Douglas Starr lived two weeks more. In after years when the pain had gone out of their recollection, Emily thought they were the most precious of her memories. They were beautiful weeks–beautiful and not sad. And one night, when he was lying on the couch in the sitting-room, with Emily beside him in the old wing-chair, he went past the curtain–went so quietly and easily that Emily did not know he was gone until she suddenly felt the strange stillness of the room–there was no breathing in it but her own.
“Father–Father!” she cried. Then she screamed for Ellen.
Ellen Greene told the Murrays when they came that Emily had behaved real well, when you took everything into account. To be sure, she had cried all night and hadn’t slept a wink; none of the Maywood people who came flocking kindly in to help could comfort her; but when morning came her tears were all shed. She was pale and quiet and docile.
“That’s right, now,” said Ellen, “that’s what comes of being properly prepared. Your pa was so mad at me for warning you that he wasn’t rightly civil to me since–and him a dying man. But I don’t hold any grudge against him. I did my duty. Mrs Hubbard’s fixing up a black dress for you, and it’ll be ready by supper-time. Your ma’s people will be here to-night, so they’ve telegraphed, and I’m bound they’ll find you looking respectable. They’re well off and they’ll provide for you. Your pa hasn’t left a cent but there ain’t any debts, I’ll say that for him. Have you been in to see the body?”
“Don’t call him that,” cried Emily, wincing. It was horrible to hear Father called that.
“Why not? If you ain’t the queerest child! He makes a better-looking corpse than I thought he would, what with being so wasted and all. He was always a pretty man, though too thin.”
“Ellen Greene,” said Emily, suddenly, “if you say any more of–those things–about Father, I will put the black curse on you!”
Ellen Greene stared.
“I don’t know what on earth you mean. But that’s no way to talk to me, after all I’ve done for you. You’d better not let the Murrays’ hear you talking like that or they won’t want much to do with you. The black curse indeed! Well, here’s gratitude!”
Emily’s eyes smarted. She was just a lonely, solitary little creature and she felt very friendless. But she was not at all remorseful for what she had said to Ellen and she was not going to pretend she was.
“Come you here and help me wash these dishes,” ordered Ellen. “It’ll do you good to have something to take up your mind and then you won’t be after putting curses on people who have worked their fingers to the bone for you.”
Emily, with an eloquent glance at Ellen’s hands, went and got a dish-towel.
“Your hands are fat and pudgy,” she said. “The bones don’t show at all.”
“Never mind sassing back! It’s awful, with your poor pa dead in there. But if your Aunt Ruth takes you she’ll soon cure you of that.”
“Is Aunt Ruth going to take me?”
“I don’t know, but she ought to. She’s a widow with no chick or child, and well-to-do.”
“I don’t think I want Aunt Ruth to take me,” said Emily, deliberately, after a moment’s reflection.
“Well, you won’t have the choosing likely. You ought to be thankful to get a home anywhere. Remember you’re not of much importance.”
“I am important to myself,” cried Emily proudly.
“It’ll be some chore to bring you up,” muttered Ellen. “Your Aunt Ruth is the one to do it, in my opinion. She won’t stand no nonsense. A fine woman she is and the neatest housekeeper on P. E. Island. You could eat off her floor.”
“I don’t want to eat off her floor. I don’t care if a floor is dirty as long as the tablecloth is clean.”
“Well, her tablecloths are clean too, I reckon. She’s got an elegant house in Shrewsbury with bow windows and wooden lace all round the roof. It’s very stylish. It would be a fine home for you. She’d learn you some sense and do you a world of good.”
“I don’t want to learn sense and be done a world of good to,” cried Emily with a quivering lip. “I–I want somebody to love me.”
“Well, you’ve got to behave yourself if you want people to like you. You’re not to blame so much–your pa has spoiled you. I told him so often enough, but he just laughed. I hope he ain’t sorry for it now. The fact is, Emily Starr, you’re queer, and folks don’t care for queer children.”
“How am I queer?” demanded Emily.
“You talk queer–and you act queer–and at times you look queer. And you’re too old for your age–though that ain’t your fault. It comes of never mixing with other children. I’ve always threaped at your father to send you to school–learning at home ain’t the same thing–but he wouldn’t listen to me, of course. I don’t say but what you are as far along in book learning as you need to be, but what you want is to learn how to be like other children. In one way it would be a good thing if your Uncle Oliver would take you, for he’s got a big family. But he’s not as well off as the rest, so it ain’t likely he will. Your Uncle Wallace might, seeing as he reckons himself the head of the family. He’s only got a grown-up daughter. But his wife’s delicate–or fancies she is.”
“I wish Aunt Laura would take me,” said Emily. She remembered that Father had said Aunt Laura was something like her mother.
“Aunt Laura! She won’t have no say in it–Elizabeth’s boss at New Moon. Jimmy Murray runs the farm, but he ain’t quite all there, I’m told–“
“What part of him isn’t there?” asked Emily curiously.
“Laws, it’s something about his mind, child. He’s a bit simple–some accident or other when he was a youngster, I’ve heard. It addled his head, kind of. Elizabeth was mixed up in it some way–I’ve never heard the rights of it. I don’t reckon the New Moon people will want to be bothered with you. They’re awful set in their ways. You take my advice and try to please your Aunt Ruth. Be polite–and well-behaved–mebbe she’ll take a fancy to you. There, that’s all the dishes. You’d better go upstairs and be out of the way.”
“Can I take Mike and Saucy Sal?” asked Emily.
“No, you can’t.”
“They’d be company for me,” pleaded Emily.
“Company or no company, you can’t have them. They’re outside and they’ll stay outside. I ain’t going to have them tracking all over the house. The floor’s been scrubbed.”
“Why didn’t you scrub the floor when Father was alive?” asked Emily. “He liked things to be clean. You hardly ever scrubbed it then. Why do you do it now?”
“Listen to her! Was I to be always scrubbing floors with my rheumatiz? Get off upstairs and you’d better lie down awhile.”
“I’m going upstairs, but I’m not going to lie down,” said Emily. “I’ve got a lot of thinking to do.”
“There’s one thing I’d advise you to do,” said Ellen, determined to lose no chance of doing her duty, “and that is to kneel down and pray to God to make you a good and respectful and grateful child.”
Emily paused at the foot of the stairs and looked back.
“Father said I wasn’t to have anything to do with your God,” she said gravely.
Ellen gasped foolishly, but could not think of any reply to this heathenish statement. She appealed to the universe.
“Did any one ever hear the like!”
“I know what your God is like,” said Emily. “I saw His picture in that Adam-and-Eve book of yours. He has whiskers and wears a nightgown. I don’t like Him. But I like Father’s God.”
“And what is your father’s God like, if I may ask?” demanded Ellen sarcastically.
Emily hadn’t any idea what Father’s God was like, but she was determined not to be posed by Ellen.
“He is clear as the moon, fair as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners,” she said triumphantly.
“Well, you’re bound to have the last word, but the Murrays will teach you what’s what,” said Ellen, giving up the argument. “They’re strict Presbyterians and won’t hold by any of your father’s awful notions. Get off upstairs.”
Emily went up to the south room, feeling very desolate.
“There isn’t anybody in the world who loves me now,” she said, as she curled up on her bed by the window. But she was determined she would not cry. The Murrays, who had hated her father, should not see her crying. She felt that she detested them all–except perhaps Aunt Laura. How very big and empty the world had suddenly become. Nothing was interesting any more. It did not matter that the little squat apple-tree between Adam-and-Eve had become a thing of rose-and-snow beauty–that the hills beyond the hollow were of green silk, purple-misted–that the daffodils were out in the garden–that the birches were hung all over with golden tassels–that the Wind Woman was blowing white young clouds across the sky. None of these things had any charm or consolation for her now. In her inexperience she believed they never would have again.
“But I promised Father I’d be brave,” she whispered, clenching her little fists, “and I will. And I won’t let the Murrays see I’m afraid of them–I won’t be afraid of them!”
When the far-off whistle of the afternoon train blew beyond the hills, Emily’s heart began to beat. She clasped her hands and lifted her face.
“Please help me, Father’s God–not Ellen’s God,” she said. “Help me to be brave and not cry before the Murrays.”
Soon after there was the sound of wheels below–and voices–loud, decided voices. Then Ellen came puffing up the stairs with the black dress–a sleazy thing of cheap merino.
“Mrs Hubbard just got it done in time, thanks be. I wouldn’t ‘a’ had the Murrays see you not in black for the world. They can’t say I haven’t done my duty. They’re all here–the New Moon people and Oliver and his wife, your Aunt Addie, and Wallace and his wife, your Aunt Eva, and Aunt Ruth–Mrs Dutton, her name is. There, you’re ready now. Come along.”
“Can’t I put my Venetian beads on?” asked Emily.
“Did ever any mortal! Venetian beads with a mourning dress! Shame on you! Is this a time to be thinking of vanity?”
“It isn’t vanity!” cried Emily. “Father gave me those beads last Christmas–and I want to show the Murrays that I’ve got something!”
“No more of your nonsense! Come along, I say! Mind your manners–there’s a good deal depends on the impression you make on them.”
Emily walked rigidly downstairs before Ellen and into the parlour. Eight people were sitting around it–and she instantly felt the critical gaze of sixteen stranger eyes. She looked very pale and plain in her black dress; the purple shadows left by weeping made her large eyes look too large and hollow. She was desperately afraid, and she knew it–but she would not let the Murrays see it. She held up her head and faced the ordeal before her gallantly.
“This,” said Ellen, turning her around by the shoulder, “is your Uncle Wallace.”
