The Moral Compass: Stories for a Life's Journeyby William J. Bennett
More than two million readers have used The Book of Virtues, the nationwide #1 bestseller by William J. Bennett, to help their families learn the essential traits of good character.
The Moral Compass, the inspiring and instructive companion volume to The Book of Virtues, offers many more examples of good and bad, right and wrong, in great/i>/i>/i>… See more details below
More than two million readers have used The Book of Virtues, the nationwide #1 bestseller by William J. Bennett, to help their families learn the essential traits of good character.
The Moral Compass, the inspiring and instructive companion volume to The Book of Virtues, offers many more examples of good and bad, right and wrong, in great works from literature and in exemplary stories from history. Organized by the stages along life's journey, these stories and poems serve as reference points on a moral compass, guiding the reader through the ethical and spiritual challenges along the pathway of life: leaving home, entering into marriage, easing the burdens of others, nurturing one's children, and fulfilling the obligations of citizenship and leadership.
Drawn from familiar Western history and mythology as well as a wide selection of tales and folklore from Asia, Africa, and Latin America, the stories in The Moral Compass are literary and evocative, designed to inspire as well as instruct. Complete with informative introductions and notes, The Moral Compass is an indispensable guide that will help family members meet the challenges of life at any age.
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Read an Excerpt
All children need bread and shelter. But a true home, of course, is much more than that. Children also need love and order and, because they are not born knowing the difference between right and wrong, a place where they can begin to develop a moral sense. The transmission of virtues is one important reason for a home, and attention to the virtues is one of the important ties that bind a family together. "It is the peculiarity of man, in comparison with the rest of the animal world," Aristotle wrote, "that he alone possesses a perception of good and evil, of the just and the unjust, and of other similar qualities; and it is association in these things which makes a family."
And so home is the place where we receive our first instruction in the virtues. It is our first moral training ground, the place where we can come to know right from wrong through the nurturing and protective care of those who love us more than anyone else. Our character takes shape under the guidance of the dos and don'ts, the instructions, the exhortations we encounter around the house. Equally important, our moral sense emerges under the influence of examples set by mother, father, sisters, and brothers. In the familiar world of home and hearth, we learn the habits of virtue that will fortify us when we venture into the world.
In this chapter we find some of these lessons of home and hearth. We find family members helping each other along, and looking toward each other for help. We find siblings showing what "brotherhood" and "sisterhood" really mean. We see children learning about chores and responsibilities and self-sacrifice, and learning to help parents out of love. We encounter young hearts giving loving obedience. We witness the growth of conscience, of a desire to live up to the expectations of those who love us. We witness how our loyalty and courage and perseverance see families through hard times with a love that can overcome any number of obstacles.
Of course, no home is perfect. Home can be the place where we get our first look at vices as well as virtues. And, unfortunately, some homes are simply not good places not all homes are havens; not all hearths have a warm glow. But all homes teach lessons, even if they are the wrong kind of lessons. And so even though many homes do not resemble the best ones we find in these pages, the stories here are no less valuable because they give us all something at which to aim. They remind us of the kind of conditions families need and the attention children deserve. We set these examples before our eyes in order to keep raising our sights and our efforts.
These first lessons stay with us long after we leave home. In our affections and our memories, they remain forever a part of us, often the most cherished part of us. "Where shall a man find sweetness to surpass his own home and parents?" Odysseus asks in Homer's Odyssey. "In far lands he shall not, though he find a house of gold." The early experiences of home become a moral compass point, guiding and instructing us for the rest of life's journey.
And in one sense, the moral journey that begins with leaving home is the search for opportunities to offer others the same nurture and love we received in our own childhood. The memory of home becomes a past, an experience, an ideal we seek to re-create in our later lives, and in the new lives we shepherd into the world. We build our own homes, offer our own lessons, nurture our own children in the strength and knowledge once gained beside the first warm hearth of home.
Hush, Little Baby
pardThe first notes we hear are those cradle songs that spring from a parent's heart. Lullabies abound in every age and every culture. By such promises of nurture and protection babies find trust to rest and grow.
Hush, little baby, don't say a word,
Papa's going to buy you a mockingbird.
And if that mockingbird won't sing,
Papa's going to buy you a diamond ring.
If that diamond ring turns brass,
Papa's going to buy you a looking glass.
If that looking glass gets broke,
Papa's going to buy you a billy goat.
If that billy goat won't pull,
Papa's going to buy you a cart and bull.
If that cart and bull turns over,
Papa's going to buy you a dog named Rover.
If that dog named Rover won't bark,
Papa's going to buy you a horse and cart.
If that horse and cart fall down,
You'll still be the sweetest baby in town!
Lullaby and good night, with roses bedight,
With lilies bedecked, is baby's wee bed.
Lay thee down now and rest, may thy slumber be blest,
Lay thee down now and rest, may thy slumber be blest.
Sweet and Low
Sweet and low, sweet and low,
Wind of the western sea,
Low, low, breathe and blow,
Wind of the western sea!
Over the rolling waters go,
Come from the dying moon, and blow,
Blow him again to me;
While my little one, while my pretty one, sleeps.
Sleep and rest, sleep and rest,
Father will come to thee soon;
Rest, rest, on mother's breast,
Father will come to thee soon;
Father will come to his babe in the nest,
Silver sails all out of the west
Under the silver moon:
Sleep, my little one, sleep, my pretty one, sleep.
What Bradley Owed
Adapted from Hugh T. Kerr
Home is the place where first lessons are learned. And it is the place where much of what you do, you do for love.
There was once a boy named Bradley. When he was about eight years old, he fell into the habit of thinking of everything in terms of money. He wanted to know the price of everything he saw, and if it didn't cost a great deal, it did not seem to him to be worth anything at all.
But there are a great many things money cannot buy. And some of them are the best things in the world.
One morning when Bradley came down to breakfast, he put a little piece of paper, neatly folded, on his mother's plate. His mother opened it, and she could hardly believe it, but this is what her son had written:
Mother owes Bradley:
For running errands 3 dollars
For taking out the trash 2 dollars
For sweeping the floor 2 dollars
Extras 1 dollar
Total that Mother owes Bradley 8 dollars
arHis mother smiled when she read that, but she did not say anything.
When lunchtime came she put the bill on Bradley's plate along with eight dollars. Bradley's eyes lit up when he saw the money. He stuffed it into his pocket as fast as he could and started dreaming about what he would buy with his reward.
All at once he saw there was another piece of paper besides his plate, neatly folded, just like the first one. When he opened it up, he found it was a bill from his mother. It read:
Bradley owes Mother:
For being good to him nothing
For nursing him through his chicken pox nothing
For shirts and shoes and toys nothing
For his meals and beautiful room nothing
Total that Bradley owes Mother nothing
Bradley sat looking at this new bill, without saying a word. After a few minutes he got up, pulled the eight dollars out of his pocket, and placed them in his mother's hand.
And after that, he helped his mother for love.
Nails in the Post
M. F. Cowdery
In this tough story from a Civil War-era school reader, we find another kind of lesson that some homes offer. Here is a father giving his son stern but loving moral instruction.
There was once a farmer who had a son named John, a boy very apt to be thoughtless, and careless about doing what he was told to do.
One day his father said to him, "John, you are so careless and forgetful, that every time you do wrong, I shall drive a nail into this post, to remind you how often you are naughty. And every time you do right I will draw one out." His father did as he said he would, and every day he had one and sometimes a great many nails to drive in, but very seldom one to draw out.
At last John saw that the post was quite covered with nails, and he began to be ashamed of having so many faults. He resolved to be a better boy, and the next day he was so good and industrious that several nails came out. The day after it was the same thing, and so on for a long time, till at length only one nail remained. His father then called him, and said: "Look, John, here is the very last nail, and now I'm going to draw it out. Are you not glad?"
John looked at the post, and then, instead of expressing his joy, as his father expected, he burst into tears. "Why," said the father, "what's the matter? I should think you would be delighted; the nails are all gone."
"Yes," sobbed John, "the nails are gone, but the scars are there yet."
So it is, dear children, with your faults and bad habits; you may overcome them, you may by degrees cure them, but the scars remain. Now, take my advice, and whenever you find yourselves doing a wrong thing, or getting into a bad habit, stop at once. For every time you give in to it, you drive another nail, and that will leave a scar on your soul, even if the nail should be afterwards drawn out.
Robert Louis Stevenson
There is no better place to begin learning about bravery than in the safe confines of home. For many children, the first great adventure is that long, perilous journey up the stairs to bed. Making it can be a first exercise in courage.
1. Good Night
When the bright lamp is carried in,
The sunless hours again begin;
O'er all without, in field and lane,
The haunted night returns again.
Now we behold the embers flee
About the firelit hearth; and see
Our faces painted as we pass,
Like pictures, on the window glass.
Must we to bed indeed? Well then,
Let us arise and go like men,
And face with an undaunted tread
The long black passage up to bed.
Farewell, O brother, sister, sire!
O pleasant party round the fire!
The songs you sing, the tales you tell,
Till far tomorrow, fare ye well!
2. Shadow March
All round the house is the jet-black night;
It stares through the windowpane;
It crawls in the corners, hiding from the light,
And it moves with the moving flame.
Now my little heart goes a-beating like a drum,
With the breath of the bogy in my hair;
And all round the candle the crooked shadows come,
And go marching along up the stair.
The shadow of the balusters, the shadow of the lamp,
The shadow of the child that goes to bed
All the wicked shadows coming, tramp, tramp, tramp,
With the black night overhead.
3. In Port
Last, to the chamber where I lie
My fearful footsteps patter nigh,
And come from out the cold and gloom
Into my warm and cheerful room.
There, safe arrived, we turn about
To keep the coming shadows out,
And close the happy door at last
On all the perils that we past.
Then, when Mama goes by to bed,
She shall come in with tiptoe tread,
And see me lying warm and fast
And in the Land of Nod at last.
Laura E. Richards
Brothers and sisters help each other along, first up backyard hills, and later up life-long climbs.
I cannot walk up this hill," said the little boy. "I cannot possibly do it. What will become of me? I must stay here all my life, at the foot of the hill. It is too terrible!"
"That is a pity!" said his sister. "But look, little boy! I have found such a pleasant game to play. Take a step, and see how clear a footprint you can make in the dust. Look at mine! Every single line in my foot is printed clear. Now, you try, and see if you can do as well!"
The little boy took a step.
"Mine is just as clear!" he said.
"Do you think so?" said his sister. "See mine, again here! I tread harder than you, because I am heavier, and so the print is deeper. Try again."
"Now mine is just as deep!" cried the little boy. "See! Here, and here, and here, they are just as deep as they can be."
"Yes, that is very well," said the sister, "but now it is my turn; let me try again, and we shall see."
They kept on, step by step, matching their footprints, and laughing to see the gray dust puff up between their bare toes.
By and by the little boy looked up.
"Why," he said, "we are at the top of the hill!"
"Dear me!" said his sister. "So we are!"
The Three Billy Goats Gruff
This familiar Norse tale is about an age-old job for big brothers looking out for little brothers.
Once upon a time there were three billy goats who lived in a meadow at the foot of a mountain. They were all three brothers, and their last name was Gruff.
One fine day they said to each other, "Let's go up on the hillside, and eat grass, and make ourselves fat."
The youngest of the three started out first. After a while, he came to a bridge. Now the little billy goat did not know it, but under this bridge lived a terrible Troll, with eyes as big as a saucer, and a nose as long as a poker. As the Smallest Billy Goat Gruff went trip-trap, trip-trap over the bridge, the Troll roared out, "WHO'S THAT tripping over my bridge?"
"It's I, the Smallest Billy Goat Gruff. I'm going up on the hillside to eat grass, and make myself fat."
"Well, I'm coming to gobble you up!" roared the Troll.
"Oh, don't do that! I'm so little, I'll make scarcely a mouthful. My brother the Middle-Sized Billy Goat Gruff will be along soon. He'll make a much better meal. You'd better wait for him."
"Very well, be off with you!" said the Troll.
So the little goat ran on, trip-trap, trip-trap, across the bridge and up on the mountain, where he was safe.
Pretty soon, along came the second Billy Goat Gruff.
He went trip-trap, trip-trap, over the bridge.
"WHO'S THAT tripping over my bridge?" roared the Troll.
"It's I, the Middle-Sized Billy Goat Gruff. I'm going up on the hillside to eat grass, and make myself fat."
"Well, I'm coming to gobble you up!" roared the Troll.
"Oh, don't do that! I'm not very big, and I won't make much of a meal. My brother the Big Billy Goat Gruff will be along soon. He'll make a much better dinner. You'd better wait for him."
"Very well, be off with you!" said the Troll.
So the Middle-Sized Billy Goat Gruff ran on, trip-trap, trip-trap, across the bridge and up on the mountain, where he was safe.
After a while, along came the Big Billy Goat Gruff. TRIP-TRAP, TRIP-TRAP he went over the bridge, and it creaked and groaned under his weight.
"WHO'S THAT tripping over my bridge?" roared the Troll.
"IT'S I, THE BIG BILLY GOAT GRUFF!" said the billy goat in a big voice of his own.
"Well, I'm coming to gobble you up!" roared the Troll.
"HO! HO!" laughed the Big Billy Goat Gruff. "You don't say so! Well, come along! I'll crush you to bits, body and bones!" That's what Big Billy Goat Gruff said in his big, rough voice.
Up came the Troll. He jumped on the bridge and put clown his big, bushy head and ran at the billy goat. The Big Billy Goat Gruff put down his head and ran at the Troll, and they met in the middle of the bridge.
But the Big Billy Goat Gruff's head was harder than the Troll's, so he knocked him down, and thumped him about, and took him up on his horns, and threw him over the edge of the bridge, into the river below! The Troll sank out of sight, and no one ever saw him again.
