« PoprzedniaDalej »
“O, there 's worlds to do," replied the sprite, removing his cap, and wiping his forehead with a film of spider-web. “I've to shear the wool of the young peaches to spin into winter cloaks for delicate fairies. I don't know what would become of us with another such winter as the last, and a short peach crop. Then I must go and breathe a warm breath over the grapes and plums, and make the delicate bloom come over them so soft and tender as you see it; and then I 've to polish up the Baldwins and Spitzenbergs. Besides, the Cobweb Company is under my superintendence, upon which all fairyland depends for hosiery, and you have n't an idea what a bother the spiders are, with being so wilful about working! Sometimes they go on a general .strike' and won't work, and then the Brownies have to spin up thistle-down and silk-weed to fit the ladies out. It is rather coarse and stiff, however, and the court fairies don't like it much. Sometimes I have to manage the operatic entertainments of the court, and then my cares are really awful. When a katydid won't sing, for example, and pretends that she caught cold sleeping on a damp dahlia, and declares that she can't raise a note unless she is coddled up with red-clover honey, or a great bull-frog of a basso gets sulky and claims extra pay, and makes me catch flies for his supper before he will open his mouth, - I can tell you, mortals have n't an idea what an amount I have to do. Then there 's Mushroom, Toadstool, & Co., the cabinet-makers, who do not always fulfil their contracts, and the jeweller, Jack Frost, who is entirely unreliable, though an excellent workman when he has a mind to be, and the gnomes, who are so contrary! However, they can do beautiful work. Once, her Majesty Queen Titania took a fancy to wear a full set of garnets, and I had to search over all the pink sand on the shores of Monadnock Lake to find the smallest size, and match them in color. Then I had to get a Moorish fairy to cut and polish them, and then a German gnome set them in solid sunbeams. Common gold would n't suit her Majesty. I succeeded after a while,” said the elf, sighing, “but these lady fairies ! ”—and the sigh was almost a groan. “The sand-sprites searched a whole moon to perfect the set!”
“Who are the sand-sprites?” asked Dick, now wide enough awake.
“They are the spirits whose work it is to keep the sand-crystals all polished up. Criminals are sometimes put to this work, or unhappy sprites who pine for a change of life. Fairy-land has its trials, as well as the earth. Would you mind strolling along with me? I am afraid I have loitered too long already," said the elf, rising and resuming his cap.
Dick uncoiled his long limbs and followed his goblin guide. Over rock and through bush and brake he led the truant school-boy, talking as they strolled along.
“ Now, there,” said he, pointing to a crevice in the rock, " is where the pixies keep their lamps in the daytime. They are busy now, trimming and filling them.”
Dick peeped in. There stood, as it seemed, hundreds of little folks, each at work with a bronze lamp, the smallest ever seen. They trimmed the cobweb wick daintily enough, using for the purpose the nippers of spiders, which
were admirably adapted to the purpose, and filled them with liquid lightning from a conductor in the side of the rock, and then polished them off carefully with a mullein leaf. When these leaves were thrown down after being used, hundreds of small bugs carried them off out of the way. The pixies seemed in the highest state of enjoyment over their work, and were in great glee about the pranks which they were to play, when night should come down over the earth.
And now the very air seemed to shiver, and glimmer, and swim with countless wings of every conceivable color and shape, and each pair supported a tiny creature, who seemed created only to bask and float in the sunshine. Yet each one was bound on some errand, - each had a work to do.
Some were busy about the flowers, raising the velvet nap on the violets and dahlias ; some were distributing dew upon those flowers which had been overlooked in the night; some were mellowing the soil, and stretching the roots out, downwards and sideways through the earth, that they might enjoy the rich moisture ; some were floating upon the warm summer air, bearing only “the invisible odors of flowers,” and seeing that feeble invalids, who could not stir out of doors, and could only sit languidly at their windows, should have one sweet breath of the blossoms and fields. Others carried the fruitful pollen from plant to plant. Some were guiding the hummingbird to the honey stores, or helped the avaricious bee carry home his load ; and myriads bestrode the winged seeds which were sailing on the fresh morning breeze, guiding them to their destinations, either to comfort or annoy.