Emily shuddered and put out a cold hand. She did not like Uncle Wallace–she knew that at once–he was black and grim and ugly, with frowning, bristly brows and a stern, unpitying mouth. He had big pouches under his eyes, and carefully-trimmed black side-whiskers. Emily decided then and there that she did not admire side-whiskers.
“How do you do, Emily?” he said coldly–and just as coldly he bent forward and kissed her cheek.
A sudden wave of indignation swept over Emily’s soul. How dared he kiss her–he had hated her father and disowned her mother! She would have none of his kisses! Flash-quick, she snatched her handkerchief from her pocket and wiped her outraged cheek.
“Well–well!” exclaimed a disagreeable voice from the other side of the room.
Uncle Wallace looked as if he would like to say a great many things but couldn’t think of them. Ellen, with a grunt of despair, propelled Emily to the next sitter.
“Your Aunt Eva,” she said.
Aunt Eva was sitting huddled up in a shawl. She had the fretful face of the imaginary invalid. She shook hands with Emily and said nothing. Neither did Emily.
“Your Uncle Oliver,” announced Ellen.
Emily rather liked Uncle Oliver’s appearance. He was big and fat and rosy and jolly-looking. She thought she would not mind so much if he kissed her, in spite of his bristly white moustache. But Uncle Oliver had learned Uncle Wallace’s lesson.
“I’ll give you a quarter for a kiss,” he whispered genially. A joke was Uncle Oliver’s idea of being kind and sympathetic, but Emily did not know this, and resented it.
“I don’t sell my kisses,” she said, lifting her head as haughtily as any Murray of them all could do.
Uncle Oliver chuckled and seemed infinitely amused and not a bit offended. But Emily heard a sniff across the room.
Aunt Addie was next. She was as fat and rosy and jolly-looking as her husband and she gave Emily’s cold hand a nice, gentle squeeze.
“How are you, dear?” she said.
That “dear” touched Emily and thawed her a trifle. But the next in turn froze her up instantly again. It was Aunt Ruth–Emily knew it was Aunt Ruth before Ellen said so, and she knew it was Aunt Ruth who had “well–welled” and sniffed. She knew the cold, grey eyes, the prim, dull brown hair, the short, stout figure, the thin, pinched, merciless mouth.
Aunt Ruth held out the tips of her fingers, but Emily did not take them.
“Shake hands with your Aunt,” said Ellen in an angry whisper.
“She does not want to shake hands with me,” said Emily, distinctly, “and so I am not going to do it.”
Aunt Ruth folded her scorned hands back on her black silk lap.
“You are a very ill-bred child,” she said; “but of course it was only what was to be expected.”
Emily felt a sudden compunction. Had she cast a reflection on her father by her behaviour? Perhaps after all she should have shaken hands with Aunt Ruth. But it was too late now–Ellen had already jerked her on.
“This is your Cousin, Mr James Murray,” said Ellen, in the disgusted tone of one who gives up something as a bad job and is only anxious to be done with it.
“Cousin Jimmy–Cousin Jimmy,” said that individual. Emily looked steadily at him, and liked him at once without any reservations.
He had a little, rosy, elfish face with a forked grey beard; his hair curled over his head in a most un-Murray-like mop of glossy brown; and his large, brown eyes were as kind and frank as a child’s. He gave Emily a hearty handshake, though he looked askance at the lady across from him while doing it.
“Hello, pussy!” he said.
Emily began to smile at him, but her smile was, as always, so slow in developing that Ellen had whisked her on before it was in full flower, and it was Aunt Laura who got the benefit of it. Aunt Laura started and paled.
“Juliet’s smile!” she said, half under her breath. And again Aunt Ruth sniffed.
Aunt Laura did not look like anyone else in the room. She was almost pretty, with her delicate features and the heavy coils of pale, sleek, fair hair, faintly greyed, pinned closely all around her head. But it was her eyes that won Emily. They were such round blue, blue eyes. One never quite got over the shock of their blueness. And when she spoke it was in a beautiful, soft voice.
“You poor, dear, little child,” she said, and put her arm around Emily for a gentle hug.
Emily returned the hug and had a narrow escape then from letting the Murrays see her cry. All that saved her was the fact that Ellen suddenly pushed her on into the corner by the window.
“And this is your Aunt Elizabeth.”
Yes, this was Aunt Elizabeth. No doubt about that–and she had on a stiff, black satin dress, so stiff and rich that Emily felt sure it must be her very best. This pleased Emily. Whatever Aunt Elizabeth thought of her father, at least she had paid him the respect of her best dress. And Aunt Elizabeth was quite fine looking in a tall, thin, austere style, with clear-cut features and a massive coronet of iron-grey hair under her black lace cap. But her eyes, though steel-blue, were as cold as Aunt Ruth’s, and her long, thin mouth was compressed severely. Under her cool, appraising glance Emily retreated into herself and shut the door of her soul. She would have liked to please Aunt Elizabeth–who was “boss” at New Moon–but she felt she could not do it.
Aunt Elizabeth shook hands and said nothing–the truth being that she did not know exactly what to say. Elizabeth Murray would not have felt “put about” before King or Governor-General. The Murray pride would have carried her through there; but she did feel disturbed in the presence of this alien, level-gazing child who had already shown that she was anything but meek and humble. Though Elizabeth Murray would never have admitted it, she did not want to be snubbed as Wallace and Ruth had been.
“Go and sit on the sofa,” ordered Ellen.
Emily sat on the sofa with her eyes cast down, a slight, black, indomitable little figure. She folded her hands on her lap and crossed her ankles. They should see she had manners.
Ellen had retreated to the kitchen, thanking her stars that that was over. Emily did not like Ellen but she felt deserted when Ellen had gone. She was alone now before the bar of Murray opinion. She would have given anything to be out of the room. Yet in the back of her mind a design was forming of writing all about it in the old account-book. It would be interesting. She could describe them all–she knew she could. She had the very word for Aunt Ruth’s eyes–“stone-grey.” They were just like stones–as hard and cold and relentless. Then a pang tore through her heart. Father could never again read what she wrote in the account-book.
Still–she felt that she would rather like to write it all out. How could she best describe Aunt Laura’s eyes? They were such beautiful eyes–just to call them “blue” meant nothing–hundreds of people had blue eyes–oh, she had it–“wells of blue”–that was the very thing.
And then the flash came!
It was the first time since the dreadful night when Ellen had met her on the doorstep. She had thought it could never come again–and now in this most unlikely place and time it had come–she had seen, with other eyes than those of sense, the wonderful world behind the veil. Courage and hope flooded her cold little soul like a wave of rosy light. She lifted her head and looked about her undauntedly–“brazenly” Aunt Ruth afterwards declared.
“Yes, she would write them all out in the account-book–describe every last one of them–sweet Aunt Laura, nice Cousin Jimmy, grim old Uncle Wallace, and moon-faced Uncle Oliver, stately Aunt Elizabeth and detestable Aunt Ruth.
“She’s a delicate-looking child,” said Aunt Eva, suddenly, in her fretful, colourless voice.
“Well, what else could you expect?” said Aunt Addie, with a sigh that seemed to Emily to hold some dire significance. “She’s too pale–if she had a little colour she wouldn’t be bad-looking.”
“I don’t know who she looks like,” said Uncle Oliver, staring at Emily.
“She is not a Murray, that is plain to be seen,” said Aunt Elizabeth, decidedly and disapprovingly.
“They are talking about me just as if I wasn’t here,” thought Emily, her heart swelling with indignation over the indecency of it.
“I wouldn’t call her a Starr either,” said Uncle Oliver. “Seems to me she’s more like the Byrds–she’s got her grandmother’s hair and eyes.”
“She’s got old George Byrd’s nose,” said Aunt Ruth, in a tone that left no doubt as to her opinion of George’s nose.
“She’s got her father’s forehead,” said Aunt Eva, also disapprovingly.
“She has her mother’s smile,” said Aunt Laura, but in such a low tone that nobody heard her.
“And Juliet’s long lashes–hadn’t Juliet very long lashes?” said Aunt Addie.
Emily had reached the limit of her endurance.
“You make me feel as if I was made up of scraps and patches!” she burst out indignantly.
The Murrays stared at her. Perhaps they felt some compunction–for, after all, none of them were ogres and all were human, more or less. Apparently nobody could think of anything to say, but the shocked silence was broken by a chuckle from Cousin Jimmy–a low chuckle, full of mirth and free from malice.
“That’s right, puss,” he said. “Stand up to them–take your own part.”
“Jimmy!” said Aunt Ruth.
Aunt Ruth looked at Emily.
“When I was a little girl,” she said, “I never spoke until I was spoken to.”
“But if nobody ever spoke until they were spoken to there would be no conversation,” said Emily argumentatively.
“I never answered back,” Aunt Ruth went on severely. “In those days little girls were trained properly. We were polite and respectful to our elders. We were taught our place and we kept it.”
“I don’t believe you ever had much fun,” said Emily–and then gasped in horror. She hadn’t meant to say that out loud–she had only meant to think it. But she had such an old habit of thinking aloud to Father.
“Fun!” said Aunt Ruth, in a shocked tone. “I did not think of fun when I was a little girl.”
“No, I know,” said Emily gravely. Her voice and manner were perfectly respectful, for she was anxious to atone for her involuntary lapse. Yet Aunt Ruth looked as if she would like to box her ears. This child was pitying her–insulting her by being sorry for her–because of her prim, impeccable childhood. It was unendurable–especially in a Starr. And that abominable Jimmy was chuckling again! Elizabeth should suppress him!
Fortunately Ellen Greene appeared at this juncture and announced supper.
“You’ve got to wait,” she whispered to Emily. “There ain’t room for you at the table.”