Then the Big Billy Goat Gruff went up on the hillside with the other Billy Goat Gruffs, who knew all along their big brother would punish the terrible Troll. And they all ate grass, and ate grass, and ate grass, until they were so fat they could hardly walk home.
Adapted from Lawton B. Evans
Happy homes need helpful hands.
Some young girls were talking by the brook, boasting of their beautiful hands. One of them dipped her hands in the sparkling water and the drops looked like diamonds falling from her palms.
"See what beautiful hands I have! The water runs from them like precious jewels," said she, and held up her hands for the others to admire. They were very soft and white, for she had never done anything but wash them in clear, cold water.
Another one of them ran to get some strawberries and crushed them in her palms. The juice ran through her fingers like wine from a wine press until her fingers were as pink as the sunrise in the early morning.
"See what beautiful hands I have! The strawberry juice runs over them like wine," said she, and she held up her hands for the others to admire. They were very pink and soft, for she had never done anything but wash them in strawberry juice every morning.
Another one gathered some violets and crushed the flowers in her hands until they smelled like perfume.
"See what beautiful hands I have! They smell like violets in the deep woods in the spring time," said she, and she held up her hands for the others to admire. They were very soft and white, for she had never done anything but wash them in violets every morning.
The fourth girl did not show her hands but held them in her lap. An old woman came down the road and stopped before the girls. They all showed her their hands and asked her which were the most beautiful. She shook her head at each one and then asked to see the hands of the last girl, who held hers in her lap. The last girl raised her hands timidly for the old woman to see.
"Oh, these hands are clean, indeed," said the old woman, "but they are hard from toil. These hands have been helping Mother and Father dry the dishes, and sweep the floor, and wash the windows, and weed the garden. These hands have been taking care of the baby, and carrying hot tea to Grandma, and showing little brother how to build his blocks and fly his kite. Yes, these hands have been busy making the house a happy home, full of love and care."
Then the old woman fumbled in her pocket and brought out a ring set with diamonds, with rubies redder than strawberries, and turquoise bluer than violets.
"Here, wear this ring, my child. You deserve the prize for the most beautiful hands, for they have been the most helpful."
And the old woman vanished, leaving the four girls still sitting by the brook.
Adapted from Juliana Horatia Ewing
In English folklore, brownies are good-natured fairies or elves who perform services at night, such as washing, mending, and sweeping. Juliana Horatia Ewing wrote this widely loved tale about the little people, in the mid-nineteenth century. The story helped inspire Robert and Agnes Baden-Powell to found the junior branch of the Girl Guides movement in England (now called the Brownie Girl Scouts in the United States).
"Children are a burden," said the tailor to himself as he sat at his bench, stitching away.
"Children are a blessing," said the kind old lady who sat knitting at the window. "It is the family motto. The Trouts have had large families and good luck for generations."
It was the tailor's mother who spoke. She knew the history of the whole family going back years and years, and which of the Trouts were buried under which old stones in the graveyard. And she had an endless supply of tales about ghosts and fairies and hobgoblins and such, much to her grandchildren's delight.
"Children are a blessing!" she declared again.
"But look at Tommy," the tailor argued. "That boy does nothing but whittle sticks from morning till night. I almost have to lug him out of bed in the mornings. If I send him on an errand, he loiters. If I give him a little chore to do, he does it unwillingly and with such poor grace that it would be far better for me to do it myself. He's not a bad one, mind you, I'm not saying that. But he's not much help, and I did hope he would be a blessing rather than a burden."
"Well, there's still Johnny," the old lady murmured.
"Johnny's too young to be much of a help right now," Mr. Trout replied. "And he won't turn out any different from Tommy if his older brother doesn't stop leading him by the nose."
Now, the thing the boys loved more than anything else in the world was to hear their grandmother tell them the old stories of times gone by. One evening as they sat beside the fire, she told them about a brownie who used to live in the Trout house and help them with the work.
"What was he like, Granny?" Tommy asked.
"Like a little man, they say, my dear."
"What did he do?"
"He came in before the family was up, and swept up the hearth, and lit the fire, and set out the breakfast, and tidied the room, and did all sorts of housework. Sometimes he weeded the garden or threshed the corn. He saved endless trouble. But he never would be seen, and was off before anyone could catch him. The family could hear him laughing and playing about the house sometimes, though."
"Did they give him any wages, Granny?"
"No, my dear. He did it for love. They left a glass of water for him overnight, and now and then a bowl of bread and milk or cream. He liked that, for he was very dainty."
"Oh, Granny! Where did he go?"
"I don't know, dear."
"I wish he'd come back!" both boys cried at once.
"He'd tidy the room," said Johnny.
"And sweep the floor," said Tommy.
"And wash the dishes," said Johnny.
"And pick up our toys," said Tommy.
"And do everything!" they both decided. "We wish he hadn't gone away."
"Well, there are plenty of brownies," the old lady said. "Perhaps the Trouts will have another someday."
"But how do we get one?" Tommy asked.
"Only the Old Owl knows that, my dear. You'd have to ask her."
That night, when they crawled into bed, little Johnny was soon in the land of dreams, but Tommy could not get the thought of the brownie out of his mind.
"There's an owl living in the old shed by the pond," he thought. "It may be the Old Owl herself, and she knows, Granny says. When Father's gone to bed and the moon rises, I'll go."
Soon the moon rose like gold, and went up into the heavens like silver, flooding the moors with a pale ghostly light and painting black shadows under the stone walls. Tommy crept softly out of bed, through the kitchen, and out onto the moor.
It was a glorious night, although everything but the wind and Tommy seemed asleep. The stones, the walls, and the gleaming lanes were intensely still. The church tower in the valley seemed awake and watching, but silent. The houses in the village all had their eyes shut, that is, their window blinds down, and it seemed to Tommy as if the very moors had drawn white sheets over themselves and lay sleeping too.
"Hoot! Hoot!" said a voice from the woods behind him. Somebody else was awake, then.
"It's the Old Owl," said Tommy and there she came, swinging heavily across the moor with a flapping, stately flight, and sailed into the shed by the pond. Though Tommy ran hard, she was in the shed some time before him. When he got inside, there sat the Old Owl, blinking down at him with yellow eyes.
"Come up! Come up!" she said hoarsely.
She could speak then! Beyond all doubt it was the Old Owl, and none other. Tommy shuddered.
"Come up here! Come up here!" said the Old Owl.
The Old Owl, l sat on a beam that ran across the shed. Tommy had often climbed up for fun; he climbed up now, and sat face to face with her, and thought her eyes looked as if they were made of flame.
"Now, what do you want?" said the owl.
"Please," said Tommy, who felt rather reassured, "can you tell me where to find the brownies, and how to get one to come and live with us?"
"Oohoo!" said the owl, "that's it, is it? I know of two brownies."
"Hurrah!" said Tommy."where do they live?"
"In your house," said the owl.
Tommy was aghast.
"In our house!" he exclaimed. "whereabouts? Let me rummage them out. Why do they do nothing?"
"One of them is too young," said the owl.
"But why doesn't the other work?" asked Tommy.
"He is idle, he is idle," said the Old Owl, and she gave herself such a shake as she said it, that her fluff went flying through the shed, and Tommy nearly tumbled off the beam in his fright.
"Then we don't want them," he said. "What is the use of having brownies if they do nothing to help us?"
"Perhaps they don't know, as no one has told them," said the owl.
"I wish you would tell me where to find them," said Tommy. "I could tell them."
"Could you?" said the owl. "Oohoo! Oohoo!" Tommy couldn't tell whether she was hooting or laughing.
"Of course I could," he said. "They might be up and light the fire, and spread the table, and that sort of thing, before Father comes down. Besides, they could see what was wanted. The brownies did all that in Granny's mother's young days. And then they could tidy the room, and sweep the floor, and wash the dishes, and pick up my toys. Oh! there's lots to do."
"So there is," said the owl. "Oohoo! Well, I can tell you where to find one of the brownies, and if you find him he will tell you where his brother is. But this depends upon whether you feel equal to undertaking it, and whether you will follow my directions."
"I am quite ready to go," said Tommy, "and I will do as you tell me. I feel sure I could persuade them. If they only knew how everyone would love them if they made themselves useful!"
"Oohoo! Oohoo!" said the owl. "Now pay attention. You must go to the north side of the pond when the moon is shining and turn yourself around three times, saying this charm:
Twist me, and turn me, and show me the Elf!
I looked in the water and saw...
Then you look in the pond, and if you see the brownie, you must think of a word that will finish the rhyme. If you do not see the brownie, or if you fail to think of the word, it will be of no use."
"Is the brownie a merman, that he lives underwater?" asked Tommy, wriggling himself along the beam.
"That depends on whether he has a fish's tail," said the owl, "and this you can discover for yourself."
"Well, the moon is shining, so I shall go," said Tommy. "Goodbye, and thank you, ma'am." And he jumped down and went, saying to himself as he ran, "I believe he is a merman all the same or else how could he live in the pond? I know more about brownies than Granny does, and I shall tell her so." For Tommy was somewhat opinionated, like other young people.
The moon shone very brightly on the center of the pond. Tommy knew the place well, for there was a fine echo there. Around the edge grew rushes and water plants, which cast a border of shadow. Tommy went to the north side and turning himself three times, as the Old Owl had told him, he repeated the charm:
Twist me, and turn me, and show me the Elf!
I looked in the water and saw...
Now for it! He looked in and saw...the reflection of his own face.
"Why, there's no one but myself!" said Tommy. "And what can the word be? I must have done it wrong."
"Wrong!" said the echo.
Tommy was most surprised to find the echo awake at this time of night.
"Hold your tongue!" he said. "Matters are provoking enough by themselves. Belf! Celf! Delf! Felf! Gelf! Helf! Jelf! What rubbish! There can't be a word to fit. And then to look for a brownie and see nothing but myself!"
"Myself!" said the echo.
"Will you be quiet?" said Tommy. "If you told me the word, there would be some sense to your interference. But to roar 'Myself!' at me, which neither rhymes nor fits it does rhyme, though, as it happens. How very odd! And it fits, too:
Twist me, and turn me, and show me the EIf!
I looked in the water and saw myself!
What can it mean? The Old Owl knows, as Granny would say. I shall go back and ask her."
"Ask her!" said the echo.
And so he did. He went back to the shed, and there sat the Old Owl as before.
"Oohoo!" said she, as Tommy climbed up. "What did you see in the pond?"
"I saw nothing but myself," Tommy said indignantly.
ard"And what did you expect to see?" asked the owl.
"I expected to see a brownie," said Tommy. "You told me so."
"And what are brownies like, pray?" inquired the owl.
"The one Granny knew was a useful little fellow, something like a little man," said Tommy.
"Ah," said the owl, "but at present this one is an idle little fellow, something like a little man. Oohoo! Oohoo! Are you quite sure you didn't see him?"
"Quite," answered Tommy sharply. "I saw no one but myself."
"Hoot! Hoot! How touchy we are! And who are you, pray?"
"I'm not a brownie," said Tommy.
"Don't be too sure," said the owl. "Did you find the rhyme?"
"No," said Tommy. "I could find no word with any meaning that would rhyme but 'myself.'"
"Well, that rhymes," said the owl. "What else do you want?"
"I don't understand," said Tommy humbly. "You know I'm not a brownie, am I?"
"Yes, you are," said the owl, "and a very idle one too. All children are brownies."
"But I couldn't do work like a brownie," said Tommy.
"Why not?" inquired the owl. "Couldn't you sweep the floor, light the fire, spread the table, tidy the room, wash the dishes, and pick up your own toys? As you said, there's lots to do."
"Please," said Tommy, "I should like to go home now, and tell Johnny. It's getting cold, and I am so tired!"
"Very well," said the Old Owl. "I think I had better take you."
"I know the way, thank you," said Tommy.
"Just lean against me," insisted the owl. "Lean with your full weight, and shut your eyes."
Tommy lay his head against the Old Owl's feathers. He had a vague idea that she smelled of heather and thought it must be from living on the moor. He shut his eyes and leaned with his full weight, expecting that he and the owl would certainly fall off the beam together. Down...feathers...fluff...he sank and sank. He could feel nothing solid. He jumped up with a start to save himself, opened his eyes, and found that he was sitting in bed, with Johnny sleeping at his side! But even odder was that it was no longer moonlight but early dawn.
"Get up, Johnny," he cried. "I've got a story to tell you!" And while Johnny sat up and rubbed his eyes open, Tommy told him everything.
And from that day forward, the Trout household had two of the most useful brownies in the whole land.
Does this man live at your house? This is a great poem to help teach responsibility. It's fun to read out loud too.
I know a funny little man,
As quiet as a mouse,
Who does the mischief that is done
In everybody's house!
There's no one ever sees his face,
And yet we all agree
That every plate we break was cracked
By Mr. Nobody.
'Tis he who always tears our books,
Who leaves the door ajar,
He pulls the buttons from our shirts,
And scatters pins afar;
That squeaking door will always squeak
For, prithee, don't you see,
We leave the oiling to be done
By Mr. Nobody.
He puts damp wood upon the fire,
That kettles cannot boil;
His are the feet that bring in mud,
And all the carpets soil.
The papers always are mislaid,
Who had them last but he?
There's no one tosses them about
But Mr. Nobody.
The finger-marks upon the door
By none of us are made;
We never leave the blinds unclosed,
To let the curtains fade.
The ink we never spill, the boots
That lying round you see
Are not our boots; they all belong
To Mr. Nobody.
The Tree That Was Lonesome
Home is shelter from storms all sorts of storms.
There was once an old oak tree that had stood for a long time in the forest.
