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from PUCK of POOK’s HILL

by RUDYARD KIPLING (illustrated)

PUCK’S SONG and ON THE GREAT WALL

POPH-Cover-A5

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Puck’s Song

 

See you the dimpled track that runs,

All hollow through the wheat?

O that was where they hauled the guns

That smote King Philip’s fleet.

See you our little mill that clacks,

So busy by the brook?

She has ground her corn and paid her tax

Ever since Domesday Book.

See you our stilly woods of oak,

And the dread ditch beside?

O that was where the Saxons broke,

On the day that Harold died.

See you the windy levels spread

About the gates of Rye?

O that was where the Northmen fled,

When Alfred’s ships came by.

See you our pastures wide and lone,

Where the red oxen browse?

O there was a City thronged and known,

Ere London boasted a house.

And see you, after rain, the trace

Of mound and ditch and wall?

O that was a Legion’s camping-place,

When Cæsar sailed from Gaul.

And see you marks that show and fade,

Like shadows on the Downs?

O they are the lines the Flint Men made,

To guard their wondrous towns.

Trackway and Camp and City lost,

Salt Marsh where now is corn;

Old Wars, old Peace, old Arts that cease,

And so was England born!

She is not any common Earth,

Water or wood or air,

But Merlin’s Isle of Gramarye,

Where you and I will fare.

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On the Great Wall

 

When I left Rome for Lalage’s sake

By the Legions’ Road to Rimini,

She vowed her heart was mine to take

With me and my shield to Rimini—

(Till the Eagles flew from Rimini!)

And I’ve tramped Britain and I’ve tramped Gaul

And the Pontic shore where the snow-flakes fall

As white as the neck of Lalage—

As cold as the heart of Lalage!

And I’ve lost Britain and I’ve lost Gaul

(the voice seemed very cheerful about it),

And I’ve lost Rome, and worst of all,

I’ve lost Lalage!

 

They were standing by the gate to Far Wood when they heard this song. Without a word they hurried to their private gap and wriggled through the hedge almost atop of a jay that was feeding from Puck’s hand.

 

‘Gently!’ said Puck. ‘What are you looking for?’

 

‘Parnesius, of course,’ Dan answered. ‘We’ve only just remembered yesterday. It isn’t fair.’

 

Puck chuckled as he rose. ‘I’m sorry, but children who spend the afternoon with me and a Roman Centurion need a little settling dose of Magic before they go to tea with their governess. Ohé, Parnesius!’ he called.

 

‘Here, Faun!’ came the answer from ‘Volaterrae.’ They could see the shimmer of bronze armour in the beech crotch, and the friendly flash of the great shield uplifted.

 

‘I have driven out the Britons.’ Parnesius laughed like a boy. ‘I occupy their high forts. But Rome is merciful! You may come up.’ And up they three all scrambled.

 

‘What was the song you were singing just now?’ said Una, as soon as she had settled herself.

 

‘That? Oh, Rimini. It’s one of the tunes that are always being born somewhere in the Empire. They run like a pestilence for six months or a year, till another one pleases the Legions, and then they march to that.’

 

‘Tell them about the marching, Parnesius. Few people nowadays walk from end to end of this country,’ said Puck.

 

‘The greater their loss. I know nothing better than the Long March when your feet are hardened. You begin after the mists have risen, and you end, perhaps, an hour after sundown.’

 

‘And what do you have to eat?’ Dan asked, promptly.

 

‘Fat bacon, beans, and bread, and whatever wine happens to be in the rest-houses. But soldiers are born grumblers. Their very first day out, my men complained of our water-ground British corn. They said it wasn’t so filling as the rough stuff that is ground in the Roman ox-mills. However, they had to fetch and eat it.’

 

‘Fetch it? Where from?’ said Una.

 

‘From that newly-invented water-mill below the Forge.’

 

‘That’s Forge Mill—our Mill!’ Una looked at Puck.

 

‘Yes; yours,’ Puck put in. ‘How old did you think it was?’

 

‘I don’t know. Didn’t Sir Richard Dalyngridge talk about it?’

 

‘He did, and it was old in his day,’ Puck answered. ‘Hundreds of years old.’

 

‘It was new in mine,’ said Parnesius. ‘My men looked at the flour in their helmets as though it had been a nest of adders. They did it to try my patience. But I—addressed them, and we became friends.

There’s where you meet hunters and trappers‘There’s where you meet hunters, and trappers for the Circuses, prodding along chained bears and muzzled wolves.’

 

To tell the truth, they taught me the Roman Step. You see, I’d only served with quick-marching Auxiliaries. A Legion’s pace is altogether different. It is a long, slow stride, that never varies from sunrise to sunset. “Rome’s Race—Rome’s Pace,” as the proverb says. Twenty-four miles in eight hours, neither more nor less. Head and spear up, shield on your back, cuirass-collar open one hand’s breadth—and that’s how you take the Eagles through Britain.’

 

‘And did you meet any adventures?’ said Dan.

 

‘There are no adventures South the Wall,’ said Parnesius. ‘The worst thing that happened me was having to appear before a magistrate up North, where a wandering philosopher had jeered at the Eagles. I was able to show that the old man had deliberately blocked our road, and the magistrate told him, out of his own Book, I believe, that, whatever his God might be, he should pay proper respect to Cæsar.’

 

‘What did you do?’ said Dan.

 

‘Went on. Why should I care for such things, my business being to reach my station? It took me twenty days.

 

‘Of course, the farther North you go the emptier are the roads. At last you fetch clear of the forests and climb bare hills, where wolves howl in the ruins of our cities that have been. No more pretty girls; no more jolly magistrates who knew your Father when he was young, and invite you to stay with them; no news at the temples and way-stations except bad news of wild beasts. There’s where you meet hunters, and trappers for the Circuses, prodding along chained bears and muzzled wolves. Your pony shies at them, and your men laugh.

 

‘The houses change from gardened villas to shut forts with watch-towers of grey stone, and great stone-walled sheepfolds, guarded by armed Britons of the North Shore. In the naked hills beyond the naked houses, where the shadows of the clouds play like cavalry charging, you see puffs of black smoke from the mines. The hard road goes on and on—and the wind sings through your helmet-plume—past altars to Legions and Generals forgotten, and broken statues of Gods and Heroes, and thousands of graves where the mountain foxes and hares peep at you. Red-hot in summer, freezing in winter, is that big, purple heather country of broken stone.

 

‘Just when you think you are at the world’s end, you see a smoke from East to West as far as the eye can turn, and then, under it, also as far as the eye can stretch, houses and temples, shops and theatres, barracks, and granaries, trickling along like dice behind—always behind—one long, low, rising and falling, and hiding and showing line of towers. And that is the Wall!’

 

That is the Wall
And that is the Wall!

 

‘Ah!’ said the children, taking breath.

 

‘You may well,’ said Parnesius. ‘Old men who have followed the Eagles since boyhood say nothing in the Empire is more wonderful than first sight of the Wall!’

 

‘Is it just a Wall? Like the one round the kitchen-garden?’ said Dan.

 

‘No, no! It is the Wall. Along the top are towers with guard-houses, small towers, between. Even on the narrowest part of it three men with shields can walk abreast from guard-house to guard-house. A little curtain wall, no higher than a man’s neck, runs along the top of the thick wall, so that from a distance you see the helmets of the sentries sliding back and forth like beads. Thirty feet high is the Wall, and on the Picts’ side, the North, is a ditch, strewn with blades of old swords and spear-heads set in wood, and tyres of wheels joined by chains. The Little People come there to steal iron for their arrow-heads.

 

‘But the Wall itself is not more wonderful than the town behind it. Long ago there were great ramparts and ditches on the South side, and no one was allowed to build there. Now the ramparts are partly pulled down and built over, from end to end of the Wall; making a thin town eighty miles long. Think of it! One roaring, rioting, cockfighting, wolf-baiting, horse-racing town, from Ituna on the West to Segedunum on the cold eastern beach! On one side heather, woods and ruins where Picts hide, and on the other, a vast town—long like a snake, and wicked like a snake. Yes, a snake basking beside a warm wall!

 

‘My Cohort, I was told, lay at Hunno, where the Great North Road runs through the Wall into the Province of Valentia.’ Parnesius laughed scornfully. ‘The Province of Valentia! We followed the road, therefore, into Hunno town, and stood astonished. The place was a fair—a fair of peoples from every corner of the Empire. Some were racing horses: some sat in wine-shops: some watched dogs baiting bears, and many gathered in a ditch to see cocks fight. A boy not much older than myself, but I could see he was an Officer, reined up before me and asked what I wanted.

 

‘“My station,” I said, and showed him my shield.’ Parnesius held up his broad shield with its three X’s like letters on a beer-cask.

 

‘“Lucky omen!” said he. “Your Cohort’s the next tower to us, but they’re all at the cock-fight. This is a happy place. Come and wet the Eagles.” He meant to offer me a drink.

 

‘“When I’ve handed over my men,” I said. I felt angry and ashamed.

 

‘“Oh, you’ll soon outgrow that sort of nonsense,” he answered. “But don’t let me interfere with your hopes. Go on to the Statue of Roma Dea. You can’t miss it. The main road into Valentia!” and he laughed and rode off. I could see the Statue not a quarter of a mile away, and there I went. At some time or other the Great North Road ran under it into Valentia; but the far end had been blocked up because of the Picts, and on the plaster a man had scratched, “Finish!” It was like marching into a cave. We grounded spears together, my little thirty, and it echoed in the barrel of the arch, but none came. There was a door at one side painted with our number. We prowled in, and I found a cook asleep, and ordered him to give us food. Then I climbed to the top of the Wall, and looked out over the Pict country, and I—thought,’ said Parnesius. ‘The bricked-up arch with “Finish!” on the plaster was what shook me, for I was not much more than a boy.’

 

‘What a shame!’ said Una. ‘But did you feel happy after you’d had a good——’ Dan stopped her with a nudge.

 

‘Happy?’ said Parnesius. ‘When the men of the Cohort I was to command came back unhelmeted from the cock-fight, their birds under their arms, and asked me who I was? No, I was not happy; but I made my new Cohort unhappy too…. I wrote my Mother I was happy, but, oh, my friends’—he stretched arms over bare knees—‘I would not wish my worst enemy to suffer as I suffered through my first months on the Wall. Remember this: among the officers was scarcely one, except myself (and I thought I had lost the favour of Maximus, my General), scarcely one who had not done something of wrong or folly. Either he had killed a man, or taken money, or insulted the magistrates, or blasphemed the Gods, and so had been sent to the Wall as a hiding-place from shame or fear. And the men were as the officers. Remember, also, that the Wall was manned by every breed and race in the Empire. No two towers spoke the same tongue, or worshipped the same Gods. In one thing only we were all equal. No matter what arms we had used before we came to the Wall, on the Wall we were all archers, like the Scythians. The Pict cannot run away from the arrow, or crawl under it. He is a bowman himself. He knows!’

 

‘I suppose you were fighting Picts all the time,’ said Dan.

 

‘Picts seldom fight. I never saw a fighting Pict for half a year. The tame Picts told us they had all gone North.’

 

‘What is a tame Pict?’ said Dan.

 

‘A Pict—there were many such—who speaks a few words of our tongue, and slips across the Wall to sell ponies and wolf-hounds. Without a horse and a dog, and a friend, man would perish. The Gods gave me all three, and there is no gift like friendship. Remember this’—Parnesius turned to Dan—‘when you become a young man. For your fate will turn on the first true friend you make.’

 

‘He means,’ said Puck, grinning, ‘that if you try to make yourself a decent chap when you’re young, you’ll make rather decent friends when you grow up. If you’re a beast, you’ll have beastly friends. Listen to the Pious Parnesius on Friendship!’

 

‘I am not pious,’ Parnesius answered, ‘but I know what goodness means; and my friend, though he was without hope, was ten thousand times better than I. Stop laughing, Faun!’

 

‘Oh Youth Eternal and All-believing,’ cried Puck, as he rocked on the branch above. ‘Tell them about your Pertinax.’