Emily was glad. She knew she could not eat a bite under the Murray eyes. Her aunts and uncles filed out stiffly without looking at her–all except Aunt Laura, who turned at the door and blew her a tiny, furtive kiss. Before Emily could respond Ellen Greene had shut the door.
Emily was left all alone in the room that was filling with twilight shadows. The pride that had sustained her in the presence of the Murrays suddenly failed her and she knew that tears were coming. She went straight to the closed door at the end of the parlour, opened it, and went in. Her father’s coffin stood in the centre of the small room which had been a bedroom. It was heaped with flowers–the Murrays had done the proper thing in that as in all else. The great anchor of white roses Uncle Wallace had brought stood up aggressively on the small table at the head. Emily could not see her father’s face for Aunt Ruth’s heavily-fragrant pillow of white hyacinths lying on the glass, and she dared not move it. But she curled herself up on the floor and laid her cheek against the polished side of the casket. They found her there asleep when they came in after supper. Aunt Laura lifted her up and said,
“I’m going to take the poor child up to bed–she’s worn right out.”
Emily opened her eyes and looked drowsily about her.
“Can I have Mike?” she said.
“Who is Mike?”
“My cat–my big grey cat.”
“A cat!” exclaimed Aunt Elizabeth in a shocked tone. “You must not have a cat in your bedroom!”
“Why not–for once?” pleaded Laura.
“Certainly not!” said Aunt Elizabeth. “A cat is a most unwholesome thing in a sleeping compartment. I’m surprised at you, Laura! Take the child up to bed and see that there are plenty of bedclothes. It’s a cold night–but let me hear no more talk of sleeping with cats.”
“Mike is a clean cat,” said Emily. “He washes himself–every day.”
“Take her up to bed, Laura!” said Aunt Elizabeth, ignoring Emily.
Aunt Laura yielded meekly. She carried Emily upstairs, helped her undress, and tucked her into bed. Emily was very sleepy. But before she was wholly asleep she felt something, soft and warm and purry and companionable, snuggling down by her shoulder. Aunt Laura had sneaked down, found Mike and brought him up to her. Aunt Elizabeth never knew and Ellen Greene dared not say a word in protest–for was not Laura a Murray of New Moon?
A Watch in the Night
Emily stood quite still and looked up at Ellen’s broad, red face–as still as if she had been suddenly turned to stone. She felt as if she had. She was as stunned as if Ellen had struck her a physical blow. The colour faded out of her little face and her pupils dilated until they swallowed up the irises and turned her eyes into pools of blackness. The effect was so startling that even Ellen Greene felt uncomfortable.
“I’m telling you this because I think it’s high time you was told,” she said. “I’ve been at your pa for months to tell you, but he’s kept putting it off and off. I says to him, says I, ‘You know how hard she takes things, and if you drop off suddent some day it’ll most kill her if she hasn’t been prepared. It’s your duty to prepare her,’ and he says, says he, ‘There’s time enough yet, Ellen.’ But he’s never said a word, and when the doctor told me last night that the end might come any time now, I just made up my mind that I’d do what was right and drop a hint to prepare you. Laws-a-massy, child, don’t look like that! You’ll be looked after. Your ma’s people will see to that–on account of the Murray pride, if for no other reason. They won’t let one of their own blood starve or go to strangers–even if they have always hated your pa like p’isen. You’ll have a good home–better’n you’ve ever had here. You needn’t worry a mite. As for your pa, you ought to be thankful to see him at rest. He’s been dying by inches for the last five years. He’s kept it from you, but he’s been a great sufferer. Folks say his heart broke when your ma died–it came on him so suddent-like–she was only sick three days. That’s why I want you to know what’s coming, so’s you won’t be all upset when it happens. For mercy’s sake, Emily Byrd Starr, don’t stand there staring like that! You give me the creeps! You ain’t the first child that’s been left an orphan and you won’t be the last. Try and be sensible. And don’t go pestering your pa about what I’ve told you, mind that. Come you in now, out of the damp, and I’ll give you a cooky ‘fore you go to bed.”
Ellen stepped ‘down as if to take the child’s hand. The power of motion returned to Emily–she must scream if Ellen even touched her now. With one sudden, sharp, bitter little cry she avoided Ellen’s hand, darted through the door and fled up the dark staircase.
Ellen shook her head and waddled back to her kitchen. “Anyhow, I’ve done my duty,” she reflected. “He’d have just kept saying ‘time enough’ and put it off till he was dead and then there’d have been no managing her. She’ll have time now to get used to it, and she’ll brace up in a day or two. I will say for her she’s got spunk–which is lucky, from all I’ve heard of the Murrays. They won’t find it easy to overcrow her. She’s got a streak of their pride, too, and that’ll help her through. I wish I dared send some of the Murrays word that he’s dying, but I don’t dast go that far. There’s no telling what he’d do. Well, I’ve stuck on here to the last and I ain’t sorry. Not many women would ‘a’ done it, living as they do here. It’s a shame the way that child’s been brought up–never even sent to school. Well, I’ve told him often enough what I’ve thought of it–it ain’t on my conscience, that’s one comfort. Here, you Sal-thing, you git out! Where’s Mike, too?”
Ellen could not find Mike for the very good reason that he was upstairs with Emily, held tightly in her arms, as she sat in the darkness on her little cot-bed. Amid her agony and desolation there was a certain comfort in the feel of his soft fur and round velvety head.
Emily was not crying; she stared straight into the darkness, trying to face the awful thing Ellen had told her. She did not doubt it–something told her it was true. Why couldn’t she die, too? She couldn’t go on living without Father.
“If I was God I wouldn’t let things like this happen,” she said.
She felt it was very wicked of her to say such a thing–Ellen had told her once that it was the wickest thing any one could do to find fault with God. But she didn’t care. Perhaps if she were wicked enough God would strike her dead and then she and Father could keep on being together.
But nothing happened–only Mike got tired of being held so tightly and squirmed away. She was all alone now, with this terrible burning pain that seemed all over her and yet was not of the body. She could never get rid of it. She couldn’t help it by writing about it in the old yellow account-book. She had written there about her Sunday-school teacher going away, and of being hungry when she went to bed, and Ellen telling her she must be half-crazy to talk of Wind Women and flashes; and after she had written down all about them these things hadn’t hurt her any more. But this couldn’t be written about. She could not even go to Father for comfort, as she had gone when she burned her hand so badly, picking up the red-hot poker by mistake. Father had held her in his arms all that night and told her stories and helped her to bear the pain. But Father, so Ellen had said, was going to die in a week or two. Emily felt as if Ellen had told her this years and years ago. It surely couldn’t be less than an hour since she had been playing with the Wind Woman in the barrens and looking at the new moon in the pinky-green sky.
“The flash will never come again–it can’t,” she thought.
But Emily had inherited certain things from her fine old ancestors–the power to fight–to suffer,–to pity–to love very deeply–to rejoice–to endure. These things were all in her and looked out at you through her purplish-grey eyes. Her heritage of endurance came to her aid now and bore her up. She must not let Father know what Ellen had told her–it might hurt him. She must keep it all to herself and love Father, oh, so much, in the little while she could yet have him. She heard him cough in the room below: she must be in bed when he came up; she undressed as swiftly as her cold fingers permitted and crept into the little cot-bed which stood across the open window. The voices of the gentle spring night called to her all unheeded–unheard the Wind Woman whistled by the eaves. For the fairies dwell only in the kingdom of Happiness; having no souls they cannot enter the kingdom of Sorrow.
She lay there cold and tearless and motionless when her father came into the room. How very slowly he walked–how very slowly he took off his clothes. How was it she had never noticed these things before? But he was not coughing at all. Oh, what if Ellen were mistaken?–what if–a wild hope shot through her aching heart. She gave a little gasp.
Douglas Starr came over to her bed. She felt his dear nearness as he sat down on the chair beside her, in his old red dressing-gown. Oh, how she loved him! There was no other Father like him in all the world–there never could have been–so tender, so understanding, so wonderful! They had always been such chums–they had loved each other so much–it couldn’t be that they were to be separated.
“Winkums, are you asleep?”
“No,” whispered Emily.
“Are you sleepy, small dear?”
Douglas Starr took her hand and held it tightly.
“Then we’ll have our talk, honey. I can’t sleep either. I want to tell you something.”
“Oh–I know it–I know it!” burst out Emily. “Oh, Father, I know it! Ellen told me.”
Douglas Starr was silent for a moment. Then he said under his breath, “The old fool–the fat old fool!”–as if Ellen’s fatness was an added aggravation of her folly. Again, for the last time, Emily hoped. Perhaps it was all a dreadful mistake–just some more of Ellen’s fat foolishness.
“It–it isn’t true, is it, Father?” she whispered.
“Emily, child,” said her father, “I can’t lift you up–I haven’t the strength–but climb up and sit on my knee–in the old way.”
Emily slipped out of bed and got on her father’s knee. He wrapped the old dressing-gown about her and held her close with his face against hers.
“Dear little child–little beloved Emilykin, it is quite true,” he said. “I meant to tell you myself to-night. And now the old absurdity of an Ellen has told you–brutally I suppose–and hurt you dreadfully. She has the brain of a hen and the sensibility of a cow. May jackals sit on her grandmother’s grave! I wouldn’t have hurt you, dear.”
Emily fought something down that wanted to choke her.
“Father, I can’t–I can’t bear it.”
“Yes, you can and will. You will live because there is something for you to do, I think. You have my gift–along with something I never had. You will succeed where I failed, Emily. I haven’t been able to do much for you, sweetheart, but I’ve done what I could. I’ve taught you something, I think–in spite of Ellen Greene. Emily, do you remember your mother?”