Many years before, a great storm had swept through the forest. This storm had left the oak only a crooked, ugly tree. It was no longer straight and beautiful like the others. Each spring it covered its ugliness with new green leaves. In the fall the leaves turned to a pretty crimson cloak. But the winds of the forest always swept by. They carried the leaf cloak of the old oak tree away with them. Then it was left with nothing to cover its ugliness.
After years and years, the old oak tree began to feel hollow. It felt as if its heart as well as its body were hurt. The wind sighed through its bare branches one fall when it was very, very old indeed. It made the old oak speak. "No one wants me. I am of no more use in the world," the oak said.
Tap, tap, rap-a-tap-tap! That was Mr. Red-headed Woodpecker. He was hammering at the trunk of the old oak tree. Tap, tap! He hammered and drilled. He worked until he had made a little round front door. It led into his winter house in the trunk of the tree. He had found a ready-made pantry there. It was full of grubs for himself and his family to eat when the cold days came. The walls of his house were warm. It was snug and cozy.
"How grateful I am for this hollow tree," sang Mr. Red-headed Woodpecker.
Whisk, whirr! That was Bobby Squirrel. He ran up the trunk of the old oak tree until he came to the round hole that was his little front window. Bobby Squirrel peeped inside. Oh, how comfortable and snug was the little house that he saw! He lined it with moss. Where the bark stuck out and made shelves, Bobby Squirrel laid piles and piles of nuts. They were ready to feast upon when the cold days came. He would be able to live there, warm in his fur overcoat and well fed. He would be safely sheltered until spring came.
"How grateful I am for this hollow tree," chattered Bobby Squirrel.
Then a strange thing happened to the tree. The beating of the wings of the bird and the happy heart of the little squirrel inside it warmed it. They made the heart of the old oak tree full of joy.
Instead of sighing in the wind, the old oak tree's boughs sang with happiness. The fall rains had left tears on the ends of its twig fingers. Now they turned to diamonds until its twig hands sparkled with them. The snow covered its ugly body with a cloak of white. The starlight at night and the sun in the day time set a crown upon its head.
In all the forest there was no tree more glad, or more beautiful, than the old oak tree.
The Prince's Happy Heart
A close-knit and loving home is worth more than a kingdom, as the little prince discovers in this story.
Once upon a time there was a little Prince in a country far away from here. He was one of the happiest little Princes who ever lived. All day long he laughed and sang and played. His voice was as sweet as music. His footsteps brought joy wherever he went. Every one thought that this was due to magic. Hung about the Prince's neck on a gold chain was a wonderful heart. It was made of gold and set with precious stones.
The godmother of the little Prince had given the heart to him when he was very small. She had said as she slipped it over his curly head: "To wear this happy heart will keep the Prince happy always. Be careful that he does not lose it."
All the people who took care of the little Prince were very careful to see that the chain of the happy heart was clasped. But one day they found the little Prince in his garden, very sad and sorrowful. His face was wrinkled into an ugly frown.
"Look!" he said, and he pointed to his neck. Then they saw what had happened.
The happy heart was gone. No one could find it, and each day the little Prince grew more sorrowful. At last they missed him. He had gone, himself, to look for the lost happy heart that he needed so much.
The little Prince searched all day. He looked in the city streets and along the country roads. He looked in the shops and in the doors of the houses where rich people lived. Nowhere could he find the heart that he had lost. At last it was almost night. He was very tired and hungry. He had never before walked so far, or felt so unhappy.
Just as the sun was setting the little Prince came to a tiny house. It was very poor and weather stained. It stood on the edge of the forest. But a bright light streamed from the window. So he lifted the latch, as a Prince may, and went inside.
There was a mother rocking a baby to sleep. The father was reading a story out loud. The little daughter was setting the table for supper. A boy of the Prince's own age was tending the fire. The mother's dress was old. There were to be only porridge and potatoes for supper. The fire was very small. But all the family were as happy as the little Prince wanted to be. Such smiling faces and light feet the children had. How sweet the mother's voice was!
"Won't you have supper with us?" they begged. They did not seem to notice the Prince's ugly frown.
"Where are your happy hearts?" he asked them.
"We don't know what you mean," the boy and the girl said.
"Why," the Prince said, "to laugh and be as happy as you are, one has to wear a gold chain about one's neck. Where are yours?"
Oh, how the children laughed! "We don't need to wear gold hearts," they said. "We all love each other so much, and we play that this house is a castle and that we have turkey and ice cream for supper. After supper mother will tell us stories. That is all we need to make us happy."
"I will stay with you for supper," said the little Prince.
So he had supper in the tiny house that was a castle. And he played that the porridge and potato were turkey and ice cream. He helped to wash the dishes, and then they all sat about the fire. They played that the small fire was a great one, and listened to fairy stories that the mother told. All at once the little Prince began to smile. His laugh was just as merry as it used to be. His voice was again as sweet as music.
He had a very pleasant time, and then the boy walked part of the way home with him. When they were almost to the palace gates, the Prince said:
"It's very strange, but I feel just exactly as if I had found my happy heart."
The boy laughed. "Why, you have," he said. "Only now you are wearing it inside."
We Thank Thee
Blessings of the home often last longer when we remember to be grateful for them. Gratefulness is too often a forgotten virtue in our day.
For mother-love and father-care,
For brothers strong and sisters fair,
For love at home and here each day,
For guidance lest we go astray,
Father in Heaven, we thank Thee.
For this new morning with its light,
For rest and shelter of the night,
For health and food, for love and friends,
For ev'rything His goodness sends,
Father in Heaven, we thank Thee.
The Golden Windows
Retold by Laura E. Richards
We often dream of the splendors of faraway places, but on inspection those attractions are seldom as precious as home.
All day long the little boy worked hard, in field and barn and shed, for his people were poor farmers, and could not pay a workman; but at sunset there came an hour that was all his own, for his father had given it to him. Then the boy would go up to the top of a hill and look across at another hill that rose some miles away. On this far hill stood a house with windows of clear gold and diamonds. They shone and blazed so that it made the boy wink to look at them. But after a while the people in the house put up shutters, as it seemed, and then it looked like any common farmhouse. The boy supposed they did this because it was supper-time; and then he would go into the house and have his supper of bread and milk, and so to bed.
One day the boy's father called him and said: "You have been a good boy, and have earned a holiday. Take this day for your own; but remember that God gave it, and try to learn some good thing."
The boy thanked his father and kissed his mother. Then he put a piece of bread in his pocket, and started off to find the house with the golden windows.
It was pleasant walking. His bare feet made marks in the white dust, and when he looked back, the footprints seemed to be following him, and making company for him. His shadow, too, kept beside him, and would dance or run with him as he pleased; so it was very cheerful.
By and by he felt hungry, and he sat down by a brown brook that ran through the alder hedge by the roadside, and ate his bread, and drank the clear water. Then he scattered the crumbs for the birds, as his mother had taught him to do, and went on his way.
After a long time he came to a high green hill; and when he had climbed the hill, there was the house on the top. But it seemed that the shutters were up, for he could not see the golden windows. He came up to the house, and then he could well have wept, for the windows were of clear glass, like any others, and there was no gold anywhere about them.
A woman came to the door, and looked kindly at the boy, and asked him what he wanted.
"I saw the golden windows from our hilltop," he said, "and I came to see them, but now they are only glass."
The woman shook her head and laughed.
"We are poor farming people," she said, "and are not likely to have gold about our windows. But glass is better to see through."
She bade the boy sit down on the broad stone step at the door, and brought him a cup of milk and a cake, and bade him rest. Then she called her daughter, a child of his own age, and nodded kindly at the two, and went back to her work.
The little girl was barefooted like himself, and wore a brown cotton gown, but her hair was golden like the windows he had seen, and her eyes were blue like the sky at noon. She led the boy about the farm, and showed him her black calf with the white star on its forehead, and he told her about his own at home, which was red like a chestnut, with four white feet. Then when they had eaten an apple together, and so had become friends, the boy asked her about the golden windows. The little girl nodded, and said she knew all about them, only he had mistaken the house.
"You have come quite the wrong way!" she said. "Come with me, and I will show you the house with the golden windows, and then you will see for yourself."
They went to a knoll that rose behind the farmhouse, and as they went the little girl told him that the golden windows could only be seen at a certain hour, about sunset."
Yes, I know that!" said the boy.
When they reached the top of the knoll, the girl turned and pointed; and there on a hill far away stood a house with windows of clear gold and diamonds, just as he had seen them. And when they looked again, the boy saw that it was his own home.
Then he told the little girl that he must go. He gave her his best pebble, the white one with the red band, that he had carried for a year in his pocket; and she gave him three horse-chestnuts, one red like satin, one spotted, and one white like milk. He kissed her, and promised to come again, but he did not tell her what he had learned. He went back down the hill, and the little girl stood in the sunset light and watched him.
The way home was long, and it was dark before the boy reached his father's house; but me lamplight and firelight shone through the windows, making them almost as bright as he had seen them from the hilltop. When he opened the door, his mother came to kiss him, and his little sister ran to throw her arms about his neck, and his father looked up and smiled from his seat by the fire.
"Have you had a good day?" asked his mother.
Yes, the boy had had a very good day.
"And have you learned anything?" asked his father.
"Yes!" said the boy. "I have learned that our house has windows of gold and diamonds."
The Legend of the Christ Child
Adapted from a retelling by Elizabeth Harrison
This beautiful old story reminds us that in homes where love is, God is.
Once upon a time, long, long ago, on the night before Christmas, a little child was wandering all alone through the streets of a great city. There were many people in the street, fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers, uncles and aunts, and even gray-haired grandfathers and grandmothers, all of whom were hurrying home with bundles of presents for each other and for their little ones. Fine carriages rolled by, express wagons rattled past, even old carts were pressed into service. All things seemed in a hurry and glad with expectation of the coming Christmas morning.
From some of the windows bright lights were already beginning to stream, until it was almost as bright as day. But the little child seemed to have no home, and wandered about listlessly from street to street. No one took any notice of him, except perhaps Jack Frost, who bit his bare toes and made the ends of his fingers tingle. The north wind, too, seemed to notice the child, for it blew against him and pierced his ragged garments through and through, causing him to shiver with cold. Home after home he passed, looking with longing eyes through the windows in upon the glad, happy children, most of whom were helping to trim the Christmas trees for the coming morrow.
"Surely," said the child to himself, "where there is so much gladness and happiness, some of it may be for me." So with timid steps he approached a large and handsome house. Through the windows he could see a beautiful Christmas tree already lighted. Many presents hung upon it. Its green boughs were trimmed with gold and silver ornaments. Slowly he climbed up the broad steps and gently rapped at the door.
It was opened by a tall and stately footman. He had a kindly face, although his voice was deep and gruff. He looked at the little child for a moment, then sadly shook his head and said, "Go down off the steps. There is no room here for such as you." He looked sorry as he spoke. Through the open door a bright light shone, and the warm air, filled with the fragrance of the Christmas pine, rushed out from the inner room and greeted the little wanderer like a kiss. As the child turned back into the cold and darkness, he wondered why the footman had spoken thus, for surely, thought he, those little children would love to have another companion join them in their joyous Christmas festival. But the little children inside did not even know that he had knocked at the door.
The street grew colder and darker as the child passed on. He went sadly forward, saying to himself, "Is there no one in all this great city who will share the Christmas with me?" Farther and farther down the street he wandered, to where the homes were not so large and beautiful. There seemed to be little children inside of nearly all the houses. They were dancing and frolicking about. Christmas trees could be seen in every window, with beautiful dolls and trumpets and picture-books and balls and tops and other wonderful toys hung upon them.
In one window the child noticed a little lamb made of soft, white wool. Around its neck was tied a red ribbon. It had evidently been hung on the tree for one of the younger children. The little wanderer stopped before this window and looked long and earnestly at the beautiful things inside, but most of all was he drawn toward the white lamb.
At last, creeping up to the windowpane, he gently tapped upon it. A little girl came to the window and looked out into the dark street where the snow had now begun to fall. She saw the child, but she only frowned and shook her head, and said, "Go away and come some other time. We are too busy to take care of you now." Back into the dark, cold street he turned again. The wind was whirling past him and seemed to say, "Hurry on, hurry on, we have no time to stop. 'Tis Christmas Eve and everybody is in a hurry tonight."
Again and again the child rapped softly at door or windowpane. At each place he was refused admission. One mother feared he might have some ugly disease which her darlings would catch; another father said he had only enough for his own children, and none to spare for beggar brats. Still another told him to go home where he belonged, and not to trouble other folks.
The hours passed; the night grew later, and the wind colder, and the street darker. Farther and farther the little one wandered. There was scarcely anyone left on the streets by this time, and the few who remained did not notice the child. Suddenly ahead of him there appeared a bright, single ray of light. It shone through the darkness into the child's eyes. He looked up, smiling, and said, "I will go where the little light beckons. Perhaps they will share their Christmas with me."
Hurrying past all the other houses he soon reached the end of the street and went straight up to the window from which the light was streaming. The house was old and small, but the child cared not for that. The light seemed still to call him in. From what do you suppose the light came? Nothing but a candle which had been placed in an old cup with a broken handle, in the window, as a glad token of Christmas Eve. There was neither curtain nor shade at the small, square window, and as the little child looked in he saw standing upon a neat, wooden table a small Christmas tree. The room was plainly furnished, but it was very clean. Near the fireplace sat a sweet-faced mother with a little two-year-old on her knee and an older child beside her. The two children were looking into their mother's face and listening to a story. She must have been telling them a Christmas story, I think. A few bright coals were burning in the fireplace, and all seemed light and warm within.