 

‘He was that friend the Gods sent me—the boy who spoke to me when I first came. Little older than myself, commanding the Augusta Victoria Cohort on the tower next to us and the Numidians. In virtue he was far my superior.’

 

‘Then why was he on the Wall?’ Una asked, quickly. ‘They’d all done something bad. You said so yourself.’

 

‘He was the nephew, his Father had died, of a great rich man in Gaul who was not always kind to his Mother. When Pertinax grew up, he discovered this, and so his uncle shipped him off, by trickery and force, to the Wall. We came to know each other at a ceremony in our Temple—in the dark. It was the Bull Killing,’ Parnesius explained to Puck.

 

I see,’ said Puck, and turned to the children. ‘That’s something you wouldn’t quite understand. Parnesius means he met Pertinax in church.’

 

‘Yes—in the Cave we first met, and we were both raised to the Degree of Gryphons together.’ Parnesius lifted his hand towards his neck for an instant. ‘He had been on the Wall two years, and knew the Picts well. He taught me first how to take Heather.’

 

‘What’s that?’ said Dan.

 

‘Going out hunting in the Pict country with a tame Pict. You are quite safe so long as you are his guest, and wear a sprig of heather where it can be seen. If you went alone you would surely be killed, if you were not smothered first in the bogs. Only the Picts know their way about those black and hidden bogs. Old Allo, the one-eyed, withered little Pict from whom we bought our ponies, was our special friend. At first we went only to escape from the terrible town, and to talk together about our homes. Then he showed us how to hunt wolves and those great red deer with horns like Jewish candlesticks. The Roman-born officers rather looked down on us for doing this, but we preferred the heather to their amusements. Believe me,’ Parnesius turned again to Dan, ‘a boy is safe from all things that really harm when he is astride a pony or after a deer. Do you remember, O Faun,’ he turned to Puck, ‘the little altar I built to the Sylvan Pan by the pine-forest beyond the brook?’

 

‘Which? The stone one with the line from Xenophon?’ said Puck, in quite a new voice.

 

‘No. What do I know of Xenophon? That was Pertinax—after he had shot his first mountain-hare with an arrow—by chance! Mine I made of round pebbles in memory of my first bear. It took me one happy day to build.’ Parnesius faced the children quickly.

 

‘And that was how we lived on the Wall for two years—a little scuffling with the Picts, and a great deal of hunting with old Allo in the Pict country. He called us his children sometimes, and we were fond of him and his barbarians, though we never let them paint us Pict fashion. The marks endure till you die.’

 

‘How’s it done?’ said Dan. ‘Anything like tattooing?’

 

‘They prick the skin till the blood runs, and rub in coloured juices. Allo was painted blue, green, and red from his forehead to his ankles. He said it was part of his religion. He told us about his religion (Pertinax was always interested in such things), and as we came to know him well, he told us what was happening in Britain behind the Wall. Many things took place behind us in those days. And, by the Light of the Sun,’ said Parnesius, earnestly, ‘there was not much that those little people did not know! He told me when Maximus crossed over to Gaul, after he had made himself Emperor of Britain, and what troops and emigrants he had taken with him. We did not get the news on the Wall till fifteen days later. He told me what troops Maximus was taking out of Britain every month to help him to conquer Gaul; and I always found the numbers as he said. Wonderful! And I tell another strange thing!’

 

He jointed his hands across his knees, and leaned his head on the curve of the shield behind him.

 

‘Late in the summer, when the first frosts begin and the Picts kill their bees, we three rode out after wolf with some new hounds. Rutilianus, our General, had given us ten days’ leave, and we had pushed beyond the Second Wall—beyond the Province of Valentia—into the higher hills, where there are not even any of Rome’s old ruins. We killed a she-wolf before noon, and while Allo was skinning her he looked up and said to me, “When you are Captain of the Wall, my child, you won’t be able to do this anymore!”

 

‘I might as well have been made Prefect of Lower Gaul, so I laughed and said, “Wait till I am Captain.” “No, don’t wait,” said Allo. “Take my advice and go home—both of you.” “We have no homes,” said Pertinax. “You know that as well as we do. We’re finished men—thumbs down against both of us. Only men without hope would risk their necks on your ponies.” The old man laughed one of those short Pict laughs—like a fox barking on a frosty night. “I’m fond of you two,” he said. “Besides, I’ve taught you what little you know about hunting. Take my advice and go home.”

 

‘“We can’t,” I said. “I’m out of favour with my General, for one thing; and for another, Pertinax has an uncle.”

 

‘“I don’t know about his uncle,” said Allo, “but the trouble with you, Parnesius, is that your General thinks well of you.”

 

‘“Roma Dea!” said Pertinax, sitting up. “What can you guess what Maximus thinks, you old horse-coper?”

 

‘Just then (you know how near the brutes creep when one is eating?) a great dog-wolf jumped out behind us, and away our rested hounds tore after him, with us at their tails. He ran us far out of any country we’d ever heard of, straight as an arrow till sunset, towards the sunset. We came at last to long capes stretching into winding waters, and on a grey beach below us we saw ships drawn up. Forty-seven we counted—not Roman galleys but the raven-winged ships from the North where Rome does not rule. Men moved in the ships, and the sun flashed on their helmets—winged helmets of the red-haired men from the North where Rome does not rule. We watched, and we counted, and we wondered; for though we had heard rumours concerning these Winged Hats, as the Picts called them, never before had we looked upon them.

 

‘“Come away! Come away!” said Allo. “My Heather won’t protect you here. We shall all be killed!” His legs trembled like his voice. Back we went—back across the heather under the moon, till it was nearly morning, and our poor beasts stumbled on some ruins.

 

‘When we woke, very stiff and cold, Allo was mixing the meal and water. One does not light fires in the Pict country except near a village. The little men are always signalling to each other with smokes, and a strange smoke brings them out buzzing like bees. They can sting, too!

 

‘“What we saw last night was a trading-station,” said Allo. “Nothing but a trading-station.”

 

‘“I do not like lies on an empty stomach,” said Pertinax. “I suppose” (he had eyes like an eagle’s), “I suppose that is a trading-station also?” He pointed to a smoke far off on a hill-top, ascending in what we call the Pict’s Call:—Puff—double-puff: double-puff—puff! They make it by raising and dropping a wet hide on a fire.

 

‘“No,” said Allo, pushing the platter back into the bag. “That is for you and me. Your fate is fixed. Come.”

 

‘We came. When one takes Heather, one must obey one’s Pict—but that wretched smoke was twenty miles distant, well over on the east coast, and the day was as hot as a bath.

 

‘“Whatever happens,” said Allo, while our ponies grunted along, “I want you to remember me.”

 

‘“I shall not forget,” said Pertinax. “You have cheated me out of my breakfast.”

 

‘“What is a handful of crushed oats to a Roman?” he said. Then he laughed his laugh that was not a laugh. “What would you do if you were a handful of oats being crushed between the upper and lower stones of a mill?”

 

‘“I’m Pertinax, not a riddle-guesser,” said Pertinax.

 

‘“You’re a fool,” said Allo. “Your Gods and my Gods are threatened by strange Gods, and all you can do is to laugh.”

 

‘“Threatened men live long,” I said.

 

‘“I pray the Gods that may be true,” he said. “But I ask you again not to forget me.”

 

‘We climbed the last hot hill and looked out on the eastern sea, three or four miles off. There was a small sailing-galley of the North Gaul pattern at anchor, her landing-plank down and her sail half up; and below us, alone in a hollow, holding his pony, sat Maximus, Emperor of Britain! He was dressed like a hunter, and he leaned on his little stick; but I knew that back as far as I could see it, and I told Pertinax.

 

‘“You’re madder than Allo!” he said. “It must be the sun!”

 

‘Maximus never stirred till we stood before him. Then he looked me up and down, and said: “Hungry again? It seems to be my destiny to feed you whenever we meet. I have food here. Allo shall cook it.”

 

‘“No,” said Allo. “A Prince in his own land does not wait on wandering Emperors. I feed my two children without asking your leave.” He began to blow up the ashes.

 

‘“I was wrong,” said Pertinax. “We are all mad. Speak up, O Madman called Emperor!”

 

‘Maximus smiled his terrible tight-lipped smile, but two years on the Wall do not make a man afraid of mere looks. So I was not afraid.

 

‘“I meant you, Parnesius, to live and die an Officer of the Wall,” said Maximus. “But it seems from these,” he fumbled in his breast, “you can think as well as draw.” He pulled out a roll of letters I had written to my people, full of drawings of Picts, and bears, and men I had met on the Wall. Mother and my sister always liked my pictures.

 

‘He handed me one that I had called “Maximus’s Soldiers.” It showed a row of fat wine-skins, and our old Doctor of the Hunno hospital snuffing at them. Each time that Maximus had taken troops out of Britain to help him to conquer Gaul, he used to send the garrisons more wine—to keep them quiet, I suppose. On the Wall, we always called a wine-skin a “Maximus.” Oh, yes; and I had drawn them in Imperial helmets!

 

‘“Not long since,” he went on, “men’s names were sent up to Cæsar for smaller jokes than this.”

 

‘“True, Cæsar,” said Pertinax; “but you forget that was before I, your friend’s friend, became such a good spear-thrower.”

 

‘He did not actually point his hunting spear at Maximus, but balanced it on his palm—so!

 

‘“I was speaking of time past,” said Maximus, never fluttering an eyelid. “Nowadays one is only too pleased to find boys who can think for themselves, and their friends.” He nodded at Pertinax. “Your Father lent me the letters, Parnesius, so you run no risk from me.”

 

‘“None whatever,” said Pertinax, and rubbed the spear-point on his sleeve.

 

‘“I have been forced to reduce the garrisons in Britain, because I need troops in Gaul. Now I come to take troops from the Wall itself,” said he.

 

‘“I wish you joy of us,” said Pertinax. “We’re the last sweepings of the Empire—the men without hope. Myself, I’d sooner trust condemned criminals.”

 

‘“You think so?” he said, quite seriously. “But it will only be till I win Gaul. One must always risk one’s life, or one’s soul, or one’s peace—or some little thing.”

 

‘Allo passed round the fire with the sizzling deer’s meat. He served us two first.

 

‘“Ah!” said Maximus, waiting his turn. “I perceive you are in your own country. Well, you deserve it. They tell me you have quite a following among the Picts, Parnesius.”

 

‘“I have hunted with them,” I said. “Maybe I have a few friends among the Heather.”

 

‘“He is the only armoured man of you all who understands us,” said Allo, and he began a long speech about our virtues, and how we had saved one of his grandchildren from a wolf the year before.’

 

‘Had you?’ said Una.

 

‘Yes; but that was neither here nor there. The little green man orated like a—like Cicero. He made us out to be magnificent fellows. Maximus never took his eyes off our faces.

 

‘“Enough,” he said. “I have heard Allo on you. I wish to hear you on the Picts.”

 

‘I told him as much as I knew, and Pertinax helped me out. There is never harm in a Pict if you but take the trouble to find out what he wants. Their real grievance against us came from our burning their heather. The whole garrison of the Wall moved out twice a year, and solemnly burned the heather for ten miles North. Rutilianus, our General, called it clearing the country. The Picts, of course, scampered away, and all we did was to destroy their bee-bloom in the summer, and ruin their sheep-food in the spring.

 

‘“True, quite true,” said Allo. “How can we make our holy heather-wine, if you burn our bee-pasture?”

 

‘We talked long, Maximus asking keen questions that showed he knew much and had thought more about the Picts. He said presently to me: “If I gave you the old Province of Valentia to govern, could you keep the Picts contented till I won Gaul? Stand away, so that you do not see Allo’s face; and speak your own thoughts.”

 

‘“No,” I said. “You cannot re-make that Province. The Picts have been free too long.”

 

‘“Leave them their village councils, and let them furnish their own soldiers,” he said. “You, I am sure, would hold the reins very lightly.”

 

‘“Even then, no,” I said. “At least not now. They have been too oppressed by us to trust anything with a Roman name for years and years.”

 

‘I heard old Allo behind me mutter: “Good child!”