“Just a little–here and there–like lovely bits of dreams.”
“You were only four when she died. I’ve never talked much to you about her–I couldn’t. But I’m going to tell you all about her to-night. It doesn’t hurt me to talk of her now–I’ll see her so soon again. You don’t look like her, Emily–only when you smile. For the rest, you’re like your namesake, my mother. When you were born I wanted to call you Juliet, too. But your mother wouldn’t. She said if we called you Juliet then I’d soon take to calling her ‘Mother’ to distinguish between you, and she couldn’t endure that. She said her Aunt Nancy had once said to her, ‘The first time your husband calls you “Mother” the romance of life is over.’ So we called you after my mother–her maiden name was Emily Byrd. Your mother thought Emily the prettiest name in the world–it was quaint and arch and delightful, she said. Emily, your mother was the sweetest woman ever made.”
His voice trembled and Emily snuggled close.
“I met her twelve years ago, when I was sub-editor of the Enterprise up in Charlottetown and she was in her last year at Queen’s. She was tall and fair and blue-eyed. She looked a little like your Aunt Laura, but Laura was never so pretty. Their eyes were very much alike–and their voices. She was one of the Murrays from Blair Water. I’ve never told you much about your mother’s people, Emily. They live up on the old north shore at Blair Water on New Moon Farm–always have lived there since the first Murray came out from the Old Country in 1790. The ship he came on was called the New Moon and he named his farm after her.”
“It’s a nice name–the new moon is such a pretty thing,” said Emily, interested for a moment.
“There’s been a Murray ever since at New Moon Farm. They’re a proud family–the Murray pride is a byword along the north shore, Emily. Well, they had some things to be proud of, that cannot be denied–but they carried it too far. Folks call them ‘the chosen people’ up there.
“They increased and multiplied and scattered all over, but the old stock at New Moon Farm is pretty well run out. Only your aunts, Elizabeth and Laura, live there now, and their cousin, Jimmy Murray. They never married–could not find any one good enough for a Murray, so it used to be said. Your Uncle Oliver and your Uncle Wallace live in Summerside, your Aunt Ruth in Shrewsbury, and your Great-Aunt Nancy at Priest Pond.”
“Priest Pond–that’s an interesting name–not a pretty name like New Moon and Blair Water–but interesting,” said Emily. Feeling Father’s arm around her the horror had momentarily shrunk away. For just a little while she ceased to believe it.
Douglas Starr tucked the dressing-gown a little more closely around her, kissed her black head, and went on.
“Elizabeth and Laura and Wallace and Oliver and Ruth were old Archibald Murray’s children. His first wife was their mother. When he was sixty he married again–a young slip of a girl–who died when your mother was born. Juliet was twenty years younger than her half-family, as she used to call them. She was very pretty and charming and they all loved and petted her and were very proud of her. When she fell in love with me, a poor young journalist, with nothing in the world but his pen and his ambition, there was a family earthquake. The Murray pride couldn’t tolerate the thing at all. I won’t rake it all up–but things were said I could never forget or forgive. Your mother married me, Emily–and the New Moon people would have nothing more to do with her. Can you believe that, in spite of it, she was never sorry for marrying me?”
Emily put up her hand and patted her father’s hollow cheek.
“Of course she wouldn’t be sorry. Of course she’d rather have you than all the Murrays of any kind of a moon.”
Father laughed a little–and there was just a note of triumph in his laugh.
“Yes, she seemed to feel that way about it. And we were so happy–oh, Emilykin, there never were two happier people in the world. You were the child of that happiness. I remember the night you were born in the little house in Charlottetown. It was in May and a west wind was blowing silvery clouds over the moon. There was a star or two here and there. In our tiny garden–everything we had was small except our love and our happiness–it was dark and blossomy. I walked up and down the path between the beds of violets your mother had planted–and prayed. The pale east was just beginning to glow like a rosy pearl when someone came and told me I had a little daughter. I went in–and your mother, white and weak, smiled just that dear, slow, wonderful smile I loved, and said, ‘We’ve–got–the–only–baby–of any importance–in–the–world, dear. Just–think–of that!'”
“I wish people could remember from the very moment they’re born,” said Emily. “It would be so very interesting.”
“I dare say we’d have a lot of uncomfortable memories,” said her father, laughing a little. “It can’t be very pleasant getting used to living–no pleasanter than getting used to stopping it. But you didn’t seem to find it hard, for you were a good wee kidlet, Emily. We had four more happy years, and then–do you remember the time your mother died, Emily?”
“I remember the funeral, Father–I remember it distinctly. You were standing in the middle of a room, holding me in your arms, and Mother was lying just before us in a long, black box. And you were crying–and I couldn’t think why–and I wondered why Mother looked so white and wouldn’t open her eyes. And I leaned down and touched her cheek–and oh, it was so cold. It made me shiver. And somebody in the room said, ‘Poor little thing!’ and I was frightened and put my face down on your shoulder.”
“Yes, I recall that. Your mother died very suddenly. I don’t think we’ll talk about it. The Murrays all came to her funeral. The Murrays have certain traditions and they live up to them very strictly. One of them is that nothing but candles shall be burned for light at New Moon–and another is that no quarrel must be carried past the grave. They came when she was dead–they would have come when she was ill if they had known, I will say that much for them. And they behaved very well–oh, very well indeed. They were not the Murrays of New Moon for nothing. Your Aunt Elizabeth wore her best black satin dress to the funeral. For any funeral but a Murray’s the second best one would have done; and they made no serious objection when I said your mother would be buried in the Starr plot in Charlottetown cemetery. They would have liked to take her back to the old Murray burying-ground in Blair Water–they had their own private burying-ground, you know–no indiscriminate graveyard for them. But your Uncle Wallace handsomely admitted that a woman should belong to her husband’s family in death as in life. And then they offered to take you and bring you up–to ‘give you your mother’s place.’ I refused to let them have you–then. Did I do right, Emily?”
“Yes–yes–yes!” whispered Emily, with a hug at every “yes.”
“I told Oliver Murray–it was he who spoke to me about you–that as long as I lived I would not be parted from my child. He said, ‘If you ever change your mind, let us know.’ But I did not change my mind–not even three years later when my doctor told me I must give up work. ‘If you don’t, I give you a year,’ he said, ‘if you do, and live out-of-doors all you can, I give you three–or possibly four.’ He was a good prophet. I came out here and we’ve had four lovely years together, haven’t we, small dear one?”
“Those years and what I’ve taught you in them are the only legacy I can leave you, Emily. We’ve been living on a tiny income I have from a life interest that was left me in an old uncle’s estate–an uncle who died before I was married. The estate goes to a charity now, and this little house is only a rented one. From a worldly point of view I’ve certainly been a failure. But your mother’s people will care for you–I know that. The Murray pride will guarantee so much, if nothing else. And they can’t help loving you. Perhaps I should have sent for them before–perhaps I ought to do it yet. But I have pride of a kind, too–the Starrs are not entirely traditionless–and the Murrays said some very bitter things to me when I married your mother. Will I send to New Moon and ask them to come, Emily?”
“No!” said Emily, almost fiercely.
She did not want any one to come between her and Father for the few precious days left. The thought was horrible to her. It would be bad enough if they had to come–afterwards. But she would not mind anything much–then.
“We’ll stay together to the very end, then, little Emily-child. We won’t be parted for a minute. And I want you to be brave. You mustn’t be afraid of anything, Emily. Death isn’t terrible. The universe is full of love–and spring comes everywhere–and in death you open and shut a door. There are beautiful things on the other side of the door. I’ll find your mother there–I’ve doubted many things, but I’ve never doubted that. Sometimes I’ve been afraid that she would get so far ahead of me in the ways of eternity that I’d never catch up. But I feel now that she’s waiting for me. And we’ll wait for you–we won’t hurry–we’ll loiter and linger till you catch up with us.”
“I wish you–could take me right through the door with you,” whispered Emily.
“After a little while you won’t wish that. You have yet to learn how kind time is. And life has something for you–I feel it. Go forward to meet it fearlessly, dear. I know you don’t feel like that just now–but you will remember my words by and by.”
“I feel just now,” said Emily, who couldn’t bear to hide anything from Father, “that I don’t like God any more.”
Douglas Starr laughed–the laugh Emily liked best. It was such a dear laugh–she caught her breath over the dearness of it. She felt his arms tightening round her.
“Yes, you do, honey. You can’t help liking God. He is Love itself, you know. You mustn’t mix Him up with Ellen Greene’s God, of course.”
Emily didn’t know exactly what Father meant. But all at once she found that she wasn’t afraid any longer–and the bitterness had gone out of her sorrow, and the unbearable pain out of her heart. She felt as if love was all about her and around her, breathed out from some great, invisible, hovering Tenderness. One couldn’t be afraid or bitter where love was–and love was everywhere. Father was going through the door–no, he was going to lift a curtain–she liked that thought better, because a curtain wasn’t as hard and fast as a door–and he would slip into that world of which the flash had given her glimpses. He would be there in its beauty–never very far away from her. She could bear anything if she could only feel that Father wasn’t very far away from her–just beyond that wavering curtain.
Douglas Starr held her until she fell asleep; and then in spite of his weakness he managed to lay her down in her little bed.
“She will love deeply–she will suffer terribly–she will have glorious moments to compensate–as I have had. As her mother’s people deal with her, so may God deal with them,” he murmured brokenly.
The House in the Hollow
The house in the hollow was “a mile from anywhere”—so Maywood people said. It was situated in a grassy little dale, looking as if it had never been built like other houses but had grown up there like a big, brown mushroom. It was reached by a long, green lane and almost hidden from view by an encircling growth of young birches. No other house could be seen from it although the village was just over the hill. Ellen Greene said it was the lonesomest place in the world and vowed that she wouldn’t stay there a day if it wasn’t that she pitied the child.