The little wanderer crept closer to the windowpane. So sweet was the mother's face, so loving seemed the little children, that he took courage and tapped gently, very gently, on the door. The mother stopped talking, the little children looked up. "What was that, Mother?" asked the little girl at her side.
"I think it was some one tapping on the door," replied the mother. "Run quickly and open it, dear, for it is a bitter cold night to keep anyone waiting in this storm."
"Oh, Mother, I think it was the bough of the tree tapping against the windowpane," said the little girl. "Do please go on with our story."
Again the little wanderer tapped upon the door.
"My child! My child!" exclaimed the mother, rising. "That certainly was a rap on the door. Run quickly and open it. No one must be left out in the cold on Christmas Eve."
The child ran to the door and threw it wide open. The mother saw the ragged stranger standing without, cold and shivering, with bare head and almost bare feet. She held out both hands and drew him into the warm, bright room. "You poor dear child," was all she said, and, putting her arms around him, she drew him close to her breast. "He is very cold, my children," she exclaimed. "We must warm him."
"And," added the little girl, "we must love him and give him some of our Christmas, too."
"Yes," said the mother, "but first let us warm him."
The mother sat down beside the fire with the child on her lap, and her own two little ones warmed his half-frozen hands in theirs. The mother smoothed his tangled curls, and, bending low over his head, kissed the child's forehead. She gathered the three little ones close to her and the candle and the firelight shone over them. For a moment the room was very still. I think she must have been praying. Then she whispered to the little girl, who ran into the other room and returned with a bowl of bread and milk for the little stranger.
By and by the little girl said, softly, to her mother, "May we not light the Christmas tree, and let him see how beautiful it looks?"
"Yes," replied the mother. With that she seated the child on a low stool beside the fire, and went herself to fetch the few simple ornaments which from year to year she had saved for her children's Christmas tree.
And as they busied themselves about the tree, they began to notice that the room had filled with a strange and wonderful light. Brighter and brighter it grew, until it shone like the sun; from floor to ceiling all was light as day. And when they turned and looked at the spot where the little wanderer had sat, it was empty. There was nothing to be seen. The child was gone, but the light was still in the room.
"Children," the mother said quietly, "I believe we have had the Christ Child with us tonight."
And she drew her dear ones to her and kissed them, and there was great joy in the little house.
My Two Homes
Henry Hallam Tweedy
Many children feel at home in their house because they know it is part of God's house.
Of all the houses in the world
The one that I love best
Is that in which I wake and play
And lay me down to rest.
My father built it by his toil;
My mother makes it home;
You cannot find a lovelier place
No matter where you roam.
The rooms are clean and bright and fair
With pictures, books, and toys,
And food, and clothes, and beds, and chairs
For all the girls and boys.
We children work and care for it,
And help to keep it clean,
Our palace of true happiness,
Where mother reigns as queen,
And father guards us with his strength,
A wise and gracious king,
To whom we pay the honor due,
And glad obedience bring.
So full of love and joy it is,
So safe and bright and warm,
I would not go too far from it
Lest I should come to harm.
And yet when I go out of doors
And look up at the sky,
I know I'm in my Father's house,
And that His love is nigh.
For God is Father Mother, too!
The world is my big home;
The green grass is the carpet,
And the blue sky is the dome.
On every side are pictures;
The fields are full of food;
And all the things that God has made
Are beautiful and good.
He keeps me by His mighty power,
He loves me as His child;
His paths are bright with happiness,
His laws are just and mild.
And all His children in this house,
So wonderful and fair,
Should love each other, learn His truth,
And trust His love and care.
I thank thee, Father, for these homes,
Where we may dwell with Thee,
And cast out fear, and share the joys
Thou givest full and free.
The Matsuyama Mirror
This charming Japanese tale was popular with American children around the turn of the twentieth century. It was handed down from parent to child in Japan over many generations, and dates to a time when people living outside of cities knew nothing of mirrors or their uses. It reminds us that in many ways, we grow up in our parents' image. We hope their virtues become our virtues.
Long ago there lived, in a quiet spot in far away Japan, a young man and his wife. They had one child, a little daughter, whom they loved dearly. I cannot tell you their names, for they have been long since forgotten; but the name of the place where they lived was Matsuyama.
It happened once, while the little girl was still a baby, that the father had to go to the great city, the capital of Japan, upon some business. It was too far for the mother and her little baby to go, so he set out alone, after bidding them good-by and promising to bring them home some pretty present.
The mother had never been farther from home than the next village, and she could not help being a little frightened at the thought of her husband taking such a long journey; and yet she was a little proud, too, for he was the first man in all that countryside who had been to the big town where the King and his great lords lived, and where there were so many beautiful and curious things to be seen.
At last the time came when she might expect her husband back, so she dressed the baby in her best clothes, and herself put on a pretty blue dress which she knew her husband liked.
You may fancy how glad this good wife was to see him come home safe and sound, and how the little girl clapped her hands, and laughed with delight, when she saw the pretty toys her father had brought for her. He had much to tell of all the wonderful things he had seen upon the journey, and in the town itself.
"I have brought you a very pretty thing," said he to his wife. "It is called a mirror. Look and tell me what you see inside." He gave to her a plain, white, wooden box, in which, when she opened it, she found a round piece of metal. One side was white like frosted silver, and ornamented with raised figures of birds and flowers; the other was bright as the clearest crystal. Into it the young mother looked with delight and astonishment, for from its depths was looking at her a smiling, happy face.
"What do you see?" again asked the husband, pleased at her astonishment, and glad to show that he had learned something while he had been away.
"I see a pretty woman looking at me, and she moves her lips as if she were speaking, and dear me, how odd, she has on a blue dress just like mine!"
"Why, it is your own face that you see," said the husband, proud of knowing something that his wife didn't know. "That round piece of metal is called a mirror. In the town everybody has one, although we have not seen them in this country place before."
The wife was charmed with her present, and for a few days could not look into the mirror often enough, for you must remember that this was the first time she had seen a mirror, so of course it was the first time she had ever seen the reflection of her own pretty face. But she considered such a wonderful thing far too precious for everyday use, and soon shut it up in its box again, and put it away carefully among her most valued treasures.
Years passed, and the husband and wife still lived happily. The joy of their life was their little daughter, who grew up the very image of her mother, and who was so dutiful and affectionate that everybody loved her. Mindful of her own little passing vanity on finding herself so lovely, the mother kept the mirror carefully hidden away, fearing that the use of it might breed a spirit of pride in her little girl.
She never spoke of it; and as for the father, he had forgotten all about it. So the daughter grew up as simple as the mother had been, and knew nothing of her own good looks, or of the mirror which would have reflected them.
But by and by a sad misfortune came to this happy little family. The kind mother fell sick; and, although her daughter waited upon her day and night, with loving care, she got worse and worse, until at last there was no hope but that she must die.
When she found that she must so soon leave her husband and child, the poor woman felt very sorrowful, grieving for those she was going to leave behind, and most of all for her little daughter.
She called the girl to her and said, "My darling child, you know that I am very sick; soon I must die, and leave your dear father and you alone. When I am gone, promise me that you will look into this mirror every night and every morning. There you will see me, and know that I am still watching over you." With these words she took the mirror from its hiding place and gave it to her daughter. The child promised, with many tears, and so the mother, seeming now calm and resigned, died a short time after.
Now this obedient and dutiful daughter never forgot her mother's last request, but each morning and evening took the mirror from its hiding place, and looked in it long and earnestly. There she saw the bright and smiling vision of her lost mother; not pale and sickly as in her last days, but the beautiful young mother of long ago. To her, at night, she told the story of the trials and difficulties of the day; to her, in the morning, she looked for sympathy and encouragement in whatever might be in store for her.
So day by day she lived as in her mother's sight, striving still to please her as she had done in her lifetime, and careful always to avoid whatever might pain or grieve her.
Her greatest joy was to be able to look in the mirror and say, "Mother, I have been today what you would have me be."
Seeing her every night and morning, without fail, look into the mirror, and seem to hold converse with it, her father at length asked her the reason for her strange behavior.
"Father," she said, "I look in the mirror every day to see my dear mother and to talk with her." Then she told him of her mother's dying wish, and how she had never failed to fulfill it. Touched by so much simplicity, and such faithful, loving obedience, the father shed tears of pity and affection. Nor could he find it in his heart to tell the child that the image she saw in the mirror was but the reflection of her own sweet face, becoming more and more like her dear mother's, day by day.
The Apron String
Laura E. Richards
The much-derided apron string can come in handy, especially when its fibers are the virtues we've learned at home. Those bonds stay with us.
Once upon a time a boy played about the house, running by his mother's side; and as he was very little, his mother tied him to the string of her apron.
"Now," she said, "when you stumble, you can pull yourself up by the apron-string, and so you will not fall."
The boy did that, and all went well, and the mother sang at her work.
By and by the boy grew so tall that his head came above the window-sill; and looking through the window, he saw far away green trees waving, and a flowing river that flashed in the sun, and rising above all, blue peaks of mountains.
"Oh, Mother," he said, "untie the apron-string and let me go!"
But the mother said, "Not yet, my child! Only yesterday you stumbled, and would have fallen but for the apron-string. Wait yet a little, till you are stronger."
So the boy waited, and all went as before; and the mother sang at her work.
But one day the boy found the door of the house standing open, for it was spring weather. He stood on the threshold and looked across the valley, and saw the green trees waving, and the swift-flowing river with the sun flashing on it, and the blue mountains rising beyond. And this time he heard the voice of the river calling, and it said "Come!"
Then the boy started forward, and as he started, the string of the apron broke.
"Oh! how weak my mother's apron-string is!" cried the boy; and he ran out into the world, with the broken string hanging beside him.
The mother gathered up the other end of the string and put it in her bosom, and went about her work again; but she sang no more.
The boy ran on and on, rejoicing in his freedom, and in the fresh air and the morning sun. He crossed the valley, and began to climb the foothills among which the river flowed swiftly, among rocks and cliffs. Now it was easy climbing, and again it was steep and craggy, but always he looked upward at the blue peaks beyond, and always the voice of the river was in his ears, saying "Come!"
By and by he came to the brink of a precipice, over which the river dashed in a cataract, foaming and flashing, and sending up clouds of silver spray. The spray filled his eyes, so that he did not see his footing clearly; he grew dizzy, stumbled, and fell. But as he fell, something about him caught on a point of rock at the precipice-edge, and held him, so that he hung dangling over the abyss; and when he put up his hand to see what held him, he found that it was the broken string of the apron, which still hung by his side.
"Oh! how strong my mother's apron-string is!" said the boy. And he drew himself up by it, and stood firm on his feet, and went on climbing toward the blue peaks of the mountains.
This story from South America reminds us that the habits we learn in the home are the habits we carry with us into the world.
There once lived a mother who had four daughters, named Margarita, Emilia, Carmen, and Maria. The three eldest children were lazy and rude and rarely obeyed their mother. Only the youngest, Maria, did what she could to be a loving daughter.
The time came when the mother called her children together.
"You are growing older now, and so am I," she told them. "I will not be able to take care of you forever. You must learn to work so you can make your own ways in the world someday. So I have chores for each of you to do. Margarita, you must dust away the cobwebs. Emilia, you must sweep the floor. Carmen, you must rake the yard. And Maria, you must weed in the garden."
But Margarita, the eldest daughter, scowled.
"Dust? I can't be expected to dust!" she hooted. "I need my beauty sleep." She packed her bag and left the house to find some quiet place to lay down her head.
Emilia, the next daughter, threw up her arms and paced the room in circles.
"I don't know how to sweep," she grunted. "I'm sure I can't learn how. I'm going for a stroll in the countryside. It's much more pleasant there."
She packed her bags and left the house.
Carmen, the next daughter, banged her fist on the table.
"I don't know how to work either!" she shrieked. "I've got better things to do, you know. I'm moving to town. People there know how to have fun."
She too packed her bags and left the house with a frown.
Only Maria, the youngest daughter, put on a smile.
"Don't worry, Mother," she said. "I'll work in the garden and plant as many flowers as it will hold, and sell them in town at market. That way I can stay with you and take care of you as you grow old."
Time passed, and Maria kept her word. Her garden flourished, as did her trade at the marketplace, and she made enough money to give some comfort to her mother.
But at last the day came when the old woman sensed her time had come. She sent Maria to find her sisters so she might tell them good-bye.
Marie found Margarita asleep in the shady forest.
"Mother is ill and asks you to come home," she told her.
"I'm sleeping right now," Margarita yawned. "It's much too early. Tell her I'll come later."
Maria found Emilia wandering the countryside, searching the fields for scraps of food left from the harvest.
"I don't have time to come home," she said. "I'm hoping to pick up some dinner."
Maria found Carmen walking the town lanes and alleys, knocking on door after door, looking for handouts.
"I can't come home just now," she muttered. "No one feels generous today. I must keep knocking if I am to eat." She turned her back to rap on another door.
Maria returned to her mother, who grieved at her daughters' fates.
"My Margarita will live in the darkness of the forest for the rest of her life, sleeping the days away," she cried. "My Emilia will spend her life wandering aimlessly, content to live on what lies on the ground. My Carmen will knock and knock for the rest of her days, grubbing for morsels. Only you, Maria, will be welcomed and beloved by all."
The old woman closed her eyes and drew her last breath.
And her prophecy came true.
After her death, Margarita became an owl, and to this day she dwells in the darkest parts of the forest, sleeping the days away.
Emilia turned into a ugly vulture, and now circles the country skies, hoping to dine on whatever she finds lying on the ground.
Carmen changed into a woodpecker, and you can still hear her knocking and knocking all day long, grubbing for morsels.
As for little Maria, she is still hard at work in her garden, tending her flowers, sipping the nectar from their silky cups. And everywhere she goes, she is welcomed and beloved, for Maria turned into a hummingbird.