 

‘“Then what do you recommend,” said Maximus, “to keep the North quiet till I win Gaul?”

 

‘“Leave the Picts alone,” I said. “Stop the heather-burning at once, and—they are improvident little animals—send them a shipload or two of corn now and then.”

 

‘“Their own men must distribute it—not some cheating Greek accountant,” said Pertinax.

 

‘“Yes, and allow them to come to our hospitals when they are sick,” I said.

 

‘“Surely they would die first,” said Maximus.

 

‘“Not if Parnesius brought them in,” said Allo. “I could show you twenty wolf-bitten, bear-clawed Picts within twenty miles of here. But Parnesius must stay with them in Hospital, else they would go mad with fear.”

 

‘“I see,” said Maximus. “Like everything else in the world, it is one man’s work. You, I think, are that one man.”

 

‘“Pertinax and I are one,” I said.

 

‘“As you please, so long as you work. Now, Allo, you know that I mean your people no harm. Leave us to talk together,” said Maximus.

 

‘“No need!” said Allo. “I am the corn between the upper and lower millstones. I must know what the lower millstone means to do. These boys have spoken the truth as far as they know it. I, a Prince, will tell you the rest. I am troubled about the Men of the North.” He squatted like a hare in the heather, and looked over his shoulder.

 

‘“I also,” said Maximus, “or I should not be here.”

 

‘“Listen,” said Allo. “Long and long ago the Winged Hats”—he meant the Northmen—“came to our beaches and said, ‘Rome falls! Push her down!’ We fought you. You sent men. We were beaten. After that we said to the Winged Hats, ‘You are liars! Make our men alive that Rome killed, and we will believe you.’ They went away ashamed. Now they come back bold, and they tell the old tale, which we begin to believe—that Rome falls!”

 

‘“Give me three years’ peace on the Wall,” cried Maximus, “and I will show you and all the ravens how they lie!”

 

‘“Ah, I wish it too! I wish to save what is left of the corn from the millstones. But you shoot us Picts when we come to borrow a little iron from the Iron Ditch; you burn our heather, which is all our crop; you trouble us with your great catapults. Then you hide behind the Wall, and scorch us with Greek fire. How can I keep my young men from listening to the Winged Hats—in winter especially, when we are hungry? My young men will say, ‘Rome can neither fight nor rule. She is taking her men out of Britain. The Winged Hats will help us to push down the Wall. Let us show them the secret roads across the bogs.’ Do I want that? No!” He spat like an adder. “I would keep the secrets of my people though I were burned alive. My two children here have spoken truth. Leave us Picts alone. Comfort us, and cherish us, and feed us from far off—with the hand behind your back. Parnesius understands us. Let him have rule on the Wall, and I will hold my young men quiet for”—he ticked it off on his fingers—“one year easily: the next year not so easily: the third year, perhaps! See, I give you three years. If then you do not show us that Rome is strong in men and terrible in arms, the Winged Hats, I tell you, will sweep down the Wall from either sea till they meet in the middle, and you will go. I shall not grieve over that, but well I know tribe never helps tribe except for one price. We Picts will go too. The Winged Hats will grind us to this!” He tossed a handful of dust in the air.

 

‘“Oh, Roma Dea!” said Maximus, half aloud. “It is always one man’s work—always and everywhere!”

 

‘“And one man’s life,” said Allo. “You are Emperor, but not a God. You may die.”

 

‘“I have thought of that, too,” said he. “Very good. If this wind holds, I shall be at the East end of the Wall by morning. To-morrow, then, I shall see you two when I inspect; and I will make you Captains of the Wall for this work.”

 

‘“One instant, Cæsar,” said Pertinax. “All men have their price. I am not bought yet.”

 

‘“Do you also begin to bargain so early?” said Maximus. “Well?”

 

‘“Give me justice against my uncle Icenus, the Duumvir of Divio in Gaul,” he said.

 

‘“Only a life? I thought it would be money or an office. Certainly you shall have him. Write his name on these tablets—on the red side; the other is for the living!” And Maximus held out his tablets.

 

‘“He is of no use to me dead,” said Pertinax. “My mother is a widow. I am far off. I am not sure he pays her all her dowry.”

 

‘“No matter. My arm is reasonably long. We will look through your uncle’s accounts in due time. Now, farewell till to-morrow, O Captains of the Wall!”

 

‘We saw him grow small across the heather as he walked to the galley. There were Picts, scores, each side of him, hidden behind stones. He never looked left or right. He sailed away Southerly, full spread before the evening breeze, and when we had watched him out to sea, we were silent. We understood Earth bred few men like to this man.

 

‘Presently Allo brought the ponies and held them for us to mount—a thing he had never done before.

 

‘“Wait awhile,” said Pertinax, and he made a little altar of cut turf, and strewed heather-bloom atop, and laid upon it a letter from a girl in Gaul.

 

‘“What do you do, O my friend?” I said.

 

‘“I sacrifice to my dead youth,” he answered, and, when the flames had consumed the letter, he ground them out with his heel. Then we rode back to that Wall of which we were to be Captains.’

 

Parnesius stopped. The children sat still, not even asking if that were all the tale. Puck beckoned, and pointed the way out of the wood. ‘Sorry,’ he whispered, ‘but you must go now.’

 

‘We haven’t made him angry, have we?’ said Una. ‘He looks so far off, and—and—thinky.’

 

‘Bless your heart, no. Wait till to-morrow. It won’t be long. Remember, you’ve been playing “Lays of Ancient Rome.”’

 

And as soon as they had scrambled through their gap, where Oak, Ash and Thorn grow, that was all they remembered.

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POPH-Cover-A5

From: PUCK OF POOK’s HILL by RUDYARD KIPLING (illustrated)

ISBN: 9788835367420

To download this book CLICK HERE>> http://bit.ly/2vUVAnO

 

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KEYWORDS/TAGS: Puck of Pook’s hill, fantasy fiction, folklore, myths, legends, magic, children’s stories, fables, children’s fiction, juvenile fiction, young adult fiction, storyteller, Ælueva, Aelueva, Amal, Aquila, Aquila, arrow, Ash, Baron’s, Beacon, Borkum, Britain, brook, Bury, Cæsar, Caesar, Castle, children, Christian, Cohort, coin, crusader, Dallington, Dan, Devil, Duke, Elias, Emperor, Empire, England, Fairy Ring, Faun, Fulke, Gaul, Gilbert, Gods, gold, Great, heart, Hobden, horses, Hugh, Jehan, King, kiss, knight, Manor House, Marsh, Master, Maximus, Mithras, Norman, Normandy, North, novice, palace, parchment, Parnesius, Pater, people of the hills, Pertinax, Pevensey, Pharisees, Pict, ponies, Prince, Princess, Puck, Richard, Roman, Rome, Santlache, Saxon, sea, Sebastian, secrets, serpentine, shield, ship, South, Stavanger, sword, Theodosius, Thorkild, Thorn, tower, Una, velvet, Victrix, violets, Volaterrae, Weland’s sword, whales, white-ash, Whitgift, Winged Hats, Witta, woods, Xenophon, tree song, young men, harp song, dane women, joyous venture, old men, runes, centurion of the thirtieth, 30th, british-roman, great wall, hal o’ the draft, smugglers’ song, bee boy, dymchurch flit, three-part, fifth river, treasure, law, children’s song,

 

A Free excerpt from “The New Year’s Bargain”
by Susan Coolidge author of “What Katy Did Next” etc.

 

AND now the last evening of November was come; and Winter, stealing a march on the departing Autumn, let loose, as if in a hurry to begin, his first storm upon the world. Strong winds raged in the Forest, driving the leaves in clouds before them, and snapping and rending the patient, tortured trees. Ink-black clouds scared away the Moon, when she tried to shine; sharp sleet struck the windows of the Woodman’s hut, like a myriad of tiny fists; and the blast wailed and moaned about the chimney, like the voice of one in pain.

 

Max and Thekla heard the uproar, and trembled, as they sat by the fire. Often before had they listened to storms with a certain pleasurable sense that home was rendered snugger by the contrast. But now they shivered and clung together, and tears were in Thekla’s eyes as she nestled her head upon her brother’s shoulder. The kitchen did not wear its usual cheery look. And no wonder! There was sorrow in the cottage; for dear old Grandfather, who had loved them both so fondly, and been so loved in return, was gone away forever!

 

Only a week before he had died, quietly, painlessly, with a smile on his lips, and blessing them at the last. The far-away neighbors had assembled; and with pitying looks and kind words had taken the aged form, and laid it to rest beside other graves where slept the friends of his youth. But still, in spite of the lonely house and the vacant chair, Thekla could not feel that Grandfather was far away; and every hour she silently did this thing or that because it would once have pleased him to have them done, and the thought that he still knew and was pleased comforted her. And perhaps Thekla was right in her innocent faith, for the friends we can no longer see may be nearer to us than we think.

 

When an old tree is blown down, all the delicate grasses and sweet herbs which cluster at its foot are uprooted by the shock. So it was with these two little human flowers. The fall of their sheltering friend tore them from their accustomed place. Already the neighbors had talked over and settled what the children must do. Max was to be bound apprentice to a clockmaker in the distant town, and Thekla to live with a farmer’s dame who had offered to take and train her as a servant. The thought of parting was dreadful to them; and they had begged so hard and so tearfully to be allowed to stay together in the hut for a few weeks longer,—just till a new Ranger should take possession,—that at last, won by their distress, consent was given. There was wood and meal and vegetables enough in the cellar to keep them without expense to anybody. If the poor things liked to eat the stores themselves, instead of selling them, why it was a good plan, people said. So there the two sat on this stormy evening, alone in the lonely Forest, and expecting the arrival of December, last of that wonderful company who had made the year so strangely interesting.

 

They had not long to wait. There came a lull in the wind, and far off in the distance a voice was heard raised in a commanding tone, and gradually drawing nearer.

 

image“There! there!” were the first words they caught: “that will do. Leave the oaks alone, you rascals! Time enough for such pranks when I’m gone. As for that hemlock,—winds will be winds, I know, and what’s done can never be undone; but don’t let me catch you at another.” Here the voice ceased; then there was a rattling at the latch, and next moment the door opened, and in came a tall figure leaning on a staff, but moving so lightly and easily that it suggested anything rather than age or infirmity.

This was December, a fine, stately man, dressed in white and green, with a fur cloak flung about his shoulders and a hat decked with holly sprigs. Age and youth seemed funnily contrasted in his face; for, while hair and beard were white as hoar-frost, the cheeks were like ripe winter-apples, and the blue eyes sparkled with fun and fire. He entered with a sort of jolly rush; but, when he saw Thekla’s black frock and the traces of tears upon her cheeks, his mood changed at once. Closing the door gently, he sat down before the fire, and, holding out his hand with an expression of indescribable kindness, said in a tone full of sympathy, “My poor children!”

 

That was all: but in another moment Thekla’s arm was round his neck on one side, and Max’s on the other;—he had drawn them on to his knees, and they were sobbing out their griefs as if they had known him always. They told how sorry they were to part, how lonely the cottage seemed, how forlorn it was to be poor and at the mercy of others; and December listened, his eyes glistening with pity and his kind arms hugging them close. It was like having Grandfather back again, the children thought.

 

The new friend was wise. He did not interrupt or try to comfort till they had got quite through. It was wonderful what relief came just from telling all to somebody who cared to listen. By the time the story was over the boy and girl felt happier than for days; and not till then did December speak.

 

“Courage!” he said. “It’s always darkest just before day. Why, the Lord takes care of birds and cats and squirrels, of a whole world full of tiny winged creatures, and all the fishes of the sea. Do you suppose he will forget just you two, out of all the little ones whom he protects? Never! Why, I could tell you,—but I must not, it is not permitted,—only, even a Month may venture on a hint, and so I’ll just say, wait, and see what’s ahead!” And December ended this mysterious sentence with pursing up his lips very tight, winking hard with both eyes, and nodding his head in a singular and provoking manner.

 

“Oh, what?” cried the children.