“ It seems,” remarked Dick,“ that the little people care very little whether men are pleased or vexed, so long as they do their work well. I see that the Canada thistles are as well cared for as either fruit or flower.”
“An elf would scream with laughter,” replied the goblin, “at the idea of taking more care of one plant than another, when men themselves differ so much about their value. Geraniums are weeds in Africa, and you keep a cactus in your green-houses which in Mexico is the pest of every traveller. The rare and lovely gentian blooms unseen beside the lonely glacier, and that mullein which you just switched down with your stick is known in European conservatories as the “American Velvet Plant.' We fairies only wait orders from the Master of Life to care for every growing thing. And, in fact, men would respect all plants more than they do, if they understood all of their mysterious virtues as we do. But you are yawning, let us go on.”
“Chir-r-r-r-r,” laughed a squirrel from a branch overhead. “Here 's a jolly couple going to see sights! A big fellow with a soul trying to learn things of a fairy. Ho! ho ! ho! Well, if I have n't any soul, I understand my own business, which is more than boys do, generally speaking," — and he stuffed two great acorns into his cheeks, and scampered off to his nest.
“Caw! caw!” screamed a crow. “These proud mortals do condescend sometimes, don't they! Well, they are not of so much account, after all, if I told all I knew about the matter. I could tell tales if I would! Such merry ones ! Except for their souls, there's little to choose between them and our four-footed creatures ! Caw! caw! caw!” — and the crow flapped away across a ploughed field, and lighted on a dead pine.
“ That is too true," sighed the elf sadly, “but still you have souls.” “ Have n't you souls, too?” asked Dick, in great surprise.
“No," said the elf, “but I came very near getting one once. I loved a mortal lady, and had she returned my love, I should have had a soul. Undine had one, you know. It made a great deal of talk among us, but it did her little good after all, poor thing! They found me out in my presumption, and I was punished for desiring more than King Oberon himself possessed; yet he obtained one afterward. When Shakespeare wrote, he gave him one. Did you ever hear of the “ Culprit Fay?'”
“I was that poor sprite, and the poet gave me the boon of a long life in his song. Yet still I have no soul, and there is no hereafter for me, even if I live for centuries.”
“ Poor Fairy !” cried Dick, who was not bad, only very lazy. “I never thought so very much about my soul as you seem to do, and it seems odd enough to hear you say that you have none.”
“And you have a Saviour, too, who will make your souls happy, if you will let him. We have no Saviour, for we cannot sin ; and when we die, that is the end of us. It is hard, and I came so near it once !” and tears stood in the elfin's eyes.
“Well, well!” said Dick consolingly. “There's trouble enough in having a soul. Every one blames you so, if everything does not go just as it should, or as folks think they should. Now you do just as you are bid, and get no blame at all."
The elf looked at him very sorrowfully, but did not speak.
Just then they came to the beach of the lake, where the garnet sand was sparkling with rosy light in the afternoon sun. And the beach was all alive with tiny figures, working in the sand, turning and twisting it about, each handling a single grain, polishing and cutting its facets as carefully as if preparing diamonds for a royal diadem. Some were riding on the backs of sand-flies; some daintily smoothing the plumage of the wild fowls that flashed and swam over the glassy water ; some helped the squirrel carry home his load of nuts. Down in a dark nook, half under a mossy stone, Dick could see that they were painting the red spots on the backs of the trout; while up in the pines on the breezy hill-top they were singing psalms, and making solemn organ-music among its slender, pin-like leaves.
“I have passed a very pleasant day with you, Mr. Fairy,” said Dick, as he saw that the sun was sinking behind the western hills, and Monadnock lay in purple distance over the lake. “I have seen and learned much; and, as it grows late and dark, may I trouble you to show me a short cut home ? I wish I could think that the cuts I expect to get with the rod were short ones, too."