The New Leaves
Adapted from Laura E. Richards
Here's a great story for the New Year that will help children understand what "turning over a new leaf" means. Better to learn good habits in the home than out in the world, where turning the leaves may be much tougher.
"Wake up!" said a clear little voice. Tommy woke, and sat up. At the foot of the bed stood a boy about his own age, all dressed in white, like fresh snow. He had very bright eyes, and he looked straight at Tommy.
"Who are you?" asked Tommy.
"I am the New Year!" said the boy. "This is my day, and I have brought you your leaves."
"What leaves?" asked Tommy.
"The new ones, to be sure!" said the New Year. "I hear bad accounts of you from my Daddy "
"Who is your Daddy?" asked Tommy.
"The Old Year, of course!" said the boy. "He said you asked too many questions, and I see he was right. He says you are greedy, too, and that you sometimes pinch your little sister, and that one day you threw your reader into the fire. Now, all this must stop."
"Oh, must it?" said Tommy. He felt frightened, and did not know just what to say.
The boy nodded. "If it does not stop," he said, "you will grow worse and worse every year, till you grow up into a Horrid Man. Do you want to be a Horrid Man?"
"N-no!" said Tommy.
"Then you must stop being a horrid boy!" said the New Year. "Take your leaves!" And he held out a packet of what looked like notebook paper, all sparkling white, like his own clothes.
"Turn over one of these every day," he said, "and soon you will be a good boy instead of a horrid one."
Tommy took the leaves of paper and looked at them. On each leaf a few words were written. On one it said, "Help your mother and father!" On another, "Pick up your toys!" On another, "Stop tracking mud across the floor!" On another, "Be nice to your little sister!" And on still another, "Don't fight Billy Jenkins!"
"Oh!" cried Tommy. "I have to fight Billy Jenkins!" He said "
"Good-by!" said the New Year. "I shall come again when I am old to see whether you have been a good boy or a horrid one. Remember,
"Horrid boy makes horrid man.
You alone can change the plan."
He turned away and opened the window. A cold wind blew in and swept the leaves out of Tommy's hand. "Stop! stop!" he cried. "Tell me " But the New Year was gone, and Tommy, staring after him, saw only his mother coming into the room. "Dear child!" she said. "Why, the wind is blowing everything about."
"My leaves! My leaves!" cried Tommy. Jumping out of bed, he looked all over the room, but he could not find one.
"Never mind," said Tommy. "I can turn them just the same, and I mean to. I will not grow into a Horrid Man." And he didn't.
The Night Wind
At home that guardian of virtue we call conscience takes root. It talks to us often, even when we don't ask it to.
Have you ever heard the wind go "Yooooo'"
'Tis a pitiful sound to hear.
It seems to chill you through and through
With a strange and speechless fear.
It's the voice of the night that broods outside
When folks should be asleep;
And many and many's the time I've cried
pardTo the darkness that brooded far and wide
Over the land and the deep:
"Whom do you want, O lonely night,
That you wail the long hours through?"
And the night would say in its ghostly way:
"Yoo oo oo oo! Yoo oo oo oo!
Yoo oo oo oo!"
My mother told me long ago
(When I was a little lad),
That when the night went wailing so,
Somebody had been bad.
And then, when I was snug in bed,
Whither I had been sent,
With the blankets drawn up around my head,
I'd think of what my mother'd said,
And wonder what boy she meant.
"And who's been bad today?" I'd ask
Of the wind that hoarsely blew.
And that voice would say in its awful way:
"Yoo oo oo oo! Yoo oo oo oo!
Yoo oo oo oo!"
That this was true I must allow
You'll not believe it though!
Yes, though I'm quite a model now,
I was not always so.
And if you doubt what things I say,
Suppose you make the test;
Suppose when you've been bad some day,
And up to bed you're sent away
From mother and the rest
Suppose you ask, "Who has been bad?"
And then you'll hear what's true.
For the wind will moan in its ruefullest tone:
"Yoo oo oo oo! Yoo oo oo oo!
Yoo oo oo oo!"
The Garden of the Frost Flowers
Retold by Frances Jenkins Olcott
Home is a place of protection from very real dangers beyond the doorstep dangers from nature and dangers from man. This sad story in which a child dies, retold from a poem by William Cullen Bryant, reminds children that when they are young, they must not stray too far alone, and they must take seriously their parents' warnings.
The Promise Made
In the olden time, long, long ago, there dwelt on a mountain side a cottager, his wife, and his little girl named Eva. A lovely spot was their home, for near it was a glen through which dashed a brook fringed with many sweet-smelling Spring flowers.
But then Winter came, the little brook was fringed with other blossoms. Strange white ones with crystal leaves and stems grew there in the clear November nights. For when the Winter Winds blew hard, down from the mountain top came a troop of Little People of the Snow. A beautiful Fairy race they were, with bright locks, and voices like the sounds of steps on crisp Snow. With trailing robes they came, some flying through the air, others tripping lightly across the icy fields.
They threw spangles of silvery Frost upon the grass and edged the brook with glistening parapets. They built crystal bridges over the stream, and, touching the water, turned its face to glass. Then they shook, from their full laps, so many Snowflakes that they covered the whole world with a soft blanket.
Now Eva had often heard about these Little People, but she had never seen them. One Mid-Winter day, when she was twelve years old, she dressed herself warmly to play in the Snow.
"Do not stay too long," said her mother, as she wrapped her furry coat around the child and put on her fur boots. "Do not stay too long, for sharp is the Winter Wind. And go no farther than the great Linden Tree on the edge of our field."
All this Eva promised, and went skipping from the house. Now she climbed the rounded snow swells that felt firm with Frost beneath her feet, and now she slid down them into the deep hollows. So she played alone and was happy.
But as she was clambering up a very high drift, she saw a tiny maiden sitting on the Snow. Lily-cheeked she was, with flowing flaxen hair and blue eyes that gleamed like Ice, while her robe seemed of a more shadowy whiteness than her cheeks.
When she saw Eva, this tiny creature bounded to her feet, and cried:" Oh, come with me, pretty Friend. I have watched you often, and know how well you love the Snow, and how you carve huge-limbed Snowmen, Lions, and Griffins. Come, let us ramble over these bright fields. You shall see what you have never seen before."
So Eva followed her new friend. Together they slid down drifts and climbed white mounds, until they reached the spot where the great Linden Tree stood.
"Here I must stop," said Eva, "for I promised my mother I would go no farther."
But the little Snow Maiden laughed.
"What!" cried she. "Are you afraid of the Snow? of the pure Snow? of the innocent Snow? It has never hurt any living thing. Surely your mother made you promise that because she thought you had no one to guide you. I will show you the way and bring you safely home."
By such smooth words Eva was won to break her promise, and she followed her new playmate. Over glistening fields they ran, and down a steep bank to the foot of a huge Snowdrift or Hill of Snow. There the Winds had carved a shelf of driven snow, that curtained a wide opening in the hill.
"Look! Look! Let us enter here!" cried the little creature merrily. "Come, Eva, follow me."
In the Garden of Frost Flowers
Straight under the shelflike curtain Eva and the little Snow Maiden crept, and walked along a passage with white walls. Above them in the vaulted roof were set Snow Stars that cast a wintry twilight over all.
Eva moved with awe and could not speak for wonder; but the little Snow Maiden, laughing gayly, tripped lightly on before. Deeper and deeper they went into the heart of the Hill of Snow. And now the walls began to widen; and the vaulted roof rose higher and higher, until it expanded into a great white dome above their heads.
Eva looked about her. She stood in a large white garden, where everything seemed to be spun out of delicate silent Frost.
At her feet grew snow-white plants with lacelike leaves and spangled flowers. At her side Palm Trees reared their stately white columns tufted with frosted plumes. Huge Oaks, with icelike trunks, waved their transparent branches in the silent air, while their gnarled roots seemed anchored deep in glistening banks. Light sprays of Myrtle, and snowy Roses in bud and bloom, drooped by the winding walks.
All these things flowers, leaves, and trees seemed delicately wrought from stainless alabaster. Up the trees ran Jasmine vines with stalks and leaves as colorless as their blossoms. All this Eva saw with wonder and delight.
"Walk, softly, dear Friend," said the little Snow Maiden. "Do not touch the frail creation round you, nor sweep it with your skirt.
"Now, look up, and behold how beautifully this Garden of Frost Flowers is lighted. See those shifting gleams that seem to come and go so gently. They are the Northern Lights that make beautiful our Winter Palace.
"Here on long cold nights I and my comrades, the Little People of the Snow, make this garden lovely. We guide to this place the wandering Snowflakes and, piling them up into many quaint shapes, bid them grow into stately columns, glittering arches, white trees, and lovely flowers of Frost.
"But come now, dear Eva, and I will show you a far more wonderful sight."
The Dance of the Little People of the Snow
As she spoke, the little Snow Maiden led her to a windowpane of transparent ice set in the Snow wall.
"Look," said she, "but you may not enter in."
Lo! she saw a glorious, glistening palace hall from whose lofty roof fell stripes of shimmering light, rose-colored, and delicate green, and tender blue.
This light flowed downward to the floor, enveloping in its rainbow hues a joyous multitude of tiny folk, whirling in a merry dance. Silvery music sounded from cymbals of transparent Ice skillfully touched by tiny hands.
Round and round they flew beneath the dome of colored lights, now wheeling and now turning. Their bright eyes shone under their lily brows. Their gauzy scarfs, sparkling like snow wreaths in the Sun, floated in the dizzy whirl.
Eva stood entranced in wonder, as all these Little People of the Snow, dancing and whirling in the colored lights, swept past the icy windowpane.
Long she gazed, and long she listened to the sweet sounds that thrilled the frosty air. Then the intense cold around her numbed her limbs, and she remembered the promise to her mother.
The Promise Broken
"Alas!" she cried, "too long, too long am I lingering here! Oh, how wickedly I have done to break my promise! What must they think, the dear ones at home?"
With hurried step she found the snowy passage again, and followed it upward to the light, while the little Snow Maiden ran by her side, guiding her feet.
When she reached the open air once more, a bitter blast came rushing from the clear North, chilling her blood, and she shrank in terror before it. But the little Snow Maiden, when she felt the cutting blast, bounded along, uttering shouts of joy, and skipping from drift to drift. And she danced around Eva, as the poor child wearily climbed the slippery mounds of frozen snow.
"Ah me!" sighed Eva at last, "Ah me! My eyes grow heavy. They swim with sleep."
As she spoke, her lids closed, and she sank upon the ground and slept.
Then near her side sat the little Snow Maiden, watching her slumber. She saw the rosy color fade from Eva's rounded cheeks, and the child's brow grow white as marble, while her breath slowly ceased to come and go. All motionless lay her form; and the little Snow Maiden strove to waken her, plucking her dress, and shouting in her ears, but all in vain.
Then suddenly was heard the sound of steps grating on the Snow. It was Eva's parents searching for their lost child. When they found her, lying like a fair marble image in her deathlike sleep, and when they heard from the little Snow Maiden how she had led Eva into the Garden of Frost Flowers, their hearts were wrung with anguish.
They lifted the dear child up and bore her home. And though they chafed her limbs and bathed her brow, she never woke again. The little maid was dead.
Now came the funeral day. In a grave dug in the glen's white side they buried Eva, while from the rocks and hills around a thousand slender voices rose, and sighed, and mourned, until the echoes, taking up the strains, flung them far and wide across the icy fields.
From that day the Little People of the Snow were never seen again. But all during the long, cold Winter nights, invisible tiny hands wove around Eva's grave frost wreaths, and tufts of silvery rime shaped like flowers one scatters on a bier.
Joseph and His Brothers
Retold by J. Berg Essenwein and Marietta Stockard
Joseph embodies the true spirit of brotherhood: his love was so great, he not only forgave but saved those who betrayed him, and made for them a new home. The story is from the book of Genesis in the Bible.
Long ago, in the land of Canaan, there lived a rich shepherd and farmer called Jacob. He had great flocks and many servants. He had also twelve sons, and the best loved of his sons was Joseph. Perhaps it was because Joseph himself was always gentle and obedient; perhaps it was because of his beautiful mother, Rachel, who had died when the little brother, Benjamin, was born; but at any rate, Jacob loved Joseph deeply and tenderly.
His brothers grew angry and jealous because of this great love. "Our father will give him all of his riches, and make him ruler over us," they said.
When Joseph was seventeen years old, his father gave him a beautiful coat of many colors. He walked among his brothers dressed in the coat, and they grew more jealous and angry still. Sometimes he talked to them of strange dreams he had, which seemed to mean that some day he would be more rich and powerful than they. This made them hate him bitterly.
At last, one day when they had driven their flocks to pastures which were far away from home, Jacob called Joseph to him and said: "Go see whether it be well with thy brethren and with the flocks; and bring me word again."
Joseph was always glad to serve his father, so he set out toward Shechem to find his brothers. But they had driven their flocks still farther away, and Joseph wandered in the fields for a long time before he came to them.
When they saw him far off, the jealousy which had been making their hearts more wicked each day grew into hatred so black that they began to plan to murder their own brother. But Reuben, the oldest of the brothers, determined to save Joseph if he could. He seemed to agree with them, and said: "Let us cast him into this pit here in the wilderness and leave him." He meant to return, however, and send Joseph away home to their old father.
As Joseph drew near to them, his brothers began to mock him. "Behold the dreamer!" they scoffed. "Let us now see what will become of his dreams!" They caught him and with rough hands stripped off his beautiful coat, and threw him into the deep pit. Then they sat near and ate their food, laughing at Joseph's cries and pleadings.