 

“I shan’t say another word,” replied December. “No! you needn’t look at me with such big, imploring eyes: it’s no use. But just you keep up brave hearts, and trust in God,—and you’ll see! As for the Grandfather,” here his voice grew deep and solemn, like the sound of bells, “I know you miss him sorely; but don’t cry for him anymore. He has gone where he is young again; and, when your turn comes to go too, you will wonder that ever you shed a tear because he was made so very happy.”

 

December’s face became beautiful as he spoke these last words, and Thekla stole the other arm tenderly about his neck. A glittering chain hung there, with pendants shaped like icicles. Touching it, she started, it was so very cold.

 

“Is it made of ice?” she asked.

 

“Well, you can call it so, if you like,” responded December, smiling; “but I say ‘crystallized gases.’ It sounds better, I think.

 

“I hope it won’t put you out,” he went on, “if I should ask leave to read my story, instead of telling it. I am so very, very old, you see,”—here his eyes twinkled with fun,—“that my memory is almost gone; and, unless I write things down, I am always forgetting them.” Whereupon he pulled a roll of paper from his pocket, and perching a pair of spectacles with tortoise-shell rims on his nose, very high up, looked from under them at the children in a comical manner. Thekla and Max could not help laughing. In spite of his white hair, it seemed somehow a great joke that December should call himself so very, very old.

 

“It’s a cheerful kind of a story,” continued he. “I picked it out on purpose, for I guessed I should find you moping; and I thought something lively would be good for you.”

 

Thus speaking, December pushed the glasses up higher on his forehead, so as to be able to see well from beneath them, and began to read,—

 

“How the Cat kept Christmas.”

 

“What a queer name for a story!” said Thekla.

 

“Yes; and it was a queer Cat too,” replied December. “I knew her. Tortoise-shell, with long whiskers, and rather a ragged tail.”

 

Then he went on.

 

“The ringers were practising the Christmas chimes in low, muffled tones. High up, the steeple rocked in the wind, the clouds drifted rapidly over the moon, and clear and sharp the frost-film glittered on the roofs. The watchman on his round clapped and stamped to warm hands and feet, as he called the hour, ‘Eight o’clock, and all’s well!’ But, to the poor Cat crouched beneath the kitchen-window, all was not well.

 

“‘Oh dear!’ she sighed to herself, ‘what a thing it is to have a Step-mother! Once we were happy! The good Papa loved me, and I slept in Gretchen’s arms. The fire was bright in those days. Porringers of hot milk stood by it, and always a saucer full for me. Ah, dear days! The moment I saw that nose of hers, I knew they were over! Such a nose! so red, so long. Why did the Papa marry her? Men are so foolish. I hissed, I spit, I warned,—nobody listened, and here I am. The good Papa dares not protect me. Gretchen weeps: the Step-dame bars the door. Hew! what a wind! What a Christmas Eve! Poor Gretchen! Poor me!’ Overcome by her sorrows, the Cat gave a loud wail, which rang out into the chilly night. Then the door opened softly.

 

“‘Puss! puss!’ said a small voice, ‘where are you?’

 

“Pussy ran forward into view, and jumped and leaped at her mistress.

“‘Oh, my Katchen,’ went on the little one, ‘how cold it is! You will freeze! you will die. Oh, if I dared but let you in!’

 

“‘I’ll scratch her eyes out!’ muttered the Cat.

“‘Shall I throw my little red shawl to you from the window?’ continued Gretchen. ‘My poor one! my Kitty!’

 

“‘Gretchen!’ screamed a voice, ‘if you let that good-for-nothing Cat into the house, you taste the stick! Dost hear?’

 

“Gretchen turned pale. ‘O Kitty!’ was all she said. She gave a sob of despair. Then the door was shut.

 

“‘This is a nice business,’ thought the Cat. ‘Oh, the witch! I hope the mice will come down to-night, and steal the very teeth out of her head. But I’ll have vengeance yet. There’s that big gray rat in the cellar: I’ll strike a bargain with him,—life and liberty, provided he plagues her to death, eats the linen, claws the jam, gnaws bung-holes in the cask, and lets the beer out! We’ll see! Meantime, I shall freeze unless something is done. Let me explore.’

 

“High and low did the Cat search,—over the fence, under the vine,—but no shelter could be found. The vine was leafless, the fence gave no hiding-place. At last she bethought herself of the roof, which it was easy to mount by means of a long and sloping rain-trough. Perhaps there might be a warm chimney there,—no bad pillow on a wintry night.

 

“There proved to be a warmish one; and, curling into a ball, Puss laid herself to rest against it. Perhaps it was not warm enough, perhaps the remembrance of wrong was too bitter within her; certain it is she could not sleep. She wriggled, she twisted; she sent forth melancholy cries, which rang strangely across the icy roofs as if some ghost afflicted with toothache had gone there for an airing. Nine—ten—eleven—had sounded before she fell into her first doze,—the clock was on the stroke of twelve, when a scraping and scratching sound close by roused her. Was it some other cat? or the big rat from the cellar, scaling the wall? Raising herself cautiously, after the manner of cats, she listened.

 

“No: it was neither rat nor cat. Light hoofs as of goats were climbing the tiles, bells tinkled, a small sledge came in view. Swift as light it flew along, paused at the next chimney, and a little old man jumped out. His face shone in the moonlight like a jolly red apple, his fat body was wrapped in fur, on his back was a bag. Puss had never seen him before; but she knew him well. It was St. Nicholas, the patron saint of Christmas.

 

“Down the chimney he went, with a motion like a bird’s; up again as fast. Then advancing, he searched in his bag. His kind face looked puzzled. The Cat saw his hesitation, and sprang forward.

 

“‘Well, Puss,’ said the Saint, ‘what cheer?’

 

“‘Bad,’ said the Cat, no ways abashed at finding herself in such company. ‘But never mind me, if only you’ve something nice for Gretchen. Such a dear child, St. Nicholas, and such a step-mother! Do put your hand in the pouch, and fetch out something pretty for her,—oh do! there’s a kind Saint!’ And she rubbed her soft fur coaxingly against his legs.

 

“‘Ah! a dear child and a step-mother, eh?’ said St. Nicholas. ‘Let me look again. Certainly! here’s something for Gretchen.—Wo-ho, reindeer! quiet a moment!’ And down the chimney he whipped, a present in his hand,—what, the Cat couldn’t see.

 

“Coming back, ‘Now about yourself?’ he asked, gathering up the reins. ‘What keeps you on the cold roof all night? Something must be done, you know: matters can’t be left this way. Wish a wish, if you have one. I’m in a humor for pleasing everybody while I’m about it.’

 

“So the Cat told her story. ‘And for a wish,’ she said, ‘if your Saintship would only permit me to slip in under your furs, and go along, I should be proud and happy. They look very warm and comfortable. I should sleep; or, if not, it would be most interesting to watch your Worship at work. And I take very little room,’ she added piteously.

If your Saintship would only permit me to slip in under your furs, and go along

“So the Cat told her story. ‘
And for a wish,’ she said, ‘if your Saintship would only permit me
to slip in under your furs, and go along,’—‘
Why, jump in at once,’ said St. Nicholas.”

“‘Is that all? Why, jump in at once,’ said kind St. Nicholas: ‘there is room for forty cats like you. My sledge is never full. Ho! ho! it would be a pretty joke if it were!’ And he laughed a jolly laugh.

 

“So Pussy jumped in. ‘You must let me out in the morning early,’ said she, ‘because Gretchen will be anxious.’

 

“‘Oh, yes!’ replied the Saint, smiling queerly, ‘I’ll let you out in the morning. I’m like a bat, you know, and never fly except by night.’

 

“Off they went, the magic stillness of the flight broken only by the tinkling bells. First one chimney, then another; bag after bag full of toys and sweets; here a doll, there a diamond ring, here only a pair of warm stockings. Everybody had something, except in a few houses over whose roofs St. Nicholas paused a moment with a look half sad, half angry, and left nothing. People lived there who knew him little, and loved him less.

 

“Through the air,—more towns,—more villages. Now the sea was below them, the cold, moon-lit sea. Then again land came in sight,—towers and steeples, halls and hamlets; and the work began again. A wild longing to explore seized the Cat. She begged the Saint to take her down one specially wide chimney on his shoulder. He did so. The nursery within looked strange and foreign; but the little sleeping face in bed was like Gretchen’s, and Pussy felt at home. A whole bag full of presents was left here. And then, hey! presto! they were off again to countless homes,—to roofs so poor and low that only a Saint would have thought of visiting them, to stately palaces, to cellars and toll-gates and lonely attics; at last to a church, dim, and fragrant with ivy-leaves and twisted evergreen, where their errand was to feed a robin who had there found shelter, and was sleeping on the topmost bough. How his beads of eyes sparkled as the Saint awoke him! and how eagerly he pecked the store of good red berries which were his Christmas present, though he had hung up no stocking, and evidently expected nothing. To small, to great, to rich and poor alike, the good Saint had an errand. Little ones smiled in their sleep as he moved by, birds in hidden coverts twittered and chirped, bells faintly tinkled and chimed as in dream, the air sent up incense of aromatic smells, flying fairies made room for the sledge to pass; the world, unconscious what it did, breathed benediction, and in turn received a blessing as it slept,—a Christmas blessing.

 

“Off again. More sea, tumbling and tossed; then a great steamship, down whose funnel St. Nicholas dropped a parcel or two. Then another country, with atmosphere heavy with savory scents,—of doughnuts, of pumpkin pies, of apple turnovers, all of which had been cooked the day before. These dainties stay on earth, and are eaten; but their smell goes up into the clouds, and the ghosts dine upon it. The Cat licked her lips. Flying gives appetite. ‘When morning comes,’ she thought, ‘Gretchen will smuggle me a breakfast.’ But morning was long in coming, and there were many little ones to serve in that wonderful new land.

 

“And now, another continent passed, another ocean came in view. Island after island rose and sank; but the sledge did not stop. Then a shore was seen, with groves of trees, fan-shaped and curious; with rivers whose waters bore fleets of strange misshapen boats, in whose masts hung many-colored lanterns; and cities of odd build, whose spires and pinnacles were noisy with bells. But neither here did the sledge stop. Once only it dipped, and deposited a package in a modest dwelling. ‘A Missionary lives there,’ said the Saint. ‘This is China. Don’t you smell the tea?’

 

“On and on for hundred of leagues. No stay, no errand. St. Nicholas looked sad, for all his round face. ‘So many little children,’ he muttered, ‘and none of them mine!’ And then he cheered again, as, reining his deer upon a hut amid the frozen snows of Siberia, he left a rude toy for an exile’s child. ‘Dear little thing!’ he said, ‘she will smile in the morning when she wakes.’

 

“And now the air grew warm and soft. Great cities were below them, and groves of flowering trees. Some balmy fragrance wrapped the land. A vast building swept into sight, whose sides and roof and spires were traced in glittering lines of fire. It was a church hung with lamps. Odors sweet and heavy met their noses. St. Nicholas sneezed, and shook his head impatiently. ‘Confound that incense!’ he said. ‘It’s the loveliest country in the world, only a fellow can’t breathe in it!’ And then he forgot his discomfort in his work.

 

“Another country, and more smells,—of burning twigs, pungent and spicy; of candles just blown out. These set the Cat to coughing; but St. Nicholas minded them not at all. ‘I like them,’ he declared: ‘I like everything about a Christmas-tree,—singed evergreen, smoking tallow, and all. The sniff of it is like a bouquet of flowers to me. And the children,—bless them!—how they do enjoy it! They don’t object to the smell!’ He ended with a chuckle.

 

“And now the dawn began. The moon grew pale and wan; the stars hid themselves; dark things took form and shape, and were less dark; yellow gleams crept up the sky; the world looked more alive. And, among the roofs over which they were now driving, the Cat spied one which seemed familiar. It was! There stood the well-known chimney, with the thin, starved curl of smoke, telling of someone awake within. There was the little window which was Gretchen’s own. With a mew of delight, she leaped to the roof. The Saint laughed. ‘Good-by!’ he shouted, shook his reins, and was off. Whither the Cat knew not, nor could guess; for where St. Nicholas hides himself during the year is one of the secrets which no man knows.