Emily didn’t know she was being pitied and didn’t know what lonesomeness meant. She had plenty of company. There was Father—and Mike—and Saucy Sal. The Wind Woman was always around; and there were the trees—Adam-and-Eve, and the Rooster Pine, and all the friendly lady-birches.
And there was “the flash,” too. She never knew when it might come, and the possibility of it kept her a-thrill and expectant.
Emily had slipped away in the chilly twilight for a walk. She remembered that walk very vividly all her life—perhaps because of a certain eerie beauty that was in it—perhaps because “the flash” came for the first time in weeks—more likely because of what happened after she came back from it.
It had been a dull, cold day in early May, threatening to rain but never raining. Father had lain on the sitting-room lounge all day. He had coughed a good deal and he had not talked much to Emily, which was a very unusual thing for him. Most of the time he lay with his hands clasped under his head and his large, sunken, dark-blue eyes fixed dreamily and unseeingly on the cloudy sky that was visible between the boughs of the two big spruces in the front yard—Adam-and-Eve, they always called those spruces, because of a whimsical resemblance Emily had traced between their position, with reference to a small apple-tree between them, and that of Adam and Eve and the Tree of Knowledge in an old-fashioned picture in one of Ellen Greene’s books. The Tree of Knowledge looked exactly like the squat little apple-tree, and Adam and Eve stood up on either side as stiffly and rigidly as did the spruces.
Emily wondered what Father was thinking of, but she never bothered him with questions when his cough was bad. She only wished she had somebody to talk to. Ellen Greene wouldn’t talk that day either. She did nothing but grunt, and grunts meant that Ellen was disturbed about something. She had grunted last night after the doctor had whispered to her in the kitchen, and she had grunted when she gave Emily a bedtime snack of bread and molasses. Emily did not like bread and molasses, but she ate it because she did not want to hurt Ellen’s feelings. It was not often that Ellen allowed her anything to eat before going to bed, and when she did it meant that for some reason or other she wanted to confer a special favor.
Emily expected the grunting attack would wear off over night, as it generally did; but it had not, so no company was to be found in Ellen. Not that there was a great deal to be found at any time. Douglas Starr had once, in a fit of exasperation, told Emily that “Ellen Greene was a fat, lazy old thing of no importance,” and Emily, whenever she looked at Ellen after that, thought the description fitted her to a hair.
So Emily had curled herself up in the ragged, comfortable old wing-chair and read The Pilgrim’s Progress all the afternoon. Emily loved The Pilgrim’s Progress. Many a time had she walked the straight and narrow path with Christian and Christiana—although she never liked Christiana’s adventures half as well as Christian’s. For one thing, there was always such a crowd with Christiana. She had not half the fascination of that solitary, intrepid figure who faced all alone the shadows of the Dark Valley and the encounter with Apollyon. Darkness and hobgoblins were nothing when you had plenty of company. But to be alone—ah, Emily shivered with the delicious horror of it!
When Ellen announced that supper was ready Douglas Starr told Emily to go out to it.
“I don’t want anything tonight. I’ll just lie here and rest. And when you come in again we’ll have a real talk, Elfkin.”
He smiled up at her his old, beautiful smile, with the love behind it, that Emily always found so sweet. She ate her supper quite happily—though it wasn’t a good supper. The bread was soggy and her egg was underdone, but for a wonder she was allowed to have both Saucy Sal and Mike sitting, one on each side of her, and Ellen only grunted when Emily fed them wee bits of bread and butter.
Mike had such a cute way of sitting up on his haunches and catching the bits in his paws, and Saucy Sal had her trick of touching Emily’s ankle with an almost human touch when her turn was too long in coming. Emily loved them both, but Mike was her favourite. He was a handsome, dark-grey cat with huge owl-like eyes, and he was so soft and fat and fluffy. Sal was always thin; no amount of feeding put any flesh on her bones. Emily liked her, but never cared to cuddle or stroke her because of her thinness. Yet there was a sort of weird beauty about her that appealed to Emily. She was grey-and-white—very white and very sleek, with a long, pointed face, very long ears and very green eyes. She was a redoubtable fighter, and strange cats were vanquished in one round. The fearless little spitfire would even attack dogs and rout them utterly.
Emily loved her pussies. She had brought them up herself, as she proudly said. They had been given to her when they were kittens by her Sunday School teacher.
“A living present is so nice,” she told Ellen, “because it keeps on getting nicer all the time.”
But she worried considerably because Saucy Sal didn’t have kittens.
“I don’t know why she doesn’t,” she complained to Ellen Greene. “Most cats seem to have more kittens than they know what to do with.”
After supper Emily went in and found that her father had fallen asleep. She was very glad of this; she knew he had not slept much for two nights; but she was a little disappointed that they were not going to have that “real talk.” “Real” talks with Father were always such delightful things. But next best would be a walk—a lovely all-by-your-lonesome walk through the grey evening of the young spring. It was so long since she had had a walk.
“You put on your hood and mind you scoot back if it starts to rain,” warned Ellen. “You can’t monkey with colds the way some kids can.”
“Why can’t I?” Emily asked rather indignantly. Why must she be debarred from “monkeying with colds” if other children could? It wasn’t fair.
But Ellen only grunted. Emily muttered under her breath for her own satisfaction, “You are a fat old thing of no importance!” and slipped upstairs to get her hood—rather reluctantly, for she loved to run bareheaded. She put the faded blue hood on over her long, heavy braid of glossy, jet-black hair, and smiled chummily at her reflection in the little greenish glass. The smile began at the corners of her lips and spread over her face in a slow, subtle, very wonderful way, as Douglas Starr often thought. It was her dead mother’s smile—the thing that had caught and held him long ago when he had first seen Juliet Murray. It seemed to be Emily’s only physical inheritance from her mother. In all else, he thought, she was like the Starrs—in her large, purplish-grey eyes with their very long lashes and black brows, in her high, white forehead—too high for beauty—in the delicate modeling of her pale oval face and sensitive mouth, in the little ears that were pointed just a wee bit to show that she was kin to tribes of elfland.
“I’m going for a walk with the Wind Woman, dear,” said Emily. “I wish I could take you too. Do you ever get out of that room, I wonder. The Wind Woman is going to be out in the fields to-night. She is tall and misty, with thin, grey, silky clothes blowing all about her—and wings like a bat’s—only you can see through them—and shining eyes like stars looking through her long, loose hair. She can fly—but to-night she will walk with me all over the fields. She’s a great friend of mine—the Wind Woman is. I’ve known her ever since I was six. We’re old, old friends—but not quite so old as you and I, little Emily-in-the-glass. We’ve been friends always, haven’t we?”
With a blown kiss to little Emily-in-the-glass, Emily-out-of-the-glass was off.
The Wind Woman was waiting for her outside—ruffling the little spears of striped grass that were sticking up stiffly in the bed under the sitting-room window—tossing the big boughs of Adam-and-Eve—whispering among the misty green branches of the birches—teasing the “Rooster Pine” behind the house—it really did look like an enormous, ridiculous rooster, with a huge, bunchy tail and a head thrown back to crow.
It was so long since Emily had been out for a walk that she was half crazy with the joy of it. The winter had been so stormy and the snow so deep that she was never allowed out; April had been a month of rain and wind; so on this May evening she felt like a released prisoner. Where should she go? Down the brook—or over the fields to the spruce barrens? Emily chose the latter.
She loved the spruce barrens, away at the further end of the long, sloping pasture. That was a place where magic was made. She came more fully into her fairy birthright there than in any other place. Nobody who saw Emily skimming over the bare field would have envied her. She was little and pale and poorly clad; sometimes she shivered in her thin jacket; yet a queen might have gladly given a crown for her visions—her dreams of wonder. The brown, frosted grasses under her feet were velvet piles. The old, mossy, gnarled half-dead spruce-tree, under which she paused for a moment to look up into the sky, was a marble column in a palace of the gods; the far dusky hills were the ramparts of a city of wonder. And for companions she had all the fairies of the countryside—for she could believe in them here—the fairies of the white clover and satin catkins, the little green folk of the grass, the elves of the young fir-trees, sprites of wind and wild fern and thistledown. Anything might happen there—everything might come true.
And the barrens were such a splendid place in which to play hide and seek with the Wind Woman. She was so very real there; if you could just spring quickly enough around a little cluster of spruces—only you never could—you would see her as well as feel her and hear her. There she was—that was the sweep of her grey cloak—no, she was laughing up in the very top of the taller trees—and the chase was on again—till, all at once, it seemed as if the Wind Woman were gone—and the evening was bathed in a wonderful silence—and there was a sudden rift in the curdled clouds westward, and a lovely, pale, pinky-green lake of sky with a new moon in it.
Emily stood and looked at it with clasped hands and her little black head upturned. She must go home and write down a description of it in the yellow account book, where the last thing written had been, “Mike’s Biograffy.” It would hurt her with its beauty until she wrote it down. Then she would read it to Father. She must not forget how the tips of the trees on the hill came out like fine black lace across the edge of the pinky-green sky.
And then, for one glorious, supreme moment, came “the flash.”
Emily called it that, although she felt that the name didn’t exactly describe it. It couldn’t be described—not even to Father, who always seemed a little puzzled by it. Emily never spoke of it to any one else.
It had always seemed to Emily, ever since she could remember, that she was very, very near to a world of wonderful beauty. Between it and herself hung only a thin curtain; she could never draw the curtain aside—but sometimes, just for a moment, a wind fluttered it and then it was as if she caught a glimpse of the enchanting realm beyond—only a glimpse—and heard a note of unearthly music.
