and they raised him with love.
He grew up and protected Iran.
King Bahman, son of Esfandyar, had a son and a daughter. The son’s name was Sasan, and the daughter’s name was Homai. Homai was so smart and beautiful, and endowed with so many talents, that anyone who set eye on her was immediately filled with love and happiness. Bahman loved Homai more than he loved her brother.
When the king fell ill and felt his days were numbered, he called the kingdom’s nobles to his deathbed, and ordered that Homai will inherit the throne, and when the child in her womb is born, he should inherit the crown and the throne and become Shahanshah, King of Kings.
The king’s will infuriated Sasan, and he left the kingdom in anger.
After King Bahman passed away, his daughter Homai assumed the throne until her pregnancy concluded. When Homai bore a son, she was to pass the kingship to him. But Homai was an extraordinary queen. She equipped her warriors with the best of weapons, and was a just, generous and kind ruler to her subjects. Iran flourished, and Homai felt her job was not yet complete. She also loved being a ruler and commander, and she did not wish to give it up. She therefore secretly gave the boy to a wet nurse, and whenever asked, she said the baby was stillborn.
When the baby was eight months old, Homai ordered a carpenter to build a wooden chest from a special tree growing in the mountains. She lined the interior with silk and plastered the exterior with tar and pitch. On this soft, comfortable bed she laid the baby. She tied rubies around his arm, and around him she spread countless gems and golden coins. She covered him with a soft silk blanket to keep him warm, and lulled him to sleep. In the dead of night, when the baby was fast asleep, Homai closed the chest lid and put it on the waters of the Eupherates. The chest sailed like a ship, watched and followed by two loyal, confidential servants, running along the river to see where it would stop, who would find it, and what would happen to it.
Further down the river, there was a little house, and in it lived a washer and his wife. A baby boy had lately been born to that couple, but he died. They were agony-stricken and spent their days crying.
On that day, at the break of dawn, the washer went out to bring water from the river, as he did every morning. He saw a chest floating on the river and stopping at a stone that served the washers for rubbing clothes. He pulled the chest from the water and opened it, and his eyes widened with amazement as he saw the sleeping baby. He remained puzzled for a few seconds, but quickly came back to his senses, took the chest home, and brought it to his wife.
When the chest-watchers saw the washer pick up the chest, they went back to the capital and related to the queen all that had happened.
In the meantime, the washer brought the chest home, along with some moist clothes. His wife was angry: “How should we return moist clothes to our customers? Who would pay you for such job? How should we earn our bread?” The washer said: “We don’t need work wages any more. I have brought you a diamond with an abundance of other precious gems. He will lighten up your life and give us joy as well as peace of mind and a good livelihood.”
He opened the chest lid. The woman saw a sleeping baby, peaceful and beautiful like the full moon, radiant with royal glory; pearls around his head, onyx, emerald and jasper stones at his feet, dinars on his left, sapphire and ruby gems on his right. Her heart overflowed with love and happiness. She immediately took the baby in her arms and began nursing him.
After three days, the time came to give the baby a name. As “water” in Persian is āb, they named the boy Dārāb, because they drew him out of the water.
After a while, the washerwoman said to her husband: “For years, our fate here has been bad, and everyone knows us as poor, hardscrabble washers. Our luck has changed; now let us change our place too, and move to a city where no one knows us.” They moved with their son Darab to another city, six leagues away. With some of the gems and gold they bought a spacious house with lands and gardens, and lived a life of joy and abundance. The woman said to her husband: “Now that we are rich, you can rest. You need not go out searching for work.” But the man loved his job. He said to his wife: “Every job is a respectable job.” He continued to wash clothes and provide his family’s livelihood, and his wife continued to raise the child, educate and nourish him.