 

“Down the long spout ran Puss, with an airy bound. There was the door; and close to it she stationed herself, impatient of the opening. She had not long to wait. In a moment the latch was raised, and a face peeped timidly out,—Gretchen’s face,—pale and swollen with crying. When she saw the Cat, she gave a loud scream, and caught her in her arms.

 

“‘O Katchen!’ she cried, hugging her close. ‘Where have you been all this time? I thought you were dead! I did, I did, my Katchen!’

 

“Pussy stared, as well she might.

 

“‘All day yesterday,’ went on the little one, ‘and all night long. I cried and cried,—how I cried, my Kitty! It wasn’t a bit a nice Christmas, though the Christ-child brought me such a doll! I could think of nothing but my Katchen, lost all day long.’

 

“Puss stood bewildered. Were her night’s adventures a dream? Had she ever studied geography, she might have guessed that chasing morning round the world is a sure way to lose your reckoning. As it was, she could only venture on a plaintive, inquiring ‘Mew?’ Hunger was more engrossing than curiosity. She devoured breakfast, dinner, supper, all at once. The Stepmother had more reason than ever when she grumbled at being ‘eaten out of house and home by a beast.’ But Gretchen’s tears the day before had so moved her Father, that he took courage to declare that Puss must be restored to her former privileges. Warm corner, dainty mess, and the protecting arms of her little mistress became hers again, and are hers to this day.

 

“And that was St. Nicholas’s Christmas present to the Cat.

 

“Well,” said December, rolling up the paper, “how do you like my story?”

 

“So much! oh, so much!” the children cried. “It was almost the nicest of all.”

 

“As for my present,” he went on, “I am not going to give you that just now. It shall come on the Christmas-tree. And mind you look bright, and greet the Christ-child with a smile, or he will be grieved, and go away sorrowful.”

 

“I don’t believe we shall have any tree this year,” said Thekla, sadly. “There isn’t anything to put on it. And beside”—but her voice faltered. Grandfather had always helped to dress the tree.

 

“Oh, but,” cried December, “this will never do. Why, you must have a tree! Never mind if there isn’t anything to put on it. The Christ-child and I will see to that. Now I’ll tell you,—you just cut a nice fir-bough, and set it here against the door, and I’ll pledge my word, as an honest Month, that something shall come from outside and fall upon it. Do you give me your promise that you will?”

 

They promised,—half doubtful, half believing. And then December asked for the can, and, turning it upside down, poured out the last particles of sand.

 

“Dear! dear!” he said reflectively, “what a blessing that these are not lost! How the babies would have cried at being forced to go to bed half an hour sooner on Christmas night! And the Anthem would have been cut short on the blessed morning too, and the bells been cheated of their chime. It’s a great mercy I have got them safely back.”

 

“Good-by! good-by!” cried the children, following him to the door.

He stooped, and kissed both the round faces.

 

“Good-by!” he said. “Remember Christmas Eve.”

‘O Katchen!’ she said, ‘where have you been

“‘O Katchen!’ she said, ‘where have you been?’”

===============

Chapter 12 from “The New Year’s Bargain” by Susan Coolidge author of “What Katy Did Next” etc.

ISBN: 9788835399308

CLICK the Download Link: https://bit.ly/2UE1Zhb

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TABS/KEYWORDS: The New Years Bargain, Max, Thekla, folklore, fairy tale, fairytale, myth, legend, fable, storyteller, narrator, Little one, child, children’s,  cried, old. Good, great, come ye away, voices, poor, Grandfather, woods, forest,  April, Dotty, cat, brown, hair, girls, boy, march September, red, August, fairy, squirrel, wild, friends, brother, snow, November, sun, turkey, sketch, laughter, flowers, December, Greedy, boat, Bargain, Months, Bear, Little Tot, Maria, May, Little Housekeepers, Last of the Fairies, Little Spark, Desert Island, Nippie Nutcracker, Chusey, Christmas, Conclusion, What was on the Tree

You will bring him back to me

In the rocks on the seashore, left bare by the tide, one often finds tiny pools of water fringed with seaweed and padded with curious moss. These are the cradles which the Mermaids have trimmed prettily for the sea-babies, and where they leave the little ones when they have to go away on other business, as Mermaids do. But one never spies the sea-children in their cradles, for they are taught to tumble out and slip away into the sea if a human step should approach. You see, the fishes have told the Mer-folk cruel tales of the Land-people with their nets and hooks and lines.

 

In the softest, prettiest little cradle of all a Sea-child lay one afternoon crying to himself. He cried because he was lonesome. His mother did not love him as a baby’s mother should; for she was the silliest and the vainest of all the Mermaids. Her best friend was her looking-glass of polished pearl, and her only care was to remain young and girlish. Indeed, she bore her thousand-odd years well, even for a Mermaid. She liked the Sea-baby well enough, but she was ashamed to have him follow her about as he loved to do, because she imagined it made her seem old to be called “Mer-mother” by his lisping lips. She never had time to caress or play with him; and finally she forbade him ever to speak to her unless she spoke first. Sometimes she seemed to forget him altogether, as she left him to take care of himself, while she sat on the rocks combing her long green hair, or playing with the giddy Mermen in the caves below the sea.

 

So while the other sea-people sported or slept and were happy, her poor little Sea-child lay and cried in the green pool where the sea-anemones tickled his cheek with their soft fingers, seeking to make him laugh, and the sea-fringe curled about the scaly little tail which, like a fish, he had in place of legs. On this particular afternoon he was particularly lonesome.

 

“Ahoo!” he sobbed. “I am so unhappy! Ahoo! I want someone to love me very much!”

 

Now a kind old Stork was sitting on a rock above the baby’s head, preening his feathers in a looking-glass pool. He heard the Sea-child’s words, and he spoke in his kind, gruff voice.

 

“What is the matter, little one?” he asked.

 

At first the Sea-child was surprised to be addressed by a land bird. But he soon saw that this creature was friendly, and told him all his trouble, as babies do. “Tut tut!” said the Stork, frowning. “Your Mer-mother needs a lesson sadly.”

 

“What is a lesson?” lisped the Sea-child.

 

But the Stork was busy thinking and did not reply at once. “How would you like a change?” he asked after a time.

 

“What is a change?” asked the baby, for he was very young and ignorant.

 

“You shall see,” answered the Stork, “if you will take my advice; for I am your friend. Now listen. When next you hear a step upon the rocks do not stir from your cradle, but wait and see what will happen.” Without another word the Stork flapped away, leaving the baby to stare up at the blue sky with the tears still wet upon his cheeks, wondering what the Stork could have meant.

 

“I will not stir,” he said to himself. “Whatever happens I will wait and see.”

 

It was the Stork’s business to bring babies to the homes where babies were needed; and sometimes it was very hard to find babies enough. Even now he knew of a house upon the hill where a boy was longing for a little brother to play with. Every night Gil mentioned the matter in his prayers; every night he begged the Stork to bring him a playmate. But though the Stork had hunted far and wide through all the land he could not find a human baby to spare for the cottage on the hill. Now he had a happy idea.

 

With his long legs dangling he flew swiftly up towards the hill; and halfway there he met the boy wandering about sulkily all alone. The Stork had never before spoken to this boy, because he well knew what Gil wanted, and he hated to be teased for what he could not give. So, though he had listened sadly to the boy’s prayers, by day he had kept carefully out of sight. But now he came close overhead, and settling down stood upon one leg directly in Gil’s path.

 

“Good-afternoon,” he said. “I think I have heard you say that you wanted a little brother.”

 

Gil was surprised to have a Stork address him like this, but he was still more pleased at the happy word. “I do! Oh, I do indeed!” he cried.

 

“Would you make a good brother to him?” asked the Stork.

 

“Oh yes!” answered the boy eagerly. “A very good brother I should be.”

 

“H’m,” said the Stork. “One never can tell about these boys. I think you are selfish and jealous. But a little brother may be a good thing for you. In any case, there is little for him to lose. Will you be so good as to come with me?”

 

Without another word the Stork flew up and away toward the beach, leaving Gil staring. This certainly was a most extraordinary bird! But Gil soon decided to follow him and see what would happen, for who could tell what the Stork’s mysterious words might mean?

 

Presently, lying in his little cradle, the Sea-child heard the sound of feet scrambling up the rocks,—the sound he had been taught to fear more than anything in the world. It was his first thought to flop out of the cradle, over into the sea below; and he half turned to do so. But in a moment he remembered the Stork’s last words, and although he was trembling with fear he remained where he was.

 

Soon over the top of the rock peered the face of the boy, Gil of the hill cottage, looking straight down into the pool where the Sea-baby lay snugly on the seaweed.

 

“Oh!” cried the boy, with round black eyes fixed upon the baby’s round blue ones. “Oh!” cried the Sea-child. And it would be hard to say which of the two was more astonished. For to a Sea-child the sight of a clothed, two-legged land-boy is quite as strange as a naked little fish-tailed infant is to a human. But after the first look neither felt afraid, in spite of the terrible tales which each had heard of the other’s kind. They stared wistfully at each other, not knowing what to do next, until the Stork came forward and spoke wise words.

 

“You, land-boy Gil,” he said, “you want a little brother, do you not?” Gil nodded. “And you, Sea-child, want someone to love you? I think I can manage to please you both. But first you must kiss each other.”

 

Gil hesitated. He was a big boy of five or six, too old for kissing. Moreover the Sea-child looked cold and wet and somewhat fishy. But already the red lips of the little fellow were pouted into a round O, and the sad blue eyes were looking up at him so pleadingly that Gil bent low over the watery cradle. Then two little soft arms went about his neck, and Gil felt the heart of the Sea-child thump happily against his own.

 

“Very good,” said the Stork approvingly.

 

The Sea-child could not stand, on account of having no feet, but he lay in his pool holding Gil’s hand.

 

“Now the change is coming,” went on the Stork, and as he spoke the baby began to fall asleep. “In twelve hours,” he said to Gil, “he will become a tiny human child, and I shall carry him to the house on the hill, where he will find a loving family awaiting him. Look! Already he is losing the uniform of the sea,” and he pointed at the Sea-child’s fishy tail. Sure enough, the scales were falling away one by one, and already the shape of two little chubby legs could be seen under the skin, which was shrinking as a tadpole’s does before he becomes a frog. “When this tail is wholly gone,” declared the Stork, “he will forget what we have said to-night. He will forget his sea-home and the caves of the Mer-people. He will forget that he was once a Sea-child; and no one will ever remind him. For only you, Gil, and I shall know the secret.”

 

“And I shall never tell,” declared Gil.

 

“No, surely you will never tell,” answered the Stork gravely, “for if you tell that will be the end of all. You will lose the little brother, and you will be sorry all the rest of your life. Do not forget, Gil. Do not forget.”

 

“I shall not forget,” said Gil.

 

Again they looked at the Sea-child, and he had fallen sound asleep, still holding Gil’s hand. Now there was scarcely anything of the fish left about his little pink body; he was growing younger and younger, smaller and smaller.

 

“You must go home now, Gil,” said the Stork. “Go home and go to bed. And to-morrow when you wake there will be a little brother in the house, and you ought to be a very good boy because you have your wish.”

 

Gil gently loosened the Sea-child’s hand and ran home as the Stork bade him, but said no word of all this to anyone.

 

Now early in the morning the Stork came to the house on the hill, bringing a rosy little new baby which he laid on the bed beside Gil’s mother, and then flew away. What a hullabaloo there was then, to be sure! What a welcome for the little stranger! Gil was not the only one who had longed for a new baby in the house, and this was the prettiest little fellow ever seen. Loudest of all cheered Gil when he saw the present which the Stork had brought. “Hurrah for my little new brother!” he cried. “Now I shall have someone to play with.” That was Gil’s chief thought: now he would have someone to play with.

 

They called the baby’s name Jan. And from the first little Jan was very happy in his new home. He was happy all day in his mother’s arms; happy when his foster-father came home at night and tossed him high to the ceiling; happiest of all when Gil held him close and begged him to hurry and grow up, so that they could play together.