This moment came rarely—went swiftly, leaving her breathless with the inexpressible delight of it. She could never recall it—never summon it—never pretend it; but the wonder of it stayed with her for days. It never came twice with the same thing. To-night the dark boughs against that far-off sky had given it. It had come with a high, wild note of wind in the night, with a shadow wave over a ripe field, with a greybird lighting on her window-sill in a storm, with the singing of “Holy, holy, holy” in church, with a glimpse of the kitchen fire when she had come home on a dark autumn night, with the spirit-like blue of ice palms on a twilit pane, with a felicitous new word when she was writing down a “description” of something. And always when the flash came to her Emily felt that life was a wonderful, mysterious thing of persistent beauty.
She scuttled back to the house in the hollow, through the gathering twilight, all agog to get home and write down her “description” before the memory picture of what she had seen grew a little blurred. She knew just how she would begin it—the sentence seemed to shape itself in her mind: “The hill called to me and something in me called back to it.”
She found Ellen Greene waiting for her on the sunken front-doorstep. Emily was so full of happiness that she loved everything at that moment, even fat things of no importance. She flung her arms around Ellen’s knees and hugged them. Ellen looked down gloomily into the rapt little face, where excitement had kindled a faint wild-rose flush, and said, with a ponderous sigh:
“Do you know that your pa has only a week or two more to live?”
On his way home from school, Munir bumped into his friend Nabil.
Nabil was holding the long line attached to his paper kite and happily running with the wind.
Nabil said to his friend Munir, who was on his way home from school, “Come and play with me.”
Munir flung his schoolbag aside and dashed off with Nabil to race the wind. In the air above their heads, the kite was driven along with the wind. Nothing could stop its gliding flight.
“Now,” said Nabil, “we will fly aboard out airplane to Honolulu.”
Munir shouted, “Let’s go to Honolulu!”
Then Munir asked Nabil, “But where is Honolulu?”
“It’s a faraway country,” answered Nabil. “It’s where Hawaii is… Let’s go to Hawaii!”
“And where is Hawaii?” asked Munir.
Holding onto his kite and out of breath, Nabil replied, “It’s the world capital for endangered species. It’s an island on top of a volcano. That’s what the history and geography teacher told us. Pineapples, bananas, coconuts, and sugarcane grow there.”
They both shouted as one, “Let’s go to Hawaii!”
Munir and Nabil were driven along by the wind, unaware of everything, even time and space.
All of a sudden they were face to face with a strange-looking, bug-eyed monster.
The monster gripped their arms.
Nabil and Munir let go of the kite so it could fly freely off with the wind.
They stood there shaking with fear.
“What are you doing here in the land of horrors and terrors?” the monster asked them. “Nobody enters this land without my permission.”
They begged him to let them go and said, “The wind blew us here. We will never be driven along by it again, ever, promise.”
The monster’s eyes filled with tears.
He had lost his son in the same way. The wind had blown him away into the desert and he had never come back.
“Since that day,” said the monster, “I’ve been alone in this forest waiting for my missing son. Even my appearance has changed from a human being to a monster.”
The monster continued, “Now I will send you back to where you came from.
“If only my son had stopped for a moment on that day and looked where he was going, I would not have lost him. Still, I am certain that one day he will return.”
It was the longest night of winter. At the bottom of the sea, an old fish gathered together 12,000 of her children and grandchildren and began to tell them this story:
Once upon a time a little black fish lived with her mother in a small pond on the side of a mountain. Their home was behind a black, moss-covered rock, under which they both slept at night. The little fish longed to see the moonlight in their home just once. From morning till evening, the mother and child swam after each other. Sometimes they joined other fish and rapidly darted in and out of small crevices. The little fish was an only child, for of the 10,000 eggs which the mother had laid, only she had survived.
For several days the little fish had been deep in thought and had talked very little. She swam slowly behind her mother around the pond and did not play with the other fish. Her mother thought her child was sick and would soon be well. In fact, the black fish’s sickness was really something else!
Early one morning before the sun had risen, the little fish woke her mother and said
“Mother, I want to talk to you.”
Half-asleep, the mother responded
“Child, this isn’t the time to talk. Save your words for later. Go swimming?”
“No, Mother! I can’t go swimming anymore. I must leave here.”
“Do you really have to leave?”
“Yes, Mother, I must go.”
“Just a minute! Where do you want to go at this hour of the morning?”
“I want to go see where the stream ends. You know, Mother, I’ve been wondering where the end of the stream is … I haven’t been able to think about anything else. I didn’t sleep a wink all night. At last, I decided to go and find where the stream ends. I want to know what’s happening in other places.”
The mother laughed – “When I was a child, I used to think a lot like that. But, my dear, a stream has no beginning and no end. That’s the way it is. The stream just flows and never goes anywhere.”
“But mother dear, isn’t it true that everything comes to an end? Nights end, days end, weeks, months, years …”
“Forget this pretentious talk,” interrupted the mother – “Let’s go swimming. Now is the time to swim, not talk.”
“No, Mother, I’m tired of this swimming, I want to set out and see what’s happening elsewhere. Maybe you think someone taught me these ideas but believe me, I’ve had these thoughts for a long time. Of course, I’ve learned many things here and there. For instance, I know that when most fish get old, they complain about everything. I want to know if life is simply for circling around in a small place until you become old and nothing else, or is there another way to live in the world ?”
When the little fish finished the mother exclaimed – “My dear child, are you crazy? World! … World! What is this other world! The world is right here where we are. Life is just as we have it…”
Just then, a large fish approached their home and said: “Neighbor, what are you arguing about with your child? Aren’t you planning to go swimming today?”
Hearing her neighbor’s voice, the mother came out of the house and said, “What’s the world coming to! Now children even want to teach their mothers something!”
How so? “asked the neighbor.”
Listen to the places this half-pint wants to go!” replied the mother. “Saying over and over again I want to go see what’s happening in the world. What pretentious talk!”
“Little one,” said the neighbor, “let’s see. Since when have you become a scholar and philosopher and not told us?”
“Madam,” answered the little fish, “I don’t know what you mean by ‘scholar’ and ‘philosopher,’ I’ve just gotten tired of these swims. I don’t want to continue this boring stuff and be happy as a fool until one day I wake up and see that like all of you, I’ve become old, but still am as dumb as I am now.”
“Oh, what talk!” exclaimed the neighbor.
“I never thought my only child would turn out this way,” said the mother. “I don’t know what evil person put my sweet baby up to this.”
“No one put me up to anything,” said the little fish. “I have a reason, and intelligence and understanding. I have eyes and I can see.”
“Sister,” said the neighbor to the little fish’s mother, “do you remember that twisted-up snail?”
“Yes, you’re right,” said the mother. “He used to push himself on my baby. God knows what I would do to him!”
“That’s enough, Mother,” said the little fish. “He was my friend.”
“Friendship between a fish and a snail,” said the mother, “I’ve never heard of such a thing!”
“And I’ve never heard of a fish and a snail being enemies,” replied the little fish. “But you all drowned the poor fellow.”
“Let’s not bring up the past,” said the neighbor.
“You brought up the subject yourself,” said the little fish.
“It served him right to be killed,” said the mother. “Have you forgotten the things he used to say everywhere he went?”
“Then,” said the little fish, “kill me too since I’m saying the very same things.”
To make a long story short, the arguing voices attracted the other fish. The little fish’s words angered everyone.
One of the old fish asked, “Did you think we’d pity you?”
“That one just needs a little box on the ears,” said another.
“Go away,” said the black fish’s mother. “Don’t you touch my child.”
Another of them said, “Madam, if you don’t raise your child correctly, you must expect it to be punished.”
The neighbor said, “I’m ashamed to live next to you.”
Another said, “Let’s do to the little fish what we did to the old snail before it gets into trouble.”
When they tried to grab the little black fish, her friends gathered around and took the fish away from the brawl.
The black fish’s mother beat her head and chest and cried, “Oh, my baby is leaving me. What am I going to do? What a curse has fallen upon me!”
“Mother, don’t cry for me. Cry for the old fish who stay behind.”
“Don’t get smart, half-pint!” shouted one of the fish from afar.
“If you go away and afterwards regret it, we won’t let you come back,” said a second.
“These are useful fancies. Don’t go,” said a third.
“What’s wrong with this place?” said a fourth.
“There is no other world. The world is right here. Come back! Said a fifth.
“If you turn reasonable and come back, then we’ll believe you really are an intelligent fish,” said a sixth.
“Wait, we’ve gotten used to having you around …” said a seventh.
The mother cried, “Have mercy on me. Don’t go! Don’t go!”
The little fish didn’t have anything more to say to them. Several friends of the same age accompanied the fish as far as the waterfall. As they parted, the fish said,
“My friends, I hope to see you again. Don’t forget me!”
“How would it be possible to forget you?” asked the friends. “You’ve awakened us from a deep sleep. You’ve taught us many things that we had not even thought about before. We hope to see you again, learned and fearless friend.”
The little fish swam down the waterfall and fell into a pond full of water. At first, the fish lost its balance but after a while began to swim and circled around the pond. The fish had never seen so much water collected in one place.
Thousands of tadpoles were wriggling in the water. They laughed when they saw the little black fish,
“What a funny shape! What kind of creature are you?”
The fish looked them over thoroughly and said, “Please don’t insult me. My name is Little Black Fish. Tell me your names so that we’ll get acquainted.
“We call one another tadpole,” replied one of the tadpoles.
“We come from nobility,” said another.
“You can’t find anyone prettier than us in the whole world,” said another.
“We aren’t shapeless and ugly-faced like you,” said another one.