Darab grew up to be a beautiful, impressive lad. It was obvious that he was not a regular child. Robust in build and radiant with royal glory, he beat all his peers at wrestling. One day his father summoned him and said: “You need not look far for a profession. Let me teach you how to rub clothes against a rock to clean them.” But Darab would stealthily make himself a bow and arrow from twigs he found and flexible rope, and set out to hunt birds.
His father did not like his pastimes, but Darab did not want to become a washer at all. He asked his father to find him tutors to teach him the Sacred Books and the arts. Darab learned to read and write and was exceptionally talented in horse riding, archery, battle and other arts.
A few years later, Darab, now a young man of outstanding beauty, tall and talented, came to his father and said: “Father, I am allegedly your son, yet we are nothing alike. Pray tell me: who am I and what is my heritage?”
His father replied: “He who would like to learn about his father, his secret lies with his mother”.
Darab went to his mother, drew his sword from its sheath, and said: “I am asking you, and I demand an honest answer: who am I?”
The mother, scared, told him his story as it was. “You were a healthy, beautiful baby, but we know nothing of your birth. Your father went one day down to the river to fetch water for laundry, and found you floating on the river inside a chest, on a bed of silk, surrounded by precious stones and gold coins, and rubies tied to your arm – the same rubies you have been wearing all your life.”
Darab asked: “Has anything survived of this treasure?”
“Yes,” replied the mother. She gave Darab the dinars left from the treasure. With them he bought a horse and weapons, and went to serve with the margrave (border keeper) of his country. The margrave liked Darab and appreciated his skills, and promoted him to a top position.
And then the Romans attacked Iran, at this very same border point. The margrave was killed in battle and his deputy sent to inform Queen Homai. The queen appointed Rashnavad, the chief commander of her army, to gather troops and set out for the Roman frontier. And as many soldiers were gathered together around Rashnavad, Darab joined him too.
Before setting out to battle with Rome, Queen Homai herself arrived to visit her soldiers. The soldiers passed before her, one by one, and when it was Darab’s turn to go before her, Homai’s breath was taken away at the sight of him: his regal stature and posture, his perfect limbs and strong build, his royal glory and majestic appearance. Suddenly, uncontrollably and unintentionally, her breasts started to drip milk. She asked: “Where is this cavalier from? He is obviously a perfect hero, so tall, robust and radiant with glory. He must be of royal heritage! But his weapon does not suit his rank and skill.” She asked Rashnavad to equip him with the best of arms.
She continued to pass among her warriors and get acquainted with each and every one of them, taking care of all their needs. She chose a day when the planets were aligned in favor of Iran, and commanded Rashnavad to attack Rome on that day.
One day, while they were still on their way to Rome, clouds gathered and heavy rain began to fall. Deafening thunders rolled in the heavens, and blinding bolts of lightning pierced the sky. All the soldiers rushed to pitch tents in the flatland and find shelter from the storm. Darab, who was riding alone, had no tent to run to. He found some deserted ruins, and there, under a dilapidated piece of roof, he lay to sleep on the bare, dry ground.
Rashnavad was patrolling among his soldiers, to see how they were. Suddenly, from one of the ruins nearby, he heard a voice singing:
Shaky roof, oh, please listen and hear:
Save the king of Iran, who came here!
You’re his shelter, his sky; keep him safe, keep him dry
For the night, until morning appear.
Rashnavad thought: “Are those words that I’m hearing in the blowing wind and the rolling thunders?” And as he was wondering, he heard the song again:
Crumbling roof, keep the son of Bahman,
Mighty king, lawful Shah of Iran,
Guard him all through the night, and make sure he’s all right
Until morning, until rising sun.
This time Rashnavad was sure the song was coming from the ruin, and wondered how, as he did not see anyone there.
Hear me, rickety roof, if you can,
Keep our glorious king from the rain!
Keep your strength, do not fall; he’s the king of us all:
Bahman’s son, may he come back and reign!
As the song has repeated thrice, Rashnavad decided to send a messenger to see who is singing inside the ruin. The messenger found a soaking wet horse, and a soldier lying on dry ground under a rickety roof.