 

Little Jan did hurry to grow up, as fast as health and strength and happiness could make a baby grow. He grew bigger and bigger, handsomer and handsomer, the finest baby in the village, and his family loved him dearly. Every day he became more of a playmate for Gil, whom he admired more than anyone in the world. Gil petted and teased the little fellow, who, as soon as he could walk, began to follow him about like a faithful dog. Grand times the brothers had together then. They dug in the sand on the seashore, and scrambled about the cliffs. They rowed out in the harbor boats with hooks and lines, and played at being fishermen like their father, who sailed away early and came home late. They grew bigger and sturdier and handsomer, and their parents were very proud of them both, the finest lads in all the country round.

 

The years went by, and during all this time Jan never dreamed the truth which only Gil and the Stork knew about the bargain made at the sea-pool cradle. To Jan, indeed, the sea was full of strange thoughts which were not memories but were like them. He loved to look and listen alone upon the water, or in the water, or by the water. Gil often caught him staring down into the blue waves, and when he raised his head there would be a puzzled look in the little fellow’s blue eyes, as though he were trying to solve a riddle. Then Gil would laugh; whereat the wrinkle would smooth itself from Jan’s forehead, and a smile would come about his mouth. He would throw his arm about his brother’s shoulder, saying,—

 

“What strange thing is it, brother, that the old sea does to me? I think sometimes that I am bewitched.” But Gil would only laugh again, thinking his own thoughts. It gave him a pleasant important feeling to know that he was the keeper of Jan’s secret.

 

Meantime what had become of the Sea-baby’s forgotten mother? What was the pretty Mermaid doing in her home under the waves? She was learning the lesson which the Stork had meant to teach.

 

At first she had not greatly missed the Sea-baby, having other things to interest her in the lovely world where she lived. But as the sea-days went by she began to find the grotto which had been their pretty home a very lonely place indeed. She missed the little fellow playing with the shells and starfish on the floor of shining sand. She longed to see him teasing the crabs in the crevices of the rocks, or tickling the sea-anemones to make them draw in their waving fingers. She missed the round blue eyes which used to look at her so admiringly, and the little hands which had once wearied her with their caresses. She even missed the mischievous tricks which the baby sometimes used to play upon his mother, and she would have been glad once more to see him running away with her pearly mirror, or with the golden comb with which she combed her long green hair.

 

As she watched the other sea-children playing merrily with the fishes the lonely Mermaid grew very sad, for she knew that her own baby had been the prettiest of them all, and she wondered how she could ever have been ashamed of him. The other mothers were proud of their darlings, and now they scorned her because she had no little one to hold her mirror when she made her toilet, or to run her errands when she was busy at play. But the poor Mermaid was too sad to play nowadays. She no longer took any pleasure in the gay life which the Mer-folk lived beneath the waves. She wandered instead here and there, up and down the sea, calling, calling for her lost baby. The sound of her sobbing came from the sea at morning, noon, and night.

 

She did not know her child’s fate, but she feared that he had been captured by the dreadful Men-folk, who, so her people said, were ever seeking to snare the sea-creatures in their wicked nets. Day after day the unhappy Mermaid swam along the shore trying to see the places where the Men-folk dwelt, hoping that she might catch a glimpse of her lost darling. But that good hap never befell her. Indeed, even if she had seen Jan, she would not have known her baby in the sturdy boy dressed all in blue, like the other fisher-lads. Nor would Jan have known his mother in this beautiful creature of the sea. For he had quite forgotten the Mermaid who had neglected him, and if he thought of the Mer-folk at all it was as humans do, with wonder and with longing, and yet with fear.

 

Now the good old Stork who had first meddled in these matters kept one eye upon the doings in that neighborhood, and he had seen the sorrowful Mermaid wandering lonely up and down the shore. He knew it must be the Sea-child’s mother, sorry at last for her long carelessness. As the years passed he began to pity the poor creature; but when he found himself growing too soft-hearted he would shake his head firmly and say to himself,—

 

“It will not do. She is not yet punished enough, for she was very cruel. If now she could have her baby again she would soon be as thoughtless as ever. Besides, there is my promise to Gil. So long as he keeps the secret so must I.”

 

But one day, several years later, when the Stork was flying over the harbor, he spied the Mermaid lying upon a rock over which the waves dashed merrily, and she was weeping bitterly, tearing her lovely green hair. She looked so pretty and so forlorn that the bird’s kind heart was touched, and he could not help stopping to comfort her a bit. Flying close to her head he said gently,—

 

“Poor Mermaid! What is the matter?”

 

“Oh, oh!” wailed the Mermaid. “Long, long ago I lost my pretty little Sea-child, and he is not to be found anywhere, anywhere in the whole sea, for I have looked. I have been from ocean to ocean, from pole to pole. Oh, what shall I do? He is on the land, I know he is, and the wicked humans are ill-treating him.”

 

The Stork spoke slowly and gravely. “Was he so happy, then, in his sea-home? Did you love him and care for him very dearly?”

 

“No, no!” sobbed the Mermaid. “I did not love him enough. I did not make him happy. I neglected him and found him in the way, till one day he disappeared, and I shall never see him again. Oh, my baby, my little Sea-child!”

 

The Stork wiped a tear from his eye. “It is very sad,” he said. “But perhaps it will comfort you to know that he is not far away.”

 

“Oh!” cried the Mermaid, clasping her hands. “You know where he is? You will bring him back to me? Dear, dear Stork! I will give you a necklace of pearls and a necklace of coral if you will bring my baby to me again.”

 

The Stork smiled grimly, looking down at his long neck. “A necklace of pearls and a necklace of coral!” he repeated. “How becoming they would be!” Then he grew grave once more and said: “I cannot return your child to you, but I can tell you something of him. He is indeed among the humans, but he is very happy there. They love him and he loves them, and all is well—so far.”

 

“Oh, show him to me that I may take him away!” cried the Mermaid.

 

But the Stork shook his head. “No, no, for you deserted him,” he said solemnly; “now he has another mother in yonder village who loves him better than you did. He has a brother, also, whom he loves best of all. You cannot claim him so long as he is happy there.”

 

“Then shall I never see him again, wise Bird?” asked the Mermaid sadly.

 

“Perhaps,” answered the Stork. “If he should become unhappy, or if the secret should be betrayed.”

 

“Ah, then I must be again a cruel mother and hope that he may become unhappy,” sobbed the Mermaid. “I shall look for him every day in the harbor near the village, and when his face is sad I shall claim him for my own.”

 

“You will not know him,” cried the Stork, rising on his wings and flapping away. “He wears a disguise. He is like a human,—like any other fisher-boy; and he bears a human name.”

 

“Oh, tell me that name!” begged the Mermaid.

 

But the Stork only cried, “I must not tell. I have told too much already,” and he was gone.

 

“Oh, then I will love all fisher-boys for his sake,” sobbed the Mermaid as she dived down into the sea. “And some day, some day I shall find him out; for my baby is sure to be the finest of them all.”

 

Now the years went by, and the parents of Gil and Jan were dead. The two brothers were tall and sturdy and stout, the finest lads in the whole country. But as their shadows grew taller and broader when they walked together across the sand, so another shadow which had begun to fall between them grew and grew. It was the shadow of Gil’s selfishness and jealousy. So long as Jan was smaller and weaker than he, Gil was quite content, and never ceased to be grateful for the little brother who had come to be his playmate. But suddenly, as it seemed, he found that Jan was almost as big as himself; for the boy had thriven wondrously, though there were still several years which Jan could never make up. Gil was still the leader, but Jan was not far behind; and Jan himself led all the other boys when his brother was not by. Everyone loved Jan, for he was kind and merry, while Gil was often gloomy and disagreeable. Gil wanted to be first in everything, but there began to be some things that Jan could do better than he. It made Gil angry to hear his brother praised; it made him sulky and malicious, and sometimes he spoke unkindly to Jan, which caused the blue eyes to fill with tears. For, big fellow though he was, Jan was five years younger, and he was a sensitive lad, loving Gil more than anything else in the world. Gil’s unkindness hurt Jan deeply, but could not make him love his brother less.

 

Both boys were famous swimmers. Gil was still the stronger of the two, and he could outswim any lad in town. As for Jan, the fishermen declared that he took to the water like a fish. No one in all the village could turn and twist, dive and glide and play such graceful pranks, flashing whitely through the waves, as did Jan. This was a great trouble to Gil, who wished to be foremost in this as in everything else. He was a selfish fellow; he had wanted a playmate to follow and admire him. He had not bargained for a comrade who might become a rival. And he seemed to love his brother less and less as the days went by.

 

One beautiful summer day Gil and Jan called together the other boys, the best swimmers in the village, and they all went down to the bay to swim. They played all sorts of water-games, in which the two brothers were leaders. They dived and floated and chased one another like fishes through the water. Jan, especially, won shouts of applause for his wonderful diving, for the other boys liked him, and were proud of him, glad to see him win. This again made Gil jealous and angry. Jan dived once more and remained under water so long that the boys began to fear that he would never come up; and in his wicked heart Gil half hoped that it was to be so. For it had come about that Gil began to wish he had no brother at all. So different was he from the boy who made the eager bargain with the good old Stork.

 

At last Jan’s head came out of the water, bubbling and blowing, and the boys set up a cheer. Never before had any one in the village performed such a feat as that. But Jan did not answer their cheers with his usual merry laugh. Something was troubling him which made him look strange to the others. As soon as he reached the shore he ran up to Gil and whispered in his brother’s ear a curious story.

 

“Oh, Gil!” he cried. “Such a strange feeling I have had! Down below there as I was swimming along I seemed to hear a strange sound like a cry, and then, surely, I felt something cling close to me, like soft arms. Gil, Gil, what could it have been? I have heard tell of the Mermaidens who are said to live in these waters. Some even say that they have seen them afar off on the rocks where the spray dashed highest. Gil, could it have been a Mermaid who touched me and seemed to pull me down as if to keep me under the water forever? I could hardly draw away, Gil. Tell me what you think it means?”

 

Gil was too angry at Jan’s success to answer kindly. He sneered, remembering the secret which only he and the Stork knew.

 

“There are slimy folk, half fish and half human, people say. The less one has to do with them the better. I think you are half fish yourself, Jan. It is no credit to you that you are able to swim!” So spoke Gil, breaking the promise which he had once given.

 

On the minute came a hoarse cry overhead, and a great Stork flapped down the sky, fixing his sharp eyes upon Gil, as if in warning.

 

“Why, how strangely the Stork acts!” cried Jan.

 

Gil bit his lip and said no more, but from that moment he hated his brother wickedly, knowing that the Stork was still watching over the child whom he had taken from the sea.

 

But Jan had no time to ask Gil what he meant by the strange words which he had just spoken, for at that moment several of the boys came running up to them. “Ho, Gil! Ho, Jan!” they cried. “Let us have a race! Come, let us swim out to the Round Rock and back. And the winner of this race shall be champion of the village. Come, boys, make ready for the race!”

 

Gil’s face brightened, for he had ever been the strongest swimmer on the bay, and now he could afford to be kind to poor Jan, whose blue eyes were clouded and unhappy, because of Gil’s former harsh words and manner.

 

“Ho! The race, the race!” cried Gil. “Come, Jan, you can dive like a fish. Now let us see how you can swim. One, two, three! We are off!”

 

The boys sprang, laughing, into the water. Jan needed but a kind word from his brother to make him happy again. Off they started for the Round Rock, where the spray was dashing high.

 

The black heads bobbed up and down in the waves, drawing nearer and nearer to the rock. Gradually they separated, and some fell behind. The lads could not all keep up the gay strokes with which they had begun the race. Four held the lead; Boise and Cadoc, the lighthouse-keeper’s sons, Gil, and Jan.

 

Almost abreast they rounded the rock, and began the long stretch back to the beach. Soon Boise began to fall behind. In a little while Cadoc’s strength failed also. They shouted, laughingly, that they were fairly beaten, and those who were on shore began to cry encouragement to the two brothers, who alone were left in the race.

 

“Gil! Jan! Oh, Gil! Oh, Jan! Hasten, lads, for one of you is the champion. Hurrah! Hurrah!”