While they sat there, a caravan of merchants came along the highway. Their camels were loaded with spices and myrrh which they were carrying down into Egypt.
"Come," said Judah, "let us sell Joseph to these Ishmaelites. They will carry him down into Egypt, and we shall never see him again. We shall be rid of him, and still we shall not have his blood upon our hands."
The brothers agreed, and lifted Joseph from the pit. He begged most piteously to be allowed to go back home, but they hardened their hearts, and sold him for twenty pieces of silver. Then the Ishmaelites set him upon a camel, and carried him away into the strange land of Egypt.
Reuben came back to the pit and found Joseph gone. He rent his clothes in his great grief, but the other brothers said: "We are well rid of him. Now he will never rule over us."
They took Joseph's coat and tore it, then dipped it in the blood of a kid so that their father would think some wild beast had slain his son. When Jacob saw the coat, he mourned most piteously.
Meantime, the Ishmaelites continued their journey down into Egypt, carrying the lonely lad. But God comforted him in his dreams. He remembered too the teaching of his father, and faith and courage stayed in his heart.
When they arrived in Egypt, Joseph was sold to Potiphar, who was an officer of the king, called Pharaoh. Soon Joseph's gentle ways and comely looks caused him to be loved and trusted by all. Whatever he did prospered, so the Egyptian captain saw that God was with him, and he made him the overseer of his house. There Joseph learned the customs of the land, he learned to command men, and learned the needs of the country.
But the happy, prosperous days soon came to an end. The wife of Potiphar filled her husband's mind with wicked lies concerning Joseph, and caused him to be thrown into prison. Some servants of Pharaoh who had angered him were in the prison at this time, and Joseph talked with them so wisely that they knew that his knowledge came from God.
Two long years went by, and at last Pharaoh was troubled by strange dreams and needed counsel. The chief butler, who had been in the prison with Joseph, remembered his great wisdom. "Send for that young Hebrew prisoner," he said to King Pharaoh; "he will interpret your dream."
Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph. He was brought from his dungeon and placed before the king. He listened to the king's strange dream of seven lean cows coming from the river and devouring seven fat cows; of seven blasted ears of corn springing up and devouring seven ears that were full and good. And God gave Joseph the wisdom to know the meaning of the dream.
"O King," he said, "there are seven years of great plenty at hand, but these seven years will be followed by seven years of famine in the land. Let the king command that food be gathered and stored during the seven years of plenty."
Pharaoh believed Joseph's words and made him chief ruler in the land. Only the king himself was greater than he. He gave him riches and power, and the high-born maiden Asenath for his wife.
In the seven years that followed, Joseph caused great storehouses to be built and filled with grain, so when the years of famine came there was bread in Egypt, but in no other land. People came from all the neighboring countries into Egypt to buy bread.
Now the aged Jacob heard that there was bread in Egypt, so he sent his ten sons there. Benjamin, the youngest son, he sent not. He feared that evil might befall this other son of his beloved Rachel, the mother of Joseph.
The ten brothers journeyed down to Egypt, and stood before the governor of the land. They bowed down before him, not knowing that the rich and powerful governor was their own brother whom they had sold to the Ishmaelites long years before. But Joseph knew them, and he remembered the dreams of his boyhood. He felt glad for the strange, hard things which had come to him, because through them this day had become possible.
His heart yearned for his own people, but he wished to test his brothers, so he spoke to them roughly and accused them of being spies. "You say you have a younger brother at home. Go fetch him so that I may know you are true men."
When they would not promise to fetch Benjamin, he threw them into prison for three days. Then they stood before him again, and at first talked among themselves in deep distress. At last they told Joseph about their brother whose anguish they had not heeded when they sold him into slavery long years before. "It is because of our guilt that this sorrow has come upon us," they said.
Joseph went out from them and wept at their words, but he felt that the time had not yet come for him to make himself known to them. So he caused Simeon to be bound and kept as a hostage, then he filled their sacks with corn and sent them back to Canaan. But every man's money was secretly placed in the mouth of his sack.
The brethren were filled with wonder and fear when they found it there. They returned to Jacob, their father, and told him all that had befallen them; and his heart was troubled for his children.
At last the food was all gone, and unless they would starve they must return to Egypt, so Jacob at last consented to send Benjamin with them as the strange man had demanded. He sent rich presents, too, and double the money for the grain he wanted to buy, hoping thus to please the powerful governor.
When at last the brothers stood before Joseph, and he saw Benjamin with them, he ordered the ruler of his house to make ready a great feast for them. They bowed themselves to the ground before him, and told him of the money in their sacks.
"Fear not," he said, "the God of your father hath given you treasure."
He brought out to them Simeon, whom he had kept as a hostage, and treated them with great kindness. At last he sent them on their way again, and as before, every man's money was placed in his sack. But in the sack of Benjamin, Joseph's own drinking cup was placed.
When they had gone out of the city, Joseph sent his steward after them, and he said: "Why have you rewarded evil for good? You have taken away the cup from which my lord drinks."
He compelled them to open their sacks, and when the cup was found in the sack of Benjamin, they cried out in great distress, and hastened back to the city. They threw themselves at Joseph's feet and begged for the liberty of their young brother.
Judah said: "His brother is dead, and he alone is left of his mother, and his father loves him." Judah begged that he be made a servant in the lad's place.
Then Joseph knew that their hearts were no more filled with jealousy and selfishness, and he cried out to them: "I am Joseph, your brother. Grieve no more that you sold me, for God did send me before you to preserve life."
Then he kissed his brothers and showed great love for them. "Go," he said, "fetch our father and all your households down from Canaan. The best part of the land of Egypt shall be yours."
Joseph's brothers did as he commanded. They journeyed down into Egypt, and made their homes there. Then at last Jacob held Joseph's children in his arms and blessed them, and there was great happiness between them throughout all their days.
The Place of Brotherhood
This beautiful Jewish story reminds us that home should be the place where we learn about selflessness and how to practice it with those closest to us. King Solomon built the Temple of Israel to house the Ark of the Covenant in the tenth century B.C.
In the days of King Solomon there lived two brothers who reaped wheat in the fields of Zion. One night, in the dark of the moon, the elder brother gathered several sheaves of his harvest and left it in his brother's field, saying to himself: "My brother has seven children. With so many mouths to feed, he could use some of my bounty." And he went home.
A short time later, the younger brother slipped out of his house, gathered several sheaves of his wheat, and carried it into his brother's field, saying to himself: "My brother is all alone, with no one to help him harvest. So I'll share some of my wheat with him."
When the sun rose, each brother was amazed to find he had just as much wheat as before!
The next night they paid each other the same kindness, and still woke to find their stores undiminished.
But on the third night, they met each other as they carried their gifts into each other's fields. Each threw his arms around the other and shed tears of joy for his goodness.
And when Solomon heard of their love, he built the Temple of Israel there on the place of brotherhood.
Here are three important levers, the ones that raise children, raise efforts, and raise hearts and minds.
I know three things must always be
To keep a nation strong and free.
One is a hearthstone bright and dear,
With busy, happy loved ones near.
One is a ready heart and hand
To love and serve and keep the land.
One is a worn and beaten way
To where the people go to pray.
So long as these are kept alive,
Nation and people will survive.
God keep them always everywhere
The home, the heart, the place of prayer.
Adapted from retellings by James Baldwin and William J. Sly
Cornelia was the daughter of Scipio Africanus, a famous Roman general who defeated Hannibal and the Carthaginians. She married Tiberious Sempronius Gracchus, a powerful consul, and lived amid the lavish trappings of the Roman nobility. After her husband died, however, she had to sell most of her property and learn to live simply. This Roman legend about Cornelia's real wealth takes place in the second century B.C.
It was a bright morning in the old city of Rome many hundred years ago. Two brothers were playing in a garden when their mother, Cornelia, called them into the house.
"A friend is coming to dine today," she told them. "She is very rich, and she will show us her jewels."
Soon the woman arrived. Her fingers sparkled with rings. Her arms glittered with bracelets. Chains of gold hung about her neck, and strands of pearls gleamed in her hair.
"Did you ever see anyone so pretty?" the younger boy whispered to his brother. "She looks like a queen!"
They gazed at their own mother, who was dressed only in a white robe. Her hands and arms were bare, and for a crown she had only long braids of soft brown hair coiled about her head. But her kind smile seemed to light her face more than any bright stone could.
ard"Would you like to see some more of my treasures?" the rich woman asked. A servant brought a box and set it on a table. When the lady opened it, there were heaps of blood red rubies, sapphires as blue as the sky, emeralds as green as the sea, diamonds that flashed like sunlight.
The brothers looked long at the gems.
"Ah!" whispered the younger. "If only our mother could have such beautiful things!"
At last, however, the box was closed and carried away.
"Tell me, Cornelia," the rich woman said with a pitying smile, "is it true you have no jewels? Is it true you are too poor?"
Cornelia smiled. "Not at all," she said. "I have jewels far more valuable than yours."
"Then let me see them," the lady laughed. "Where are they?"
Cornelia drew her boys to her side.
"These are my jewels," she smiled. "Are they not far more precious than your gems?"
The two boys, Tiberius and Caius Gracchus, never forgot their mother's pride and love and care. Years later, when they had become great statesmen of Rome, they liked to think of this scene in the garden. And when the Roman people erected statues to honor the brothers, they did not forget to pay tribute to the woman who showed them how to be wise and good. The Romans inscribed her tomb this way: "Cornelia, Mother of the Gracchi."
The Story of the First Diamonds
Retold by Florence Holbrook
In all times and places, the dearest thing is the tear of mother love.
The chief of an Indian tribe had two sons, whom he loved very dearly. This chief was at war with another tribe, and one dark night two of his enemies crept softly through the trees till they came to where the two boys lay sound asleep. The warriors caught the younger boy up gently, and carried him far away from his home and his friends.
When the chief woke, he cried, "Where is my son? My enemies have been here and have stolen him."
All the Indians in the tribe started out in search of the boy. They roamed the forest through and through, but the stolen child could not be found.
The chief mourned for his son, and when the time of his death drew near, he said to his wife, "Moneta, my tribe shall have no chief until my boy is found and taken from our enemies. Let our oldest son go forth in search of his brother, and until he has brought back the little one, do you rule my people."
Moneta ruled the people wisely and kindly. When the older son was a man, she said to him, "My son, go forth and search for your brother, whom I have mourned these many years. Every day I shall watch for you, and every night I shall build a fire on the mountain top."
"Do not mourn, Mother," said the young man. "You will not build the fire many nights on the mountain top, for I shall soon find my brother and bring him back to you."
He went forth bravely, but he did not come back. His mother went every night to the mountain top, and when she was so old that she could no longer walk, the young men of the tribe bore her up the mountain side in their strong arms, so that with her own trembling hand she could light the fire.
One night there was a great storm. Even the brave warriors were afraid, but Moneta had no fear, for out of the storm a gentle voice had come to her that said, "Moneta, your sons are coming home to you."
"Once more I must build the fire on the mountain top," she cried. The young men trembled with fear, but they bore her to the top of the mountain.
"Leave me here alone," she said, "I hear a voice. It is the voice of my son, and he is calling, 'Mother, Mother.' Come to me, come, my boys."
Coming slowly up the mountain in the storm was the older son. The younger had died on the road home, and he lay dead in the arms of his brother.
In the morning the men of the tribe went to the mountain top in search of Moneta and her sons. They were nowhere to be seen, but where the tears of the lonely mother had fallen, there was a brightness that had never been seen before. The tears were shining in the sunlight as if each one of them was itself a little sun. Indeed, they were no longer tears, but diamonds.
The dearest thing in all the world is the tear of mother-love, and that is why the tears were made into diamonds, the stones that are brightest and clearest of all the stones on the earth.
The Boy Who Kissed His Mother
Eben E. Rexford
As many a philosopher, biographer, and poet has considered, there seems to be an age-old, life-long link between the virtues of men and their love for their mothers.
She sat on the porch in the sunshine,
As I went down the street
A woman whose hair was silver,
But whose face was blossom sweet,
Making me think of a garden,
Where, in spite of the frost and snow
Of bleak November weather,
Late, fragrant lilies grow.
I heard a footstep behind me,
And the sound of a merry laugh,
And I knew the heart it came from
Would be like a comforting staff
In the time and the hour of trouble,
Hopeful and brave and strong;
One of the hearts to lean on
When we think that things go wrong.
I turned at the click of the gate-latch
And met his manly look;
A face like his gives me pleasure,
Like the page of a pleasant book;
It told of a steadfast purpose,
Of a brave and daring will
A face with a promise in it
That God grant the years fulfill.
He went up the pathway singing.
I saw the woman's eyes
Grow bright with a wordless welcome,
As sunshine warms the skies.
"Back again, sweetheart mother,"
He cried, and bent to kiss
The loving face that was lifted
For what some mothers miss.
That boy will do to depend on,
I hold that this is true
From lads in love with their mothers
Our bravest heroes grew.
Earth's grandest hearts have been loving hearts,
Since time and earth began.
And the boy who kissed his mother
Is every inch a man.
Laura E. Richards
Here is a story about a true guardian angel, the kind who watches over us from the moment we come into the world.
"Mother," said the child, "are there really angels?"
"The Good Book says so," said the mother.
"Yes," said the child. "I have seen the picture. But did you ever see one, Mother?"
"I think I have," said the mother, "but she was not dressed like the picture."
"I am going to find one!" said the child. "I am going to run along the road, miles, and miles, and miles, until I find an angel."
"That will be a good plan!" said the mother. "And I will go with you, for you are too little to run far alone."
"I am not little any more!" said the child. "I have trousers; I am big."
"So you are!" said the mother. "I forgot. But it is a fine day, and I should like the walk."
"But you walk so slowly, with your lame foot."