He sent to inform Rashnavad, who sent to bring Darab before him. As soon as Darab came out from under the roof and mounted his horse, the roof collapsed with a loud noise, and everyone was filled with wonder and amazement, kindled fire perfumed with incense, and thanked the great god, Ahura Mazda.
Rashnavad asked Darab for his name and lineage, but Darab only knew what he has heard from his washer parents: “My father went one day down to the river to fetch water for laundry, and found me floating on the river inside a wooden chest, on a bed of silk, surrounded by precious stones and gold coins, and a chain of rubies tied to my arm. Behold, I am wearing it to this day. It is the only thing I have left from my previous identity.”
Rashnavad gave Darab beautiful garments, musical instruments and weapons, and as the rain ceased and the day dawned, everyone set out again to the battlefield, with renewed energy.
In the battlefield, Darab demonstrated his skill in the martial arts. He caused the Roman army many losses and scattered their forces, disconnecting them from each other. Thanks to his valor, Iran won the war and the Romans fled, defeated.
The Roman emperor sent a messenger to the Iranian camp to ask for peace. He agreed to accept Iranian rule and pay tribute to the queen. Rashnavad returned to Iran glorious and victorious, heavy with Roman riches captured in battle.
On the way back, they camped again near the ruin. Rashnavad summonned the washer and his wife and asked them about Darab’s lineage. They told him the story as it was: “We were but poor washers who had lost their son recently,” said the father. “One day I went one down to the river to fetch water for laundry, and found a baby floating on the river inside a chest, on a bed of silk, surrounded by precious stones and gold coins, and rubies tied to his arm. I immediately brought him home to my wife, and we adopted him as our son. We have raised him with love and happiness, but we do not know anything about his lineage. From an early age we tried to teach him our trade, but he was drawn only to pastimes worthy of kings and warriors.”
Rashnavad wrote to Homai to tell her about the army’s victory. He prasied Darab’s valor and mentioned that it was only thanks to his bravery and skill that Iran prevailed and conquered Rome. He also described in great detail the song he had heard from the empty ruin, the roof that collapsed immediately as Darab came out from under it, and the story told by the washer and his wife.
When the letter reached Homai, she remembered what her servants had told her about the washer who drew the chest out of the water, and realized that Darab, the young man she saw when visiting her soldiers, is her long-lost son. The rubies on his arms confirmed this beyond all doubt.
Homai summoned Darab and asked his forgiveness for her past deeds. She then gathered all the nobles of the kingdom, told them the story and crowned Darab king. She remained by his side, advising and counseling him how to be a good leader for their people.
As Darab assumed the throne, Homai’s reign of thirty two years came to an end.
As Darab sat on the throne, he told the nobles of the kingdom, the magi – the religious priests, and all the renowned heroes: “I did not attain kingship through pain and efforts. This turn of fate is no doubt the deed of the great god. Therefore, I will always be grateful to god, and treat my subjects with justice and equality.” He summoned the washer and his wife, his adoptive parents, and bestowed abundant precious gifts upon them.
After fighting on other frontiers, Darab went back to fight Rome. The emperor himself set out towards him, and a battle broke out between the two armies. The Romans were defeated. This time, too, the emperor sought peace. Darab’s councelors advised him to agree to the emperor’s request and make peace with Rome, on the condition that Rome pay tribute to Iran and the emperor give Darab his daughter, Nahid, for a wife. The emperor agreed to pay one hundred thousand golden eggs a year as tribute to Iran and send his daughter Nahid as a bride to Darab, with a caravan of camels loaded with gold, silver, and royal garments.
One night, Darab slept next to Nahid, and foul smell came out of her mouth. He turned his face to the other side, and in the morning called the doctors. They gave her an herb named Eskandar to drive the bad breath out. But the memory of the foul smell did not leave Darab.