 

Gil was in high spirits, for he was still in the lead. “Hurry, little brother,” he cried, “or I shall beat you badly. Oho! You can dive, but that is scarcely swimming, my fine lad. You had better hurry, or I win.”

 

And Jan did hurry. He put forth all his strength as he had never done before. Soon the black heads bobbed side by side in the water, and Gil ceased to laugh and jest, for it was now a struggle in good earnest. He shut his teeth angrily, straining forward with all his might. But push as he would, Jan kept close beside. At last, when within a few yards of the beach, Jan gave a little laughing shout and shot through the water like a flash. He had been saving his strength for this,—and he had won!

 

The other boys dragged him up the beach with shouts and cheers of welcome to the new champion, while Gil, who had borne that title for so long, crawled ashore unaided.

 

“Hurrah for Jan!” they cried, tossing their caps and dancing happily, for Jan was a great favorite. “Hurrah for the little brother! Now Gil must take the second place. You are the big brother now!” And they laughed and jeered at Gil,—not maliciously, but because they were pleased with Jan.

 

Jan ran to Gil and held out his hand for his brother’s congratulations, but Gil thrust it aside. “It was not a fair race!” he sputtered. “Unfair, unfair, I vow!”

 

The others gathered around, surprised to see Gil so angry and with such wild eyes.

 

“Gil, oh, Gil! What do you mean?” cried Jan, turning very pale. “Why was it not a fair race, brother?”

 

“Brother! You are no brother of mine!” shouted Gil, beside himself with rage. “You are a changeling,—half fish, half sea-monster. You were helped in this race by the sea-people; you cannot deny it. I saw one push you to the shore. You could not have beaten me else. Everyone knows that I am the better swimmer, though I am no fish.”

 

“Nonsense!” cried Boise, clapping Gil on the shoulder with a laugh. “You talk foolishness, Gil. There are no sea-folk in these waters; those are old women’s tales. It was a fair race, I say, and Jan is our champion.”

 

But Jan heeded only the cruel words which his brother had spoken. “Gil, what do you mean?” he asked again, trembling with a new fear. “I was not helped by anyone.”

 

“Ha!” cried Gil, pointing at him fiercely, “see him tremble, see his guilty looks! He knows that I speak true. The Mermaid helped him. He is half fish. He came out of the sea and was no real brother of mine, but a Merbaby. A Mermaid was his mother!”

 

At these words a whirring sound was heard in the air overhead, and a second time the Stork appeared, flapping across the scene out to sea, where he alighted upon the Round Rock. But Gil was too angry even to notice him.

 

“Gil, Gil, tell me how this can be?” begged Jan, going up to his brother and laying a pleading hand upon his arm.

 

But Gil shook him off, crying, “It is true! He is half fish and the sea-folk helped him. It was not a fair race. Let us try it again.”

 

“Nonsense!” cried the other boys indignantly. “It was a fair race. Jan need not try again, for he is our champion. We will have it so.”

 

But Jan was looking at Gil strangely, and the light was gone out of his eyes. His face was very white. “I did not know that you cared so much to win,” he said to Gil in a low voice. Then he turned to the others. “If my brother thinks it was not a fair race let us two try again. Let us swim once more to the Round Rock and back; and the winner shall be declared the village champion.” For Jan meant this time to let his brother beat. What did he care about anything now, since Gil hated him so much that he could tell that story?

 

“Well, let them try the race again, since Jan will have it so,” cried the boys, grumbling and casting scornful looks at Gil, who had never been so unpopular with them as at this moment.

 

Once more the two sprang into the waves and started for the Round Rock, where the spray was dashing merrily over the plumage of the Stork as he stood there upon one leg, trying not to mind the wetness which he hated. For he was talking earnestly with a pretty Mermaid who sat on the rock in the surf, wringing her hands.

 

“It is he! It is he!” she cried. “I know him now. It is the lad whom they call Jan, the finest swimmer of them all. Oh, he dives like a fish! He swims like a true Sea-child. He is my own baby, my little one! I followed, I watched him. I could hardly keep my hands from him. Tell me, dear Stork, is he not indeed my own?”

 

The Stork looked at her gravely. “It is no longer a secret,” he said, “for Jan has been betrayed. He who is now Jan the unhappy mortal boy was once your unhappy Sea-baby.”

 

“Unhappy! Oh, is he unhappy?” cried the Mermaid. “Then at last I may claim him as you promised. I may take him home once more to our fair sea-home, to cherish him and make him happier than he ever was in all his little life. But tell me, dear Stork, will he not be my own little Sea-child again? I would not have him in his strange, ugly human guise, but as my own little fish-tailed baby.”

 

“When you kiss him,” said the Stork, “when you throw your arms about his neck and speak to him in the sea-language, he will become a Sea-child once more, as he was when I found him in his cradle on the rocks. But look! Yonder he comes. A second race has begun, and they swim this way. Wait until they have turned the rock, and then it will be your turn. Ah, Gil! You have ill kept your promise to me!”

 

Yes, the race between the brothers was two thirds over. Side by side as before the two black heads pushed through the waves. Both faces were white and drawn, and there was no joy in either. Gil’s was pale with anger, Jan’s only with sadness. He loved his brother still, but he knew that Gil loved him no more.

 

They were nearing the shore where the boys waited breathlessly for the end of this strange contest. Suddenly Jan turned his face towards Gil and gave him one look. “You will win, brother,” he breathed brokenly, “my strength is failing. You are the better swimmer, after all. Tell the lads that I confess it. Go on and come in as the champion.”

 

He thought that Gil might turn to see whether he needed aid. But Gil made no sign save to quicken his strokes, which had begun to lag, for in truth he was very weary. He pushed on with only a desire to win the shore and to triumph over his younger brother. With a sigh Jan saw him shoot ahead, then turning over on his back he began to float carelessly. He would not make another effort. It was then that he saw the Stork circling close over his head; and it did not seem so very strange when the Stork said to him,—

 

“Swim, Jan! You are the better swimmer; you can beat him yet.”

 

“I know; but I do not wish to beat,” said Jan wearily. “He would only hate me the more.”

 

“There is one who loves you more than ever he did,” said the Stork gently. “Will you go home to your sea-mother, the beautiful Mermaid?”

 

“The Mermaid!” cried Jan; “then it is true. My real home is not upon the shore?”

 

“Your real home is here, in the waves. Beneath them your mother waits.”

 

“Then I need not go back to that other home,” said Jan, “that home where I am hated?”

 

“Ah, you will be loved in this sea-home,” said the Stork. “You will be very happy there. Come, come, Mermaid! Kiss your child and take him home.”

 

Then Jan felt two soft arms come around his neck and two soft lips pressed upon his own. “Dear child!” whispered a soft voice, “come with me to your beautiful sea-home and be happy always.” A strange, drowsy feeling came over him, and he forgot how to be sad. He felt himself growing younger and younger. The world beyond the waves looked unreal and odd. He forgot why he was there; he forgot the race, the boys, Gil, and all his trouble. But instead he began to remember things of a wonderful dream. He closed his eyes; the sea rocked him gently, as in a cradle, and slowly, slowly, with the soft arms of the Mermaid about him, and her green hair twining through his fingers, he sank down through the water. As he sank the likeness of a human boy faded from him, and he became once more a fresh, fair little Sea-child, with a scaly tail and plump, merry face. The Mer-folk came to greet him. The fishes darted about him playfully. The sea-anemones beckoned him with enticing fingers. The Sea-child was at home again, and the sea was kind.

 

So Gil became the champion; but that was little pleasure to him, as you can fancy. For he remembered, he remembered, and he could not forget. He thought, like all the village, that Jan had been drowned through his brother’s selfishness and jealousy. He forgave himself less even than the whole village could forgive him for the loss of their favorite; for he knew better than they how much more he was to blame, because he had broken the promise which kept Jan by him. If he had known how happy the Sea-child now was in the home from which he had come to be Gil’s brother, perhaps Gil would not have lived thereafter so sad a life. The Stork might have told him the truth. But the wise old Stork would not. That was to be Gil’s punishment,—to remember and regret and to reproach himself always for the selfishness and jealousy which had cost him a loving brother.

===============

Let Him Prove it

Oh, give me for a little space
To see with childlike eyes
This curious world, our dwelling-place
Of wonder and surprise. . . .

 

The long, long road from Day to Night
Winds on through constant change,
Whereon one hazards with delight
Adventures new and strange;

 

The wonders of the earth and sky!
The magic of the sea!
The mysteries of beast and fly,
Of bird and flower and tree!

 

One feels the breath of holy things
Unseen along the road,
The whispering of angel wings,
The neighboring of Good.

 

And Beauty must be good and true,
One battles for her sake;
But Wickedness is foul to view,
So one cannot mistake. . . .

 

Ah, give me with the childlike sight
The simple tongue and clear
Wherewith to read the vision right
Unto a childish ear.

 

===============

From: THE FLOWER PRINCESS – Four Short Fantasy Stories for Children

ISBN: 9788835379119

DOWNLOAD LINK: https://bit.ly/2WQ6c2C

==============

KEYWORDS/TAGS: The Flower Princess, Little Friend, Mermaid’s Child, Ten Blowers, Folklore, fairy tale, myth, legend, fable, childrens story, storyteller, baby, beauty, blonde, Child, Christmas, dove, fair, family, Fleurette, flower, Fortemain, garden, Gil, heart, hill, Jan, Joyeuse, King, lost love, Mermaid, merry, morning mother, music, palace, Pierre, Prince, Princess, race, Sea-child, secret, snow, Stork, strange, throne, time, village, voice, words, Let Him Prove It, Princess Fleurette, Clap Her Hands, Joy, Help Comes, Blow For Our King,

One nice, warm sunny day, when it was too hot to stay inside the den among the rocks, the nice bears were all out in front, lying in the shade of the woods.

“Oh, my! How hot it is!” cried Dido, and he opened his mouth wide, and let his red tongue hang out, for animals, such as dogs and bears, cool themselves off that way. You must have seen your dog, when he had run fast, after a cat, perhaps, open his mouth and breathe fast, with his tongue hanging out.

“Let’s go swimming in the lake again!” cried Dido to his brothers.

“All right,” agreed Gruffo.

“We’ll all go,” said Mr. Bear. “Come along.”

So off through the woods walked the family of bears toward the cool, blue lake, high up in the mountains. Dido could hardly wait to get there, and as soon as he saw, through the trees, the sparkle of the water he began to run. He ran so fast that he stumbled over a stone, and fell down.

“Oh, Dido!” called his mother. “You must be more careful. You must not go so fast. Something will happen to you some day if you do not look where you are going.”

“I didn’t hurt myself that time, anyhow,” answered Dido, as he got up, and jumped into the lake. There he swam about, as did the father and mother bear, and the other two cubs. Dido splashed his brothers every time he came near them, but they did not mind, for he was such a cute little fellow and he meant no harm. Besides, it was so warm that the more water they had on them the better Gruffo and Muffo liked it.

“It makes me hungry to go in swimming,” said Mrs. Bear. “I am going off in the woods to look for some berries.”

“I’m coming, too,” said Dido. “For I am hungry myself.”

Soon Mrs. Bear found a bush on which were growing some big red berries. These she pulled off with her forepaws, which were, to her, almost like our hands are to us, and the mother bear filled her mouth with the fruit. Dido did the same, and soon he was not as hungry as he had been. Then along came Mr. Bear, with Gruffo and Muffo, and they, too, ate the red berries off the bushes.

All at once Mr. Bear stopped eating, and, lifting his nose up in the air, sniffed very hard two or three times.

“What is the matter?” asked Mrs. Bear quickly.

“I think I smell a man,” answered the papa bear. “See if you can smell anything.”

Mrs. Bear lifted her nose up in the air and she, also, sniffed. Bears, you know, as do most wild animals, use their noses as much as they do their eyes to tell when there is danger. And to wild animals a man, nearly always, means danger. If you were out in the woods, and could not see any one, you could not tell, just by smelling the air, whether some person was near you or not—that is, unless they had a lot of perfume on them, and then, if the wind was blowing toward you, why you might smell that.

