THERE was once upon a time a young girl named Japonel, the daughter of a wood-cutter, and of all things that lived by the woodside, she was the most fair.

Her hair in its net was like a snared sunbeam, and her face like a spring over which roses leaned down and birds hung fluttering to drink—such being the in-dwelling presence of her eyes and her laughing lips and her cheeks.

Whenever she crossed the threshold of her home, the birds and the flowers began calling to her, “Look up, Japonel! Look down, Japonel!” for the sight of the sweet face they loved so much. The squirrel called over its bough, “Look up, Japonel!” and the rabbit from between the roots, “Japonel, look down!” And Japonel, as she went, looked up and looked down, and laughed, thinking what a sweet-sounding place the world was.

Her mother, looking at her from day to day, became afraid: she said to the wood-cutter, “Our child is too fair; she will get no good of it.”

But her husband answered, “Good wife, why should it trouble you? What is there in these quiet parts that can harm her? Keep her only from the pond in the wood, lest the pond-witch see her and become envious.”

“Do not go near water, or you may fall in!” said her mother one day as she saw Japonel bending down to look at her face in a rain-puddle by the road.

Japonel laughed softly. “O silly little mother, how can I fall into a puddle that is not large enough for my two feet to stand in?”

But the mother thought to herself, when Japonel grows older and finds the pond in the wood, she will go there to look at her face, unless she has something better to see it in at home. So from the next pedlar who came that way she bought a little mirror and gave it to Japonel, that in it she might see her face with its spring-like beauty, and so have no cause to go near the pond in the wood. The lovely girl, who had never seen a mirror in her life, took the rounded glass in her hand and gazed for a long time without speaking, wondering more and more at her own loveliness. Then she went softly away with it into her own chamber, and wishing to find a name for a thing she loved so much, she called it, “Stream’s eye,” and hung it on the wall beside her bed.

In the days that followed, the door of her chamber would be often shut, and her face seldom seen save of herself alone. And “Look up, Japonel! Look down, Japonel!” was a sound she no longer cared to hear as she went through the woods; for the memory of “Stream’s eye” was like a dream that clung to her, and floated in soft ripples on her face.

She grew tall like an aspen, and more fair, but pale. Her mother said, “Woe is me, for now I have made her vain through showing her her great beauty.” And to Japonel herself she said, “Oh, my beautiful, my bright darling, though I have made thee vain, I pray thee to punish me not. Do not go near the pond in the wood to look in it, or an evil thing will happen to thee.” And Japonel smiled dreamily amid half-thoughts, and kissing her mother, “Dear mother,” she said, “does ‘Stream’s eye’ tell me everything of my beauty, or am I in other eyes still fairer?” Then her mother answered sadly, “Nay, but I trust the open Eye of God finds in thee a better beauty than thy mirror can tell thee of.”

Japonel, when she heard that answer, went away till she came to the pond in the wood. It lay down in a deep hollow, and drank light out of a clear sky, which, through a circle of dark boughs, ever looked down on it. “Perhaps,” she said to herself, “it is here that God will open His Eye and show me how much fairer I am than even ‘Stream’s eye’ can tell me.” But she thought once of her mother’s words, and went by.

Then she turned again, “It is only that my mother fears lest I become vain. What harm can come if I do look once? it will be in my way home.” So she crept nearer and nearer to the pond, saying to herself, “To see myself once as fair as God sees me cannot be wrong. Surely that will not make me more vain.” And when she came through the last trees, and stood near the brink, she saw before her a little old woman, dressed in green, kneeling by the water and looking in.

“There at least,” she said to herself, “is one who looks in without any harm happening to her. I wonder what it is she sees that she stays there so still.” And coming a little nearer, “Good dame,” called Japonel, “what is it you have found there, that you gaze at so hard?” And the old woman, without moving or looking up, answered, “My own face; but a hundred times younger and fairer, as it was in my youth.”

Then thought Japonel, “How should I look now, who am fair and in the full bloom of my youth? It is because my mother fears lest I shall become vain that she warned me.” So she came quickly and knelt down by the old woman and looked in. And even as she caught sight of her face gazing up, pale and tremulous (“Quick, go away!” its lips seemed to be saying), the old woman slid down from the bank and caught hold of her reflection with green, weed-like arms, and drew it away into the pool’s still depths below. Beneath Japonel’s face lay nothing now but blank dark water, and far away in, a faint face gazed back beseeching, and its lips moved with an imprisoned prayer that might not make itself heard. Only three bubbles rose to the surface, and broke into three separate sighs like the shadow of her own name. Then the pond-witch stirred the mud, and all trace of that lost image went out, and Japonel was left alone.