Darab sent Nahid back to her father, Filqus, the Roman emperor. Darab did not know that Nahid was pregnant at the time. The baby was born nine months later; his mother named him Eskandar, after the breath-freshening herb.
On that same night, a white foal was born in the emperor’s stables. Filqus deemed the birth of the foal a good omen. He adopted Eskandar as his son, so the Romans would not say that his pregnant daughter was sent back to him from Iran.
Eskandar grew up as the son of the Roman emperor, and became a handsome, robust and talented young man.
Darab took another wife, who bore him a son named Dara.
After twelve years of kingship, Darab fell ill and passed away, and Dara inhe–rited his throne. Years later, Eskandar came back from Macedonia to Iran, conquered it and put an end to the great Persian Empire.
*”Darab on the River” is the first translation from Hebrew to English of a book about Iranian Mythology.
Many years ago, before the days of highways-speed internet and underground tunnels, before natural gas drilling sites ever existed, human beings lived here side-by-side with jinn. Today it may sound strange, but back then it was well understood that just like there are human beings, each with his or her own personality, wishes and dreams, so too there are jinn.
The jinn were good and bad and temperamental, just like human beings. But an angry jinni, as you probably can imagine, is much worse than an angry person. For that reason, it was important to know how not to make a jinni angry, unless, that is, you were looking for trouble.
The primary jinn experts back then were the grandmothers (and a few grandfathers too), who knew exactly how to act around jinn. They would make a point of reminding everyone about those rules at bedtime and in the morning, and sometimes after a siesta too.
So before I begin to tell you my story, you have to know a few of those grandmothers’ important rules:
1. Jinn have names.
2. Many jinn share their name with an animal. For example, you could meet a girl jinni whose first name is Goat, just like a girl in your class could be Noa.
3. So if you ever talk about an animal – let’s say a goat grazing on some grass in the yard, it is very important to point at the goat while you are talking about her. Otherwise, the jinni whose name is Goat might think that you are talking about her and see this as an invitation to come and cause some serious trouble.
That’s about it. Now you know everything you need to know to read this story.
A long time ago but right here, in this exact spot, lived a peasant woman who had only one wish – to give birth to a daughter. But, as fate would have it, or as Allah (or no one in particular) decided, she did not give birth to a daughter, or a son, or anything at all. Day after day, she would sit at her doorstep to watch the sun set and pray for a daughter. One evening, as she sat and watched the round glowing sun sink behind the mountains, she noticed a tiny black beetle crawling by her foot. “Oh Allah,” thought the woman sadly. “I want a little girl so badly! I would be happy even if my little girl was a black beetle. I would love her as if she was a regular girl.” That is what the woman thought as she cried out, “Oh, dear Allah! Bless me with a Kunfoosa!”
But as you may have already guessed, the woman was so overcome with emotion, she forgot what her grandmother had taught her, and did not point at the beetle, whose name too was “Kunfoosa.” And so, instead of reaching the heavens, her prayer actually landed on the ears of a horrible jinni who was hiding nearby. The jinni (You’re right: Her name was Kunfoosa…) smiled an evil smile: “This woman really wants me to come stay with her. Little does she know how much trouble I’ll bring with me,” thought the jinni and immediately turned herself into a cute black beetle and hurried off to hide inside the woman’s abaya.
Night fell, and the woman got ready for bed. Suddenly, she felt a tickle going up and down underneath her abaya. She broke into a fit of laughter. “What’s wrong with you, woman?” asked her husband. “You’re acting as if you’re being possessed by a jinni!” But the woman couldn’t answer. She felt tickled all over, and could only twist and jump until a little beetle popped out of her cloak and gave her a big smile. The woman couldn’t believe her eyes. A smiling beetle! “Praised be Allah,” said the woman in amazement. “This is my Kunfoosa, the daughter I’ve been praying for every night has finally come to me.”
Time passed and with each day the beetle grew bigger, looking more and more like a little girl and less and less like a beetle, till by her tenth birthday, she looked almost exactly like a little girl. The woman was overjoyed.