But bears have much better noses for smelling than have we, and they can smell a man in the woods even if he has no cologne on him.

“Sniff! Sniff!” went Mr. Bear.

“Sniff! Sniff!” went Mrs. Bear.

“Yes, I can surely smell a man,” the papa bear said in a low voice. “It is the first time I have known them to come around here.”

“And so can I smell a man,” added Mrs. Bear. “We had better get away from here.”

Then the bears ran off through the woods to their den. For though big bears are very strong and can fight well, they would much rather run away from a man than fight him, unless they find they cannot get away. For when a man goes into the woods where there are bears he nearly always has a gun with him, and while bears know they are stronger than a man they also know that a gun is stronger than a dozen bears.

When Dido, with his brothers and father and mother, got back to the den in the rocks, the little bear cub saw that his father was worried about something. Mr. Bear walked up and down in front of the pile of rocks, sniffing the air, and looking on all sides.

“What is the matter, Papa?” asked Dido, in bear talk, of course.

“It’s that man I smelled in the woods,” said Mr. Bear. “I fear he may find our den.”

“Well, what if he does?” asked Dido.

“Then it would not be safe for us to stay here,” answered Mrs. Bear. “If men are coming into our woods it is time for us to go away.”

“What! go away from our nice den?” asked Gruffo. For though the den was only a hole in the rocks, with a pile of leaves in one corner for a bed, still, to the bears, it was as much a home as your house is to you.

“Yes, it would not be safe to stay while men are around,” said Mr. Bear. “That is the first time I have ever smelled them in our woods. Though a friend of mine, Mr. Lion, who lives farther down the mountain, said he has often seen men near his cave. Once some men on elephants chased him, but he got away.”

“Have you ever seen a man?” asked Dido of his father.

“Oh, yes, often, but always afar off. And the men did not see me.”

“What does a man look like?” asked Dido, for he had never seen any, though he had heard of them.

“A man is a queer creature,” said Mr. Bear. “He walks up on his hind feet, as we do sometimes, but when he walks on his four feet he can only go slowly, like a baby. Even you could run away from a man on his four feet, Dido.”

“How queer!” said the little bear.

“But don’t try it,” said Mrs. Bear quickly. “Keep away from men, Dido, for they might shoot you with one of their guns.”

“What else is a man like?” the little bear asked.

“Well, he has a skin that he can take off and put on again,” said Mr. Bear.

“Oh, how very funny!” cried Dido. “Take off his skin? I should think it would hurt!”

“It doesn’t seem to,” said the papa bear. “I don’t understand how they do it, but they do.”

Of course what Mr. Bear thought was skin was a man’s clothes, which he takes off and puts on again. But though bears are very wise and smart in their own way, they don’t know much about men, except to be afraid of them.

“I do not like it that men are coming up in our woods,” said Mr. Bear. “It means danger. So be careful, Dido, and you, too, Gruffo and Muffo, that you do not go too far away. Perhaps the man has come up here to set a trap to catch us.”

“What is a trap?” asked Dido.

“It is something dangerous, to catch bears,” his mother told him. “Some traps are made of iron, and they have sharp teeth in them that catch bears by the leg and hurt very much. Other traps are like a big box, made of logs. If you go in one of these box traps the door will shut and you can not get out.”

“What happens then?” asked Dido.

“Then the man comes and gets you.”

“And what does he do with you?” the little bear cub wanted to know.

“That I cannot say,” answered Mrs. Bear. “Perhaps your father knows.”

Mr. Bear shook his head.

“All I know,” he answered, “is that the man takes you away if he finds you in his trap. But where he takes you I do not know, for I was never caught, and I hope I never will be.”

“I hope so, too,” said Dido, and he sniffed the air to see if he could smell the man, but he could not.

For a number of days after that the bears did not go far from their den in the rocks. They were afraid the man might shoot them.

But, after a while, all the berries and sweet roots close by had been eaten, and the bears had to go farther off. Besides, they wanted some fish, and they must go to the lake or river to catch them. So after Mr. Bear had carefully sniffed the air, and had not smelled the man-smell, the bears started off through the woods again to get something to eat.

Dido ran here and there, sometimes on ahead and again he would stay behind, slipping up back of his brothers to tickle them. Oh, but Dido was a jolly little bear, always looking for fun.

The bears found some more red berries, and a few blue ones, and some sweet roots, and they also caught some fish, which made a good dinner for them. Then they went swimming in the lake again before going back to their den.

In the afternoon, when Gruffo was asleep in the shade, Dido went softly up to him, and poured a paw full of water in his brother’s ear.

“Wuff! Ouch! What’s that? Is it raining?” cried Gruffo, suddenly waking up. Then he saw that Dido had played the trick on him, and he ran after the little bear. But Dido climbed up a tree to get away, and he did it in such a funny way, his little short tail going around like a Fourth of July pinwheel, that Gruffo had to sit down and laugh.

“Oh, you are such a funny cut-up bear!” he said, laughing harder than ever, and when a bear laughs he can’t very well climb a tree.

“Come on down, I won’t do anything to you,” said Gruffo, after a while, so Dido came down. Then he turned somersaults on a pile of soft leaves. Next he stood on his hind legs, and began striking at a swinging branch of a tree with his front paws, as you have seen a kitten play with a cord of a window curtain.

Dido climed a tree to escape
But Dido climbed up a tree to get away.

 “Dido is getting to be a real cute little cub,” said Mrs. Bear.

Then, all of a sudden, Dido struck at the tree branch, but he did not hit it and he fell over backward.

“Look out!” cried Mr. Bear. “You’ll hurt yourself, Dido.”

“I didn’t hurt myself that time,” said the little bear, “for I fell on some soft, green moss.”

“Well, there will not always be moss for you to fall on,” his mother said. “So look out.”

One day, when Mr. Bear came back from a long trip in the woods, he brought some wild honey in his paws. And oh! how good it tasted to Dido and Gruffo and Muffo!

“Show me where the bee-tree is, Papa,” begged Dido. “I want to get some more honey.”

“It is too far away,” answered the papa bear. “Besides, I saw a man in the woods as I was getting the honey out of a hollow tree. It would not be safe for you to go near it when men are around.”

But the honey tasted so good to Dido that the little bear cub made up his mind that he simply must have more.

“I know what I’ll do,” he said to himself. “When none of the others are watching me I am going off by myself in the woods and look for a bee-tree to get some honey. I don’t believe there’s any danger.”

So about a week after this, one day, Dido saw his two brothers asleep outside the den. Mr. Bear had gone off to the lake, perhaps to catch some fish, and Mrs. Bear was in the den, stirring up the leaves that made the bed, so it would be softer to lie on.

“Now’s my chance,” thought Dido, in the way bears have of thinking. “I’ll just slip off in the woods by myself, and find a honey-tree. I’ll bring some honey home, too,” said Dido, for he was not a selfish little bear.

Walking softly, so as not to awaken his brothers, and so his mother, making the leaf-bed in the den, would not know what he was doing, away slipped Dido to the woods.

He shuffled along, now and then finding some red berries to eat, or a bit of sweet root, and every little while he would lift his nose up in the air, as he had seen his father do, and sniff to see if he could smell a man-smell.

“But I don’t smell any,” said Dido. “I guess it’s all right.”

Then, all at once, he felt a little wind blowing toward him, and on the breeze came the nicest smell.

“Oh, it’s honey!” cried Dido. “It’s honey! I have found the honey-tree! Oh, how glad I am!”

He hurried on through the woods, coming nearer and nearer to the honey smell all the while, until, after a bit, he saw in among the trees something square, like a box, made of little logs piled together. And inside the thing like a box was a pile of honey. Dido could see it and smell it. But he did not rush up in a great hurry.

“That doesn’t look like the honey-tree father told about,” the little bear cub thought. “He said he had to climb a tree. This honey is low down. Still it is honey, so this must be a honey-tree, and if it is low down so much the better for me. I will not have to climb.”

Dido sniffed the air again. He wanted to see if there was a man-smell about. But all he could smell was the honey.

“Oh, I guess it’s all right,” said the bear cub. “I’m so hungry for that honey I can’t wait! Here I go!”

Dido fairly ran into the box and began to eat the honey on the floor of it. But, no sooner had he taken a bite, than suddenly a queer thing happened.

Bang! went something behind Dido, and when he looked around he saw that the box was shut tight. A sliding door had fallen down and poor Dido was a prisoner……

DTDB-Cover

From: “Dido the Dancing Bear”

ISBN: 9788835390220

DOWNLOAD LINK: https://bit.ly/2xmFe8a

FToCP_Front_Cover_A5_Centered

10 Illustrated Fairy Tales for Children

Translated and Retold by CHARLES PERRAULT – Illustrated By HARRY CLARKE

 

Herein you will find 10 illustrated classic children’s stories translated and retold by the famous Charles Perrault. The 10 stories in this volume are:

image_026 HE ASKED HER WHITHER SHE WAS GOING image_066 HE SAW, UPON A BED, THE FINEST SIGHT WAS EVER BEHELD

image_062 HE PRINCE ENQUIRES OF THE AGED COUNTRYMAN

LITTLE RED RIDING-HOOD

THE FAIRY

BLUE BEARD

THE SLEEPING BEAUTY IN THE WOOD

THE MASTER CAT; OR, PUSS IN BOOTS

CINDERILLA; OR, THE LITTLE GLASS SLIPPER

RIQUET WITH THE TUFT

LITTLE THUMB

THE RIDICULOUS WISHES

DONKEY-SKIN

 

We invite you to download and enjoy these stories in eBook format for only US$1.99 using the link below. These are as close to the originals as you are ever likely to get. The 10 full page colour illustrations and 36 Pen and Ink illustrations by Irishman Harry Clarke (1889 – 1931) bring an added dimension to these lively stories.

Rest assured, once you read these to the younger members of your family, they will keep on coming back to you for more.

 

Link: https://store.streetlib.com/en/anon-e-mouse/the-fairy-tales-of-charles-perrault-illustrated-fairy-tales-for-children/

 

Charles Perrault ranks alongside Hans Christian Andersen and the Grimms as a master storyteller. Perhaps he is less well known because he had done in the late 1600,s what the Grimm Bros. did in the mid-1800’s, which overshadowed his earlier achievements. In fact the Grimm Bros. translated a lot of Perrault’s stories into German and rebranded them in their own volumes.

 

Like Dickens and Andersen in their time, during his own age Perrault (1628 – 1703) was one of the best-liked personages and has remained ever since a prime favourite. Everyone likes a man who enjoys life. Perrault was such a man and he was more. He was the cause of enjoyment to countless of his fellow countrymen, and his stories still promise enjoyment to countless more to come. We are fortunate in knowing a great deal about his varied life, deriving our knowledge mainly from D’Alembert’s history of the French Academy and from his own memoirs.

ISSN: 2397-9607 Issue 54

 

In Issue 54 of the Baba Indaba Children’s Stories, Baba Indaba narrates an old English tale that occurred during the 1860’s.

While the Manchester and Milford railway was being constructed (1860 – 1864), many a frugal farmer added to his earnings by boarding and lodging the navvies (labourers) who were constructing the line. Several of these sturdy workers stayed at a farm called Penderlwyngoch. One night when the moon was full, the dogs started barking, strangers were seen in the farmyard, footsteps were heard approaching and the door swung open……

You are invited to download this story to find out what happened after the door swung open.

33% of the profit from the sale of this book will be donated to charities.

This issue also has a “Where in the World – Look it Up” section, where young readers are challenged to look up a place on a map somewhere in the world. The place, town or city is relevant to the story, on map. HINT – use Google maps.

INCLUDES LINKS TO 8 FREE DOWNLOADS

Baba Indaba is a fictitious Zulu storyteller who narrates children’s stories from around the world. Baba Indaba translates as “Father of Stories”.

 

Download here -> URL: https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Anon_E_Mouse_A_GHOSTLY_REHEARSAL_A_ghost_story_fro?id=SNMIDAAAQBAJ

 

A Ghostly Rehearsal - Cover

A Ghostly Rehearsal – Cover