"I can walk faster than you think!" said the mother.
So they started, the child leaping and running, and the mother stepping out so bravely with her lame foot that the child soon forgot about it.
The child danced on ahead, and presently he saw a chariot coming towards him, drawn by prancing white horses. In the chariot sat a splendid lady in velvet and furs, with white plumes waving above her dark hair. As she moved in her seat, she flashed with jewels and gold, but her eyes were brighter than her diamonds.
"Are you an angel?" asked the child, running up beside the chariot.
The lady made no reply, but stared coldly at the child. Then she spoke a word to her coachman, and he flicked his whip, and the chariot rolled away swiftly in a cloud of dust, and disappeared.
The dust filled the child's eyes and mouth, and made him choke and sneeze. He gasped for breath, and rubbed his eyes; but presently his mother came up, and wiped away the dust with her blue gingham apron.
"That was not an angel!" said the child.
"No, indeed!" said the mother. "Nothing like one!"
The child danced on again, leaping and running from side to side of the road, and the mother followed as best she might.
By and by the child met a most beautiful maiden, clad in a white dress. Her eyes were like blue stars, and the blushes came and went in her face like roses looking through snow.
"I am sure you must be an angel!" cried the child.
The maiden blushed more sweetly than before. "You dear little child!" she cried. "Some one else said that, only last evening. Do I really look like an angel?"
"You are an angel!" said the child.
The maiden took him up in her arms and kissed him, and held him tenderly.
"You are the dearest little thing I ever saw!" she said. "Tell me what makes you think so!" But suddenly her face changed.
"Oh!" she cried. "There he is, coming to meet me! And you have soiled my white dress with your dusty shoes, and pulled my hair all awry. Run away, child, and go home to your mother!"
She set the child down, not unkindly, but so hastily that he stumbled and fell; but she did not see that, for she was hastening forward to meet her lover, who was coming along the road. (Now if the maiden had only known, he thought her twice as lovely with the child in her arms; but she did not know.)
The child lay in the dusty road and sobbed, till his mother came along and picked him up, and wiped away the tears with her blue gingham apron.
"I don't believe that was an angel, after all," he said.
"No!" said the mother. "But she may be one some day. She is young yet."
"I am tired!" said the child. "Will you carry me home, Mother?"
"Why, yes!" said the mother. "That is what I came for."
The child put his arms round his mother's neck, and she held him tight and trudged along the road, singing the song he liked best.
Suddenly he looked up in her face.
"Mother," he said, "I don't suppose you could be an angel, could you?"
"Oh, what a foolish child!" said the mother. "Who ever heard of an angel in a blue gingham apron?" And she went on singing, and stepped out so bravely on her lame foot that no one would ever have known she was lame.
Retold by H. Twitchell
This Roman legend reminds us that life provides opportunities for children to return the love and nurture given to them by their parents. The story echoes an even earlier incident that has become one of the immortal images of classical literature that of Aeneas, the founder of Rome, bearing his aged father, Anchises, out of the burning ruins of Troy at the close of the Trojan War.
At the time when the Roman Republic was nearing its ruin and the Empire was about to be born, many innocent persons fell victims to the general misrule. They were proscribed and banished for the slightest offense, and their property was confiscated by the state.
Among the proscribed ones was an old man who had always been held in great respect by all. He had twice served as consul, and had grown old and infirm in the service of the state. When the Triumvirs who ruled Rome decreed that he should leave the city forever, he could scarcely believe that men could be so ungrateful.
He had not the strength to undertake a long journey, so he decided to remain in his house, although he knew that his disobedience would be punished by death.
His son, young Appius, who was absent from the city, heard of the danger threatening his venerable parent. He hastened home at once to try to save his father, who at first refused to listen to his plea.
"Why should I seek death in a foreign land, when I can find it here?" he said. "With my infirmities, I could not get beyond the walls, even if I wished to do so. I should be killed in the streets, and I would rather die in my bed."
The evening of the last day that he was to be permitted to remain came. The son again urged his father to save himself.
"I know you cannot walk," said the boy, "but I can carry you. Trust yourself to me, and strength will be given me to bear you out of the city."
The father at last yielded to his son's entreaties. Taking his precious burden on his back, Appius walked through the streets of Rome, applauded by the multitude. Moved by the sight of this filial devotion, those in power did not interfere with the passage of the pair.
The hour was fast approaching when the old man was to meet death if found within the city walls, and the two were yet a long way from the gates. The boy bent under his load, and his strength was nearly exhausted. Still he pressed on, cheered by the cries of the populace, and a few seconds before the expiration of the allotted time, he passed out of the city.
Still the old consul was not safe, as he was not to remain in Roman territory. Under cover of night, Appius carried him to the seashore, where they embarked for Sicily.
This devoted act was inscribed in the annals of the Republic, so that it might not be forgotten.When Appius became a man, he was recalled to Rome, where he held many important positions.
The Little Girl Who Dared
Henry W. Lanier
This story reminds us that home is where your loved ones are, even in a prairie schooner crossing the desert. And it reminds us that love of family is the engine of much courage in the world. The scene is one in a chain of incidents that led to the most famous disaster of the overland pioneer crossings. Virginia Reed's act of love and bravery had enormous consequences for the Donner Party. Later, in the winter of 1846-1847, when snows trapped the group in the Sierra Mountains, Virginia's father led relief efforts to save his family and former comrades. Forty of the eighty-seven emigrants survived the cold and hunger, little Virginia among them.
Three years before the gold discovery at Sutter's Mill drew thousands across the continent, a prairie caravan was laboring over the desolate Nevada sandhills, west of the Humboldt River.
It was composed of a party of more than eighty men, women, and children, who had split off from a large caravan at Fort Bridger, lured by reports of a much shorter route. Among them was James T. Reed, with his wife and daughter, and two families named Donner.
Reed's oxen, crazed with thirst, had dashed off into the wastes of Salt Lake Desert, and disappeared forever. Indians had just stolen more oxen at the Humboldt sink. The travelling was exhausting. Men's nerves had become frazzled.
Another of the endless succession of sand dunes appeared ahead.
The cattle were so weary that it had become customary to put a double team to each wagon in pulling up these sandy hills; and since this made twice the number of trips, it was very exasperating to the teamsters.
Wearily the drivers halted, and prepared to unhitch and double up. But one man, named Snyder, swore he wouldn't bother with it; he started his oxen up the incline with shouts and loud crackings of his whip. The straining beasts labored up the slope, the heavy wagon wheels sinking deep in the soft, binding sand. It was too much, even for their patient strength. They stopped, exhausted and blown. The driver's utmost urgings and savage lashings could not force them a foot farther.
Wild with sullen rage, Snyder began to belabor the poor beasts unmercifully. Reed, who had gone on over the brow of the hill to pick out a road ahead, came back to witness the man's brutal abuse of the meek creatures, who, with gasping breath and rolling eyes, tried to shrink away from the blows which he rained on their heads and shoulders with the butt end of his heavy whip handle.
The useless cruelty was too much for Reed. He tried to quiet the driver, who was working himself into a frenzy where it seemed probable he would kill one or more of the oxen outright.
This interference snapped Snyder's already quivering nerves. Leaping to the wagon tongue, he turned his fury on Reed. Three times he brought his hickory handle savagely down on the other man's head, till the blood streamed from the scalp wounds.
Instinctively, Reed's wife rushed forward. Snyder was blind with rage by this time; the next blow fell upon her head.
Seeing the maniac raise his bludgeon for still another blow, Reed drew his hunting knife, and tackled him as if he were the wild beast he was imitating. The quick thrust entered Snyder's side, killing him almost instantly.
The men of the party held an informal court. The dead body spoke more loudly to them than the provocation which had brought on the tragedy. With a cowardice that declared for the uttermost penalty, yet strove to dodge the direct responsibility, the majority came to a singular and frightful decision.
A committee announced to Reed that he was to go forth alone into the surrounding desert, with nothing but the clothes he wore.
This meant death by slow torture. Without food, water, gun, ammunition, or bedding, a solitary man in that encompassing infinity of sand had nothing to expect but to perish through starvation and the unspeakable, lingering agonies of thirst. But it enabled his judges to preserve a faint pretense of his having wandered off of his own volition.
Reed refused. Any man who had come across those hundreds of miles of desert would unhesitatingly have chosen to stand up before a firing squad in preference to this protracted suicide.
But his overwhelmed wife, catching desperately at any straw, begged him so piteously to take this forlorn chance, that he finally accepted the verdict.
Mrs. Reed's pleadings made his executioners relent to the extent of permitting him to take a horse, instead of going on foot.
So he fared forth under the blazing sun to meet what seemed like an inexorable sentence.
Wife and twelve-year-old daughter watched him disappear into the pitiless desert. Then they went back to their own wagon, where the sight of every article seemed to bring a fresh pang. The leaders of the party were human enough, and they tried to show a rough sympathy for the suffering pair, but it was only too evident that any open professions were a painful mockery. They presently withdrew and the mother and daughter were left as alone and isolated as if there were some contagious disease in their canvas-roofed home on wheels.
Automatically, habit drove them to preparations for supper. Trying to support each other by encouraging hopes that deceived neither, they choked clown the rough food.
Presently, Virginia, who had disappeared for a short while before sundown, looked up at her mother's tearstained face.
"Mamma," said she resolutely, "I'm going out to find Father and take him something to eat as well as his gun and pistols."
"What do you mean, child?" exclaimed Mrs. Reed. "You can't find your father."
"Yes, I can," insisted the girl. "I'm not going alone; I've asked Milt, and he's going with me."
Mrs. Reed protested. It seemed like merely adding a last horror to this nightmare day.
But twelve-year-old Virginia had made up her mind. She knew the Vigilance Committee had stationed guards to see that no attempt was made to interfere with the punishment; she was full of childish tremors at the thought of the night-enfolded desert and the wild beasts that howled through the darkness; but her daddy was out there with nothing to eat and she was going to do something to help him no matter what happened.
When the camp was quiet and all the children who might run in were asleep, she got together what their scanty stock offered a piece of bacon, some crackers, coffee, and sugar. A tin cup, the gun and pistols, and some ammunition were collected. Next a lantern and a supply of matches.
Her mother lay helpless, watching these preparations in increasing doubt.
"How will you find him this dark night?" she whispered.
"I'll look for the horse's tracks and follow them."
The woman shook her head hopelessly.
But just then soft footsteps sounded outside. They listened, breathless. A gentle rap came against the wagon.
"That's Milt now," whispered Virginia.
Carefully she gathered up the weapons and handed them to a silent figure outside. In silence she hugged her mother, who murmured a few words of prayer. Descending cautiously, she and the friendly Milton set out on their difficult mission.
The flare of many fires lit up little circles in the encompassing blackness, amid which the canvas wagoncovers loomed with ghostly dimness. Taking advantage of the shadows, they crept toward the outer edge of the circle.
Ahead the flickering light of the fires showed the guard, tramping back and forth, the only moving sign of life in the whole encampment. To one side of him the shadow of the wagons stretched out into the solid black wall of the solitudes that surrounded all.
Lying flat, they wormed their way noiselessly forward to pass this danger point. A horse stamped restlessly behind. The sentry stopped short. Virginia and Milton froze to the ground like frightened partridge chicks. The man scanned the motionless camp; he turned for a long gaze outward into the void night; then he resumed his monotonous beat.
Hardly daring to draw a breath, the two again wriggled ahead, serpent-wise. The guard was left behind. They ventured to crawl on hands and knees. They were out into the open: rising to their feet, they hastened on across the sand, and were swallowed up in the sea of darkness.
When they had reached a safe distance Virginia touched her companion's arm.
"Let's light the lantern," she whispered.
Standing between it and the camp, Milton lit the candle in the lantern. The girl took it and, covering it with her skirt so that it shone only downward, began to walk to and fro, searching this tiny moving circle of illumination for the horse's footprints.
It was hard to find. Back and forth and farther out she looked in vain. The care necessary to prevent a flash of the lantern's light from reaching the guard and at the same time scrutinize every foot of the ground was confusing amid the obscurity. They had slowly worked their way completely around the camp when a low exclamation of delight came from Virginia.
There was a hoofprint in the loose sand. Kneeling down, she made sure. A little farther on the marks were plain. Relieved and eager, they hastened in that direction.
It was a long journey, with no landmarks to show the progress, and the inevitable loss of time when they occasionally lost the trail. Mile after mile they followed these mute guides, which seemed to lead on into an endless nowhere. The mournful howls of marauding coyotes made the child shudder every time they moaned across the plain. The shrill, savage screech of a mountain lion seemed even more threatening, as it split the silence close beside them. She knew well that there were prowling wolves about, dangerous on their night roamings. Even Milton, who scorned these night prowlers like any stout frontier boy, stopped paralyzed with fear when, a little later, another sound came which was made by no wild beast, but a far more dangerous animal; they judged it to mean the presence, not far off, of one of the Indian bands who had been lurking about their advance to pick off straggling humans or cattle.
But even this most excruciating terror of childhood was not as compelling as the thought of her father, alone and hungry and unarmed among these dangers.
They stopped for a few moments, dreading to hear the war-whoop. All was silent. Virginia started on again.
For what seemed like hours they labored on.
At last the girl gave a cry, pointing ahead.
"There's Papa!" she exclaimed.
Milton scanned the blackness. "It's a fire, sure enough."
Neither gave vent to the thought which presently flashed upon them that the tiny point of light off there might be kindled by the Indians who loomed so large in their minds. Reassuring themselves by again studying the footprints that had led them so far, they hurried toward this beacon.
A disconsolate figure sat hunched over in front of the blaze, head between hands.
As the two drew near it suddenly sprang up, and Reed gazed wonderingly out from his circle of light, expecting some attack.