One day, Kunfoosa decided that she’d been a good girl long enough and it was time to turn back into a jinni. “Mama,” she said in a sweet voice. “What’s this dough you’re kneading for?” “Pita for your father’s breakfast,” her mother answered. “Soon you can eat one and take the rest to him, out in the field, with a jar of labaneh. “I don’t feel like waiting,” the jinni whined. “I want to eat the pitas right now!” The woman looked at her with a smile and said, “Sweetie, you can be patient and wait, or you can eat me up in the meantime. It’s your choice.” “An excellent idea!” cried the jinni and before the woman realized what was happening, the jinni swallowed her up in one big gulp without thinking twice, and then gobbled up the dough, the rolling pin, and the table.
“Now that’s much better,” thought the horrible jinni, feeling content. But ten years of hunger is not something to be dismissed so quickly and so she left the house and walked out to the field. “Kunfoosa, what are you doing here? Where is my breakfast?” asked her step-father, who had been plowing the field all morning. “I ate it,” answered the jinni with a smile. “And now I am going to eat you, too!” The man assumed she was joking and answered with a smile, “Okay, my dear. You can eat me up right now if that’s what you want. “ And in a blink of an eye, without thinking twice, the jinni gobbled up the man and also swallowed his plow on its two oxen.
“Now I will go and check on Grandma,” she thought as she burped.
At that moment, Kunfoosa’s step-grandmother was home, weaving a carpet. She was very happy to see Kunfoosa, who never came to visit just by herself. “Kunfoosa, honey, did you come to visit your grandmamma? “No. I came to eat you!” But her grandmother did not hear very well and so she asked, “What did you say, sweetie? That you want to eat me?” Instead of responding, the horrible jinni opened up her mouth and moved closer. “Kunfoosa!” exclaimed Grandmamma. “What a big mouth you have!” but she did not have time to ask anything else because the jinni swallowed her up in a blink of an eye, without thinking twice, in one big gulp, and then ran away.
With a full stomach, Kunfoosa roamed around the stalls of the marketplace, trying to decide what she wanted for dessert. The scents that floated in the air were all so tempting. She debated between baklava dripping with honey, tart pomegranate juice, or white, anise flavored ice cream. Suddenly a delicious scent reached her nose and she hurried to follow it to its source. “How are you today, sweetheart?” asked the old merchant when he saw Kunfoosa approaching his kanafeh stall. “I am hungry,” answered the horrible jinni, her eyes automatically drawn to the flaky orange pastry. The old merchant, who had already met a jinni or two in his lifetime, easily recognized that this was not a little girl but rather, a horrible jinni in disguise. “Can I offer you some kanafeh?” he asked slowly, silently pulling out the sharp dagger hidden in the tarbush he wore on his head. But Kunfoosa did not notice the curved blade moving towards her and staring at the kanafeh she only chanted with an eerie voice, “First I will eat you and then I will eat all your kanafeh.”
“You want to eat me?” asked the old man. “Come over here and eat me, if you dare.” Kunfoosa opened up her enormous mouth, but one second before she could close it on his head, the old man thrust the dagger into her throat and sliced her body in two.
And then, something wonderful happened: Out of the little stomach of the girl-beetle-horrible jinni popped, healthy and in one piece, as if they had never been eaten up in the first place, the woman and her husband, the table and the rolling pin, the pita dough and jar of labaneh, Grandmamma and the green carpet, the two oxen and the plow. The entire marketplace filled with joy and everyone around lifted the old wise man up high, and cheered and held a big Hafla celebration among the merchants’ stalls.
And the woman? She gave birth to many children and they gave birth to many grandchildren and great-grandchildren, thank God. And every time they see a little black beetle crawl by, they immediately call out, “There is Grandma’s Kunfoosa! There is Grandma’s Kunfoosa!” But of course, they don’t forget to point.