The fish said, “I never imagined you would be so conceited. That’s all right. I’ll forgive you since you’re speaking out of ignorance.”
In one voice the tadpoles demanded, “Are you saying we’re stupid?”
“If you weren’t ignorant,” replied the fish, “you’d know that there are many others in the world who are pleased with their appearances. You don’t even have names of your own.”
The tadpoles became very angry. But since they knew the little fish spoke truthfully, they changed their tone and said, “really, you’re wasting words! We swim around the world every day from morning till evening, but except for ourselves and our father and mother, we see no one. Of course, there are tiny worms, but they don’t count.”
“You can’t even leave the pond,” said the fish. “How can you talk about traveling around the world?”
“What! Do you think there’s a world other than the pond?” exclaimed the tadpoles.
“At least,” responded the fish, “you must wonder where this water comes from and what things are outside of it.”
“Outside the water!” exclaimed the tadpoles, “Where is that? We’re never seen outside of the water! Haha …haha …You’re crazy!”
Little Black Fish also started to laugh. The fish thought it would be better to leave the tadpoles to themselves and go away, but then changed its mind and decided to speak to their mother.
“Where is your mother?” asked the fish. Suddenly, the deep voice of a frog made the fish jump. The frog was sitting on a rock at the edge of the pond. She jumped into the water, came up to the fish and said:
“I’m right here. What do you want?”
“Hello, Great Lady,” said the fish.
The frog responded “Worthless creature, now is not the time to show off. You’ve found some children to listen to you and are talking pretentiously. I’ve lived long enough to know that the world is this pond. Mind your own business and don’t lead my children astray.”
“If you lived a hundred years,” said the little fish, “you’d still be nothing more than an ignorant and helpless frog.”
The frog got angry and jumped at Little Black Fish. The fish flipped quickly and fled like lightening, stirring up sediment and worms at the bottom of the pond.
The valley twisted and curved. The stream became deeper and wider. But if you looked down at the valley from the top of the mountains, the stream would seem like a white thread. In one place, a piece of large rock had broken off from the mountain, fallen to the bottom of the valley, and split the water into two branches. A large lizard the size of a hand, lay on her stomach on the rock. She was enjoying the sun’s warmth and watching a large, round crab resting on the sand at the bottom or the water in a shallow place and eating a frog he had snared.
The little fish suddenly saw the crab, became frightened, and greeted him from afar. The crab glanced sideways at the fish and said,
“What a polite fish! Come closer, little one. Come on!”
“I’m off to see the world,” said the little fish, “and I never want to be caught by you, sir!”
“Little fish, why are you so pessimistic and scared?” asked the crab.
“I’m neither pessimistic nor afraid,” answered the fish. “I speak about everything I see and understand.”
“Well, then,” said the crab, “please tell me what you’ve seen and understood that makes you think I want to capture you?”
“Don’t try to trick me!” responded the fish.
“Are you referring to the frog?” queried the crab. “How childish you are! I have a grudge against frogs; that’s the reason I hunt them. Do you know, they think they’re the only creatures in the world and that they’re very lucky. I want to make them understand who is really a master in the world! So you don’t have to be afraid, my dear. Come here. Come on.”
As the crab talked, he was walking backwards towards the little fish. His gait was so funny that the fish couldn’t help laughing and said,
“Poor thing! You don’t even know how to walk. How did you ever learn who runs the world?”
The black fish drew back from the crab. A shadow fell upon the water and suddenly a heavy blow pushed the crab into the sand. The lizard laughed so hard at the crab’s expression that she slipped and almost fell into the water. The crab couldn’t get up.
The little fish saw that a young shepherd was standing at the edge of the water watching the fish and the crab. A flock of sheep and goats came up to the water and thrust their mouths in. The valley filled with the sounds of “meh meh” and “bah bah.”
The little black fish waited until the sheep and goats had drunk their water and left, then called the lizard,
“Dear lizard, I’m a little black fish who’s going to search for the end of the stream. I think you’re wise, so, I’d like to ask you something.”
“Ask anything you want.”
“All along the way, they’ve been frightening me a great deal about the pelican, the swordfish and the heron. Do you know anything about them?”
“The swordfish and the heron,” said the lizard, “aren’t found in this area, especially the swordfish who lives in the sea. But it’s possible that the pelican is farther down. Be careful he doesn’t trick you and catch you in his pouch.”
“Under his throat,” explained the lizard, “the pelican has a pouch which holds a lot of water. When the pelican’s swimming, fish, without realizing it, sometimes enter his pouch and then go straight into his stomach. But if the pelican isn’t hungry, he stores the fish in his pouch to eat later.”
“If a fish enters the pouch, is there any way of getting out?” asked the fish.
“There’s no way unless the fish rips open the pouch,” answered the lizard.
“I’m going to give you a dagger so that if you get caught by the pelican, you can do just that.”
Then the lizard crawled into a crack in the rock and returned wit a very sharp dagger. The little fish took the dagger and said:
“Dear lizard, you are so kind! I don’t know how to thank you.”
“It’s not necessary to thank me, my dear. I have many of these daggers. When I have nothing to do, I sit down and make daggers from blades of grass and give them to smart fish like you.”
“What?” asked the fish, “Have other fish passed here before me?”
“Many have passed by,” the lizard replied. “They’ve formed themselves into a school and they give the fisherman a hard time.”
“Excuse me for talking so much,” said the black fish, “but if you don’t think me meddlesome, tell me how they give the fisherman a hard time.
“Well,” answered the lizard, “they stick together. Whenever the fisherman throws his net, they get inside, pull the net with them, and drag it to the bottom of the sea.”
The lizard placed her ear on the crack, listened and said, “I must excuse myself now. My children have awakened.” The lizard went into the crack in the rock. The black fish had no choice but to set out again. But all the while there were many questions on the fish’s mind. “Is it true that the stream flows to the sea? If only the pelican doesn’t catch me! Is it true the swordfish enjoys killing and eating its own kind? Why is the heron our enemy?”
The little fish continued swimming and thinking, In every stretch of the way the fish saw and learned new things. How the fish liked turning somersaults, tumbling down waterfalls, and swimming again. The fish felt the warmth of the sun and grew strong. At one place a deer was hastily drinking some water. The little fish greeted her.
“Pretty deer, why are you in such a hurry?”
“A hunter is following me,” replied the deer. “I’ve been hit by a bullet … right here!”
The little fish didn’t see the bullet hole, but from the deer’s limping gait knew she was telling the truth.
At one place turtles were napping in the sun’s warmth. At another place the boisterous noise of partridges twisted through the valley. The fragrance of mountain grass floated through the air and mixed with the water. In the afternoon the fish reached a spot where the valley widened and the water passed through the center of a grove of trees. There was so much water that the little black fish had a really good time.
Later on, the fish came upon a school of fish. The little fish had not seen any other fish since leaving home. Several tiny fish surrounded Little Black Fish and said:
“You must be a stranger here!”
“Yes,” responded the black fish, “I’m a stranger. I’ve come from far away.”
“Where do you want to go?” asked the tiny fish.
“I’m going to find the end of the stream,” replied the black fish.
“This very stream we’re swimming in,” answered the black fish.
“We call this a river,” stated the tiny fish.
The black fish didn’t say anything.
“Don’t you know that the pelican lives along the way?” inquired one of the tiny fish.
“Yes, I know,” answered the black fish.
“Do you know what a big wide pouch the pelican has?” asked another.
“I know that too,” replied the black fish.
“In spite of all this, you still want to go?” exclaimed the tiny fish.
“Yes,” said the black fish, “whatever happens, I must go.”
Soon a rumor spread among all the fish that a little black fish had come from far away and wanted to find the end of the river. And the fish wasn’t even afraid of the pelican! Several tiny fish were tempted to go with the black fish but didn’t because they were afraid of the grown-ups. Others said, “If there weren’t a pelican, we would come with you. We’re afraid of the pelican’s pouch.”
A village was on the edge of the river. Village women and girls were washing dishes and clothes in the river. The little fish listened to their chatter for a while and watched the children bathing, then set off. The fish went on and on and on, still farther on, until night fell, then lay down under a rock to sleep. The fish woke in the middle of the night and saw the moon shining into the water and lighting up everything. The little black fish liked the moon very much. On nights when the moon shone into the water, the fish longed to creep out from under the moss and speak with her. But Mother would always wake up, pull the fish under the moss, and make it go to sleep again.
The little fish looked up at the moon and said
“Hello, my lovely moon!”
“Hello, Little Black Fish. What brings you here?”
“I’m traveling around the world.”
“The world is very big,” said the moon. “You can’t travel everywhere.”
“That’s okay,” said the fish. “I’ll go everywhere I can.”
“I’d like to stay with you till morning,” said the moon, “but a big black cloud is coming toward me to block out my light.”
“Beautiful moon! I like your light so much. I wish you’d always shine on me.”
“My dear fish, the truth is, I don’t have any light of my own. The sun gives me light and I reflect it to the earth. Tell me, have you heard that humans want to fly up and land on me in a few years?”
“That’s impossible,” exclaimed the fish.
“It’s a difficult task,” said the moon, “but whatever they want, humans can …”
The moon couldn’t finish her sentence. The dark cloud approached and covered her face.
The night became dark again, and the black fish was alone. The fish looked at the darkness in surprise and amazement for several seconds, then crept under a rock and fell asleep.
The fish woke up early in the morning and saw overhead several tiny fish chattering. When they saw that the black fish was awake, they said in one voice:
The black fish recognized them right away and said, “Good morning! You followed me after all!”
“Yes,” answered one of the tiny fish, “but we’re still afraid.”
“The thought of the pelican just won’t go away,” said another.