And then a slender little figure, dropping the lantern to the ground, sped out of the encircling blackness into her daddy's arms.
Sorely against her will, Virginia started back for the camp with her companion at the first break of dawn.
But she had the proud satisfaction of seeing her father, with the fresh courage and confidence she had brought him, ride off westward with better than a fighting chance of escape.
The Donner party which had cast him out was destined, after a ghastly struggle, to leave half its members dead among the cruel snows of the winter Sierras; but plucky little Virginia was one of the half which finally reached the pleasant valleys of California.
Dr. Johnson and His Father
English poet, critic, essayist, and lexicographer Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) was regarded by many contemporaries as the leading man of letters of his time. His reputation for brilliant and witty conversation remains unsurpassed to this day. The man of great learning added this realization to his store of wisdom: An opportunity for love and duty brushed aside in childhood can live as a deep regret long into adulthood. As recounted in this moving story, Johnson's father was a respected but rather unsuccessful bookseller.
It is in a little bookshop in the city of Lichfield, England. The floor has just been swept and the shutter taken down from the one small window. The hour is early, and customers have not yet begun to drop in. Out of doors the rain is falling.
At a small table near the door, a feeble, white-haired old man is making up some packages of books. As he arranges them in a large basket, he stops now and then as though disturbed by pain. He puts his hand to his side, coughs in a most distressing way, then sits down and rests himself, leaning his elbows upon the table.
"Samuel!" he calls.
In the farther corner of the room there is a young man busily reading from a large book that is spread open before him. He is a very odd-looking fellow, perhaps eighteen years of age, but you would take him to be older. He is large and awkward, with a great round face, scarred and marked by a strange disease. His eyesight must be poor, for, as he reads, he bends down until his face is quite near the printed page.
"Samuel!" again the old man calls.
But Samuel makes no reply. He is so deeply interested in his book that he does not hear. The old man rests himself a little longer and then finishes tying his packages. He lifts the heavy basket and sets it on the table. The exertion brings on another fit of coughing; and when it is over he calls for the third time, "Samuel!"
"What is it, Father?" This time the call is heard.
"You know, Samuel," he says, "that tomorrow is market day at Uttoxeter, and our stall must be attended to. Some of our friends will be there to look at the new books which they expect me to bring. One of us must go down on the stage this morning and get everything in readiness. But I hardly feel able for the journey. My cough troubles me quite a little, and you see that it is raining very hard."
"Yes, Father; I am sorry," answers Samuel; and his face is again bent over the book.
"I thought perhaps you would go down to the market, and that I might stay here at the shop," says his father. But Samuel does not hear. He is deep in the study of some Latin classic.
The old man goes to the door and looks out. The rain is still falling. He shivers, and buttons his coat.
It is a twenty-mile ride to Uttoxeter. In five minutes the stage will pass the door.
"Samuel, will you not go down to the market for me this time?"
The old man is putting on his great coat.
He is reaching for his hat.
The basket is on his arm.
He casts a beseeching glance at his son, hoping that he will relent at the last moment.
"Here comes the coach, Samuel." And the old man is choked by another fit of coughing.
Whether Samuel hears or not, I do not know. He is still reading, and he makes no sign nor motion.
The stage comes rattling clown the street.
The old man with his basket of books staggers out of the door. The stage halts for a moment while he climbs inside. Then the driver swings his whip, and all are away.
Samuel, in the shop, still bends over his book.
Out of doors the rain is falling.
Just fifty years have passed, and again it is market day at Uttoxeter.
The rain is falling in the streets. The people who have wares to sell huddle under the eaves and in the stalls and booths that have roofs above them.
A chaise from Lichfield pulls up at the entrance to the market square.
An old man alights. One would guess him to be seventy years of age. He is large and not well-shaped. His face is seamed and scarred, and he makes strange grimaces as he clambers out of the chaise. He wheezes and puffs as though afflicted with asthma. He walks with the aid of a heavy stick.
With slow but ponderous strides he enters the market place and looks around. He seems not to know that the rain is falling.
He looks at the little stalls ranged along the walls of the market place. Some have roofs over them and are the centers of noisy trade. Others have fallen into disuse and are empty.
The stranger halts before one of the latter. "Yes, this is it," he says. He has a strange habit of talking aloud to himself. "I remember it well. It was here that my father, on certain market days, sold books to the clergy of the county. The good men came from every parish to see his wares and to hear him describe their contents."
He turns abruptly around. "Yes, this is the place," he repeats.
He stands quite still and upright, directly in front of the little old stall. He takes off his hat and holds it beneath his arm. His great walking stick has fallen into the gutter. He bows his head and clasps his hands. He does not seem to know that the rain is falling.
The clock in the tower above the market strikes eleven. The passersby stop and gaze at the stranger. The market people peer at him from their booths and stalls. Some laugh as the rain runs in streams down his scarred old cheeks. Rain is it? Or can it be tears?
Boys hoot at him. Some of the ruder ones even hint at throwing mud; but a sense of shame withholds them from the act.
"He is a poor lunatic. Let him alone," say the more compassionate.
The rain falls upon his bare head and his broad shoulders. He is drenched and chilled. But he stands motionless and silent, looking neither to the right nor to the left.
"Who is that old fool?" asks a thoughtless young man who chances to be passing.
"Do you ask who he is?" answers a gentleman from London. "Why, he is Dr. Samuel Johnson, the most famous man in England. It was he who wrote Rasselas and the Lives of the Poets and Irene and many another work which all men are praising. It was he who made the great English Dictionary, the most wonderful book of our times. In London, the noblest lords and ladies take pleasure in doing him honor. He is the literary lion of England."
"Then why does he come to Uttoxeter and stand thus in the pouring rain?"
"I cannot tell you. But doubtless he has reasons for doing so." And the gentleman passes on.
At length there is a lull in the storm. The birds are chirping among the housetops. The people wonder if the rain is over, and venture out into the slippery street.
The clock in the tower above the market strikes twelve. The renowned stranger has stood a whole hour motionless in the market place. And again the rain is falling.
Slowly now he returns his hat to his head. He finds his walking stick where it had fallen. He lifts his eyes reverently for a moment, and then, with a lordly, lumbering motion, walks down the street to meet the chaise which is ready to return to Lichfield.
We follow him through the pattering rain to his native town.
"Why, Dr. Johnson!" exclaims his hostess, "we have missed you all day. And you are so wet and chilled! Where have you been?"
"Madam," says the great man, "fifty years ago, this very day, I tacitly refused to oblige or obey my father. The thought of the pain which I must have caused him has haunted me ever since. To do away the sin of that hour, I this morning went in a chaise to Uttoxeter and did do penance publicly before the stall which my father had formerly used."
The great man bows his head upon his hands and sobs.
Out of doors the rain is falling.
The Wounded Pine Tree
This fable is told by Babrius, a Greek poet who penned several Aesop-like fables around the second century.
Deep in the forest, a woodcutter was cutting down a stout old pine. With each blow of his ax, the giant tree shuddered and cursed the cold, hard steel that splintered its side.
It was a tough old tree. After a while the woodsman inserted a large, wooden wedge into the cut in order to pry the trunk apart. He pounded away at the wedge; amid a great ripping and splintering, the noble pine toppled and hurtled toward the ground. As it fell, it groaned:
"How can I blame the ax, which is no kin of mine, as much as this wicked wedge, which is my own brother?"
Pain inflicted by outsiders is never so terrible as suffering caused by one's own kin.
A Father's Return
This wonderful story is told in many different versions in African folklore. This one reminds us that the essence of home and hearth is one soul reaching for another. And it reminds us that the need of a son for his father ought to be one of the strongest ties that bind a family.
There once was a man who considered himself the happiest man alive because he had a loving wife and four healthy sons. The oldest son was named Keen-Eyes because he could follow tracks through field and jungle better than anyone else in the village. The second son was known as Sharp-Ears because he knew best the call of every creature in the wilderness. The third son was named Strong-Arms because he never failed to win any contest of strength. The fourth son was only a baby, but his father was sure the boy would grow up to be as skilled and devoted as his brothers.
One morning the family woke to discover the father had disappeared. By nightfall he had not returned, and the next morning brought no sign of his whereabouts.
They talked it over and wondered where he might have gone.
"Perhaps he decided to go visit our uncle," said Keen-Eyes, shrugging his shoulders.
"Or maybe he went to the festival in the next village," suggested Sharp-Ears.
"Or he may have gone into the hills, to enjoy the cool mountain breezes," said Strong-Arms.
Their mother remained quiet and shook her head uncertainly.
Another day passed, then a week, and still their father did not return. Sometimes his sons wondered out loud where he might have gone, but after a while they did not talk about it any longer. They feared he was dead.
But the youngest son had no such thoughts, and one morning, as he sat on his mother's lap, he opened his mouth and spoke his first words:
"Where is Father? I want to see my father."
His older brothers gazed at him.
"That's right," said Keen-Eyes. "Where is Father?"
"Some harm may have come to him," said Sharp-Ears.
"We really should go look for him," suggested Strong-Arms.
The three older brothers started out at once, following a path deep into the jungle.
"Look, he came this way," pointed Keen-Eyes. "I can see his tracks on the trail." He led his brothers over hills and into valleys, through fields and woods, farther and farther from home. But at last the tracks disappeared, and even Keen-Eyes lost the trail.
"We must give up," he declared.
"Wait!" urged Sharp-Ears. "I hear someone crying out."
He led his brothers even deeper into the wilderness, farther than they had ever ventured before, pausing every now and then to strain for the sound only he could hear.
At last they came upon a river, and beside it lay their father, holding a growling leopard at bay with his spear!
"We must save him!" yelled Strong-Arms, and without waiting for his brothers he threw himself onto the pouncing beast and crushed it in his mighty grasp.
"You came just in time," gasped their lather. "I came into the jungle to hunt but fell and hurt my leg. I could not make it home. I've lived on what food I could find, but my strength was failing, and the leopard had moved in for the kill."
His sons dressed his wounded leg, brought food to build his strength, and carried him home to their village. Everyone listened to the story of how Keen-Eyes, Sharp-Ears, and Strong-Arms had saved their father, and everyone praised their skill and devotion.
But the fame went to the brothers' heads, and they began to argue among themselves about who was the most responsible for their father's rescue.
"If it were not for me, we would never have known which way to look," boasted Keen-Eyes. "I followed his trail deep into the jungle."
"Yes, but you lost it," reminded Sharp-Ears. "I heard him crying out and led us to the river."
"But what good would that have done if I had not been there?" asked Strong-Arms. "I was the one who killed the leopard and saved our father from certain death."
They debated among themselves, and at last asked their father himself to decide who was the most responsible for his return.
He listened to their arguing and then raised his hand for quiet.
"To all three of you I owe my life," he told them, "for you each played a part in my rescue. But if you ask which of my sons did the most to bring me home, I must tell you it is not you, Sharp-Eyes, nor you, Keen-Ears, not even you, Strong-Arms. The one who truly brought me home is here."
He took his youngest son into his arms.
Then everyone recalled that this was the son whose first words had been, "Where is Father?" It was the little boy's loving heart that had brought his father home.
Guy de Maupassant
This nineteenth-century story of a boy without a father has truths for all times, perhaps most poignantly for the late twentieth century, when fatherlessness is epidemic. Little boys want to be men, but they need good men to show them how. The lucky boys have such men as fathers.
Noon had just struck. The school door opened and the youngsters tumbled out, rolling over each other in their haste to get out quickly. But instead of promptly dispersing and going home to dinner as was their daily wont, they stopped a few paces off, broke up into knots and set to whispering.
The fact was that that morning Simon, the son of La Blanchotte, had, for the first time, attended school.
They had all of them in their families heard talk of La Blanchotte; and, although in public she was welcome enough, the mothers among themselves treated her with compassion of a somewhat disdainful kind, which the children had caught without in the least knowing why.
As for Simon himself, they did not know him, for he never went abroad, and did not go galloping about with them through the streets of the village or along the banks of the river. Therefore, they loved him but little; and it was with a certain delight, mingled with considerable astonishment, that they met and that they recited to each other this phrase, set afoot by a lad of fourteen or fifteen who appeared to know all, all about it, so sagaciously did he wink. "You know...Simon...well, he has no father."
La Blanchotte's son appeared in his turn upon the threshold of the school.
He was seven or eight years old. He was rather pale, very neat, with a timid and almost awkward manner.
He was on the point of making his way back to his mother's house when the groups of his schoolfellows perpetually whispering and watching him with the mischievous and heartless eyes of children bent upon playing a nasty trick, gradually surrounded him and ended by enclosing him altogether. There he stood fixed amidst them, surprised and embarrassed, not understanding what they were going to do with him. But the lad who had brought the news, puffed up with the success he had met with already, demanded, "How do you name yourself, you?"
He answered, "Simon."
"Simon what?" retorted the other.
The child, altogether bewildered, repeated, "Simon."
The lad shouted at him, "One is named Simon something...that is not a name...Simon indeed."
And he, on the brink of tears, replied for the third time, "I am named Simon."
The urchins fell a-laughing. The lad triumphantly lifted up his voice. "You can see plainly that he has no father."
A deep silence ensued. The children were dumbfounded by this extraordinary, impossible monstrous thing a boy who had not a father; they looked upon him as a phenomenon, an unnatural being, and they felt that contempt, until then inexplicable, of their mothers for La Blanchotte grow upon them. As for Simon, he had propped himself against a tree to avoid falling and he remained as though struck to the earth by an irreparable disaster. He sought to explain, but he could think of no answer for them, to deny this horrible charge that he had no father. At last he shouted at them quite recklessly, "Yes, I have one."
"Where is he?" demanded the boy