“ I will guide you home very willingly,” replied the fairy; "but first look into this pool, and tell me if you don't think the day's ramble has done wonders for your personal appearance ?"
Dick looked down into the little ebony mirror framed with mosses, and started back with astonishment. Could that be his mouth with the dark beard around it, - his own tow head, which now hung thick with glossy, dark curls, — his own roguish eyes, which now peered out so thoughtfully from under the heavy brows ?
“Can it be true ?” exclaimed Dick. “And I have idled away my youth, and thought it but a summer ramble, -only a truant day with my fairy friend. And now it is near night, and the day is far spent”;- and Dick covered his face with his hands and wept.
“You have indeed spent more time with me than you intended,” said the fairy, “ but you have learned much, too. You once thought it was of no use to take pains with little things. Now you see that everything costs toil and earnest labor. And you never knew what a soul and a Saviour were worth, till you saw us poor little creatures with neither; now did you ?"
“ Cannot I help you somehow, my dear little friend ?? asked Dick, tenderly.
“ If you wish to do so, you can, if you really love us. You have talent, genius; but without love there is no immortality. Yes, you can help us, if you will ! ”
And as he spoke, the forest glowed with the innumerable eyes of birds and beasts, and the air was filled with their voices. The birds sang and cried and twittered, the owls hooted, the wolves barked, and the deer threw back their great antlers and gazed at him mutely with tearful eyes, and the world seemed filled with immeasurable life which pleaded for an hereafter. The wood trembled to the voice of inarticulate woe, and the fays peeped out of their coverts, and their wee elfish faces and tiny voices wept and sobbed and begged for immortality.
In after years, as Dick (now an artist of a world-wide renown) sat before his canvas, faithfully doing his appointed work, one could see that the lesson of his fairy friend had not been lost upon him. There was more of the owl than a stiff piece of feathered stupidity: he was a philosopher, a statesman. A grave wisdom looked out of his solemn eyes. You knew that that owl could think. There was the accumulated erudition of generations under his feathery wig. There was a world of legal acumeri in the keen glance of that fox. The bears were fat old gentlemen who lived well and knew the world ; and the deer were almost human, almost girlish, in their timid earnestness and graceful shyness. And the fays sported, and the pixies frolicked, and the undines bathed in the moonlit waves, with watery jewels flashing over their ivory limbs, and there seemed everywhere so much of mystical life in all of these of God's dumb and unseen children, that men said in a whisper, " He has given these beings human souls.” And out of a dim corner of the studio gleamed the sad, sweet face of the “ Culprit Fay"; and it smiles a calm gratitude, that out of patience and love, through toil and tribulation, cometh immortality.
Chapelle Hobrow. VOL. II. — NO. VIII.
JUST across the street from the Methodist Church, in the principal street of J Benton, is a small one-story house, consisting of three rooms only. This is occupied by Mrs. Cooper, a widow, and her only son Johnny, with whom it is our purpose to become further acquainted. When the great Rebellion broke out, Johnny's father was one of the first to enlist. It was a great trial to him to leave behind his wife and son, but he felt it his duty to go. For more than a year he wrote cheerful letters home; but one dark day there came over the wires tidings of the disastrous battle of Fredericksburg, and in the list of killed was the name of James Cooper.
It was a sad day for Mrs. Cooper ; but she had little time to mourn. The death of her husband threw the burden of maintaining herself and Johnny upon her shoulders. After a while she obtained a pension of eight dollars a month, which helped her considerably. One half of it paid her rent, and the other half paid for her fuel and lights. But it costs a good deal to buy food and clothes for two persons, and she was obliged to toil early and late with her needle to make up the requisite sum. Johnny was now eleven years old, and might have obtained a chance to peg shoes in some of the shoe-shops in the village, as indeed he wanted to do; but Mrs. Cooper felt that he ought to be kept at school. As she would not be able to leave him money, she was resolved at least to give him as good an education as the village schools would allow.