She rose, expecting to see nothing, to be blind; but the woods were there, night shadows were gathering to their tryst under the boughs, and brighter stars had begun blotting the semi-brightness of the sky. All the way home she went feebly, not yet resolved of the evil that had come upon her. She stole quietly to her own little room in the fading light, and took down “Stream’s eye” from the wall. Then she fell forward upon the bed, for all the surface of her glass was grown blank: never could she hope to look upon her own face again.

The next morning she hung her head low, for she feared all her beauty was flown from her, till she heard her father say, “Wife, each day it seems to me our Japonel grows more fair.” And her mother answered, sighing, “She is too fair, I know.”

Then Japonel set out once more for the pond in the wood. As she went the birds and the flowers sang to her, “Look up, Japonel; look down, Japonel!” but Japonel went on, giving them no heed. She came to the water’s side, and leaning over, saw far down in a tangle of green weeds a face that looked back to hers, faint and blurred by the shimmering movement of the water. Then, weeping, she wrung her hands and cried:

“Ah! sweet face of Japonel,
Beauty and grace of Japonel,
Image and eyes of Japonel,
‘Come back!’ sighs Japonel.”

 

And bubble by bubble a faint answer was returned that broke like a sob on the water’s surface:

“I am the face of Japonel,
The beauty and grace of Japonel;
Here under a spell, Japonel,
I dwell, Japonel.”

 

All day Japonel cried so, and was so answered. Now and again, green weeds would come skimming to the surface, and seem to listen to her reproach, and then once more sink down to their bed in the pond’s depths, and lie almost still, waving long slimy fingers through the mud.

The next day Japonel came again, and cried as before:

“Ah! sweet face of Japonel,
Beauty and grace of Japonel,
Image and eyes of Japonel,
‘Come back!’ cries Japonel.”

 

And her shadow in the water made answer:

“I am the face of Japonel,
The beauty and grace of Japonel;
Here under a spell, Japonel,
I dwell, Japonel.”

Now as she sat and sorrowed she noticed that whenever a bird flew over the pond it dropped something out of its mouth into the water, and looking she saw millet-seeds lying everywhere among the weeds of its surface; one by one they were being sucked under by the pond-witch.

Japonel stayed so long by the side of the pond, that on her way home it had fallen quite dark while she was still in the middle of the wood. Then all at once she heard a bird with loud voice cry out of the darkness, “Look up, Japonel!” The cry was so sudden and so strange, coming at that place and that hour, that all through her grief she heard it, and stopped to look up. Again in the darkness she heard the bird cry, “Why do you weep, Japonel?” Japonel said, “Because the pond-witch has carried away my beautiful reflection in the water, so that I can see my own face no more.”

Then the bird said, “Why have you not done as the birds do? She is greedy; so they throw in millet-seeds, and then she does not steal the reflection of their wings when they pass over.” And Japonel answered, “Because I did not know that, therefore I am to-day the most miserable of things living.” Then said the bird, “Come to-morrow, and you shall be the happiest.”

So the next day Japonel went and sat by the pond in the wood, waiting to be made the happiest, as the bird had promised her. All day long great flocks of birds went to and fro, and the pond became covered with seeds. Japonel looked; “Why, they are poppy-seeds!” she cried. (Now poppy-seeds when they are eaten make people sleep.) Just as the sun was setting all the birds began suddenly to cry in chorus, “Look down, Japonel! Japonel, look down!” And there, on the pond’s surface, lay an old woman dressed in green, fast asleep, with all the folds of her dress and the wrinkles of her face full of poppy-seeds.

Then Japonel ran fast to the pond’s edge and looked down. Slowly from the depth rose the pale beautiful reflection of herself, untying itself from the thin green weeds, and drifting towards the bank. It looked up with tremulous greeting, half sadness, half pleasure, seeming so glad after that long separation to return to its sweet mistress. So as it came and settled below her own face in the water, Japonel stooped down over it and kissed it.

Then she sprang back from the brink and ran home, fast, fast in the fading light. And there, when she looked in her mirror, was once more the beautiful face she loved, a little blue and wan from its long imprisonment under water. And so it ever remained, beautiful, but wan, to remind her of the sorrow that had come upon her when, loving this too well, she had not loved enough to listen to the cry of the birds: “Look up, Japonel!” and, “Japonel, look down!”

——————-

An excerpt from : Moonshine and Clover

ISBN: 9781909302259

URL: http://abelapublishing.com/moonshine-and-clover_p23626220.htm

Moonshine and Clover

Cover Art for Moonshine and Clover

Special Offer: 17% off

Advertisements