“You worry too much,” said the black fish. “One shouldn’t worry all the time. Let’s start out and our fears will vanish completely.”
But as they were about to set out, they felt the water all around them rise up and a lid was placed over them. It was dark everywhere and there was no way to escape. The black fish immediately realized that they had been caught in the pelican’s pouch.
“My friends,” said the little black fish, “we’ve been caught in the pelican’s pouch, but there’s a chance to escape.”
All the tiny fish began to cry. One of them said, “There’s no way to escape! It’s your fault since you influenced us and led us astray.”
“Now he’s going to swallow us all, and then we’ll die,” said another.
Suddenly the sound of frightening laughter twisted through the water. It was the pelican. He kept on laughing and said, “What tiny fish I’ve caught! Ha. Ha. Truly, my heart bleeds for you. I don’t want to swallow you! Ha, Ha …”
The tiny fish began pleading, “Your Excellency, Mr. Pelican! We’ve been hearing about you for a long time. If you’d be so kind as to open your distinguished beak a little so that we might go out, we’ll always be grateful to you.”
“I don’t want to swallow you right now,” said the pelican. “I’ve some fish stored. Look below.”
Several large and tiny fish were scattered on the bottom of the pouch.
“Your Excellency, Mr. Pelican!” cried the tiny fish, “we haven’t done anything. We’re innocent. This little black fish led us astray …”
“Cowards!” exclaimed the little black fish, “are you crying like this because you think this dishonest bird is merciful?”
“You don’t know what you’re saying,” said the tiny fish. “Just wait and see … His Excellency, Mr. Pelican, will pardon us and swallow you!”
“Of course I’ll pardon you,” said the pelican. “But on one condition.”
“Your condition, please, sir!” begged the tiny fish.
“Strangle that meddlesome fish, and then you’ll get your freedom.”
The little black fish moved aside and said to the tiny fish,
“Don’t agree! This deceitful bird wants to turn us against each other. I have a plan …”
But the tiny fish were so intent on saving themselves that they couldn’t think of anything else. They advanced towards the little black fish who was sitting near the back of the pouch and talking slowly.
“Cowards! Whatever happens, you’ve been caught and don’t have a way to escape. And you’re not strong enough to hurt me.”
“We must strangle you,” said the tiny fish.
“We want freedom!”
“You’ve lost your senses,” said the black fish. “Even if you strangle me, you won’t escape. Don’t fall for his tricks…”
“You’re talking like this just to save yourself,” said the tiny fish. “Otherwise you wouldn’t think of us at all.”
“Just listen,” said the black fish, “and I’ll explain. I’ll pretend I’m dead. Then, we’ll see whether or not the pelican will free you. If you don’t agree to this, I’ll kill all of you with this dagger or rip open the pouch and escape while you …” “Enough!” interrupted one of the fish. “I can’t stand this talk. Oh, wee …oh, wee …oh wee …”>
“Why did you ever bring along this crybaby?” demanded the black fish upon seeing him cry. Then the fish took out the dagger and held it in front of the tiny fish. Helpless, they agreed to the little fish’s suggestion. They pretended to be fighting together. The black fish pretended to be dead. The others went forward and said, “Your Excellency, Mr. Pelican, we strangled the meddlesome black fish …” “Good work!” laughed the pelican. “Now, as a reward, I’m going to swallow all of you alive so that you can have a nice stroll in my stomach!”
The tiny fish never had a chance. Quick as lightening they passed through the pelican’s throat and were gone. But, at that very instant, the black fish drew the dagger, split open the wall of the pouch with one blow and fled. The pelican cried out in pain and smashed his head on the water but he couldn’t follow after the little fish.
The black fish went on and on and still farther on until it was noon. The river had passed through the mountains and valleys and now was flowing across a level plain. Several other smaller rivers had joined it from the right and the left, increasing its water greatly. The black fish was enjoying the immensity of the water.
Soon the fish realized the water had no bottom. The fish swam this way and that way and didn’t touch anywhere. There was so much water that the little fish got lost in it! No matter how far the fish swam, still the water was endless. Suddenly, the fish noticed a large, long creature charging forward like lightening. There was a two-edged sword in front of its mouth. The little fish thought, “The swordfish! He’s going to cut me to pieces this very instant!”
Quickly the fish jumped out of the way and swam to the surface. After a while the fish went under the water again to look for the bottom. On the way the fish met a school of fish-thousands and thousands of fish.
“Friend,” said the fish to one of them, “I’m a stranger. I’ve come from far away. Where is this place?”
The fish called his friends and said, “Look! Another …” Then replied to the black fish, “Friend, welcome to the sea.”
Another said, “All rivers and streams flow here, except some which flow into swamps.”
“You can join our group anytime you wish,” said one of the fish.
The little black fish was happy to have reached the sea and said, “I’d like to travel around first, then I’ll come join your group. I’d like to be with you the next time you pull down the fisherman’s net.”
“You’ll get your wish soon,” answered one of the fish. “Now go explore. But if you swim to the surface, watch out for the heron who isn’t afraid of anyone these days. She doesn’t stop bothering us till she’s caught four or five fish a day.”
The black fish then left the group of sea fish and began swimming. A little later the fish came to the surface of the sea. A warm sun was shining. The little black fish enjoyed feeling the sun’s bright rays on its back. Calm and happy, the fish was swimming on the surface of the sea and thinking, “Death could come upon me very easily now. But as long as I’m able to live, I shouldn’t go out to meet death. Of course, if someday I should be forced to face death-as I shall-it doesn’t matter. What does matter is the influence that my life or death will have on the lives of others . . .”
The little black fish wasn’t able to pursue these thoughts. A heron dived down, swooped up the fish, and carried it off. Caught in the heron’s long beak, the little fish kicked and waved but couldn’t get free. The heron had grabbed the fish’s waist so tightly that its life was ebbing away. After all, how long can a little fish stay alive out of water?
“If only the heron would swallow me this very instant,” thought the fish, “then the water and moisture inside her stomach would prevent my death at least for a few minutes.”
The fish addressed the heron with this thought in mind. “Why don’t you swallow me alive? I’m one of those fish whose body becomes full of poison after death.”
The heron didn’t reply. She thought, “Oh, a tricky one! What are you up to? You want to get me talking so you can escape!”
Dry land was visible in the distance. It got closer and closer.
“If we reach dry land,” thought the fish, “all is finished.”
“I know you want to take me to your children,” said the fish, “but by the time we reach land, I’ll be dead, and my body will become a sack full of poison. Why don’t you have pity for your children?”
“Precaution is also a virtue!” thought the heron. “I can eat you myself and catch another fish for my children… but let’s see… could this be a trick? No, you can’t do anything.”
As the heron thought she noticed that the black fish’s body was limp and motionless. “Does this mean you’re dead,” thought the heron. “Now I can’t even eat you! I’ve ruined such a soft and delicate fish for no reason at all!”
“Hey little one!” she called to the black fish. “Are you still half alive so that I can eat you?”
But she didn’t finish speaking because the moment she opened her beak, the black fish jumped and fell down.
The heron realized how badly she’d been tricked and dived after the little black fish. The fish streaked through the air like lightening. The fish had lost its senses from thirst for sea water and thrust its dry mouth into the moist wind of the sea. But as soon as the fish splashed into the water and took a new breath, the heron caught up and this time swallowed the fish so fast that the fish didn’t understand what had happened.
The fish only sensed that everywhere was wet and dark. There was no way out. The sound of crying could be heard. When the fish’s eyes had become accustomed to the dark, it saw a tiny fish crouched in a corner, crying. He wanted his mother. The black fish approached and said:
“Little one!… Get up! Think about what we should do. What are you crying for? Why do you want your mother?”
“You there…Who are you?” responded the tiny fish. “Can’t you see? …I’m …dy…ing. O, me …oh, my …oh, oh …mama …I …I can’t come with you to pull the fisherman’s net to the bottom of the sea any more …oh, oh …oh, oh!”
“Enough, there!” said the little fish. “You’ll disgrace all fish.”
After the tiny fish had controlled his crying, the little fish continued, “I want to kill the heron and find peace of mind to all fish. But first, I must send you outside so that you don’t ruin everything.”
“You’re dying yourself,” replied the tiny fish. “How can you kill the heron?”
The little fish showed the dagger. “From right inside here, I’m going to rip open her stomach. Now listen to what I say. I’m going to start tossing back and forth in order to tickle the heron. As soon as she opens her mouth and begins to laugh, you jump out.”
“Then what about you?” asked the tiny fish.
“Don’t worry about me. I’m not coming out until I’ve killed this good-for-nothing.”
The black fish stopped talking and began tossing back and forth and tickling the heron’s stomach. The tiny fish was standing ready at the entrance of the heron’s stomach. As soon as the heron opened her mouth and began to laugh, the tiny fish jumped out and fell into the water. But no matter how long he waited, there wasn’t any sign of the black fish. Suddenly, he saw the heron twist and turn and cry out. Then she began to beat her wings and fell down. She splashed into the water. She beat her wings again, then all movement stopped. But there was no sign of Little Black Fish, and since that time, nothing has been heard.
The old fish finished her tale and said to her 12,000 children and grandchildren, “Now it’s time to sleep, children. Go to bed.”
“Grandmother!” exclaimed the children and grand-children, “You didn’t say what happened to that tiny fish.”
“We’ll leave that for tomorrow night,” said the old fish. “Now, it’s time for bed. Goodnight.”
Eleven thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine little fish said goodnight and went to sleep. The grandmother fell asleep too. But try as she might, a little red fish couldn’t get to sleep. All night long she thought about the sea…..
*Published with the permission of Iran Chamber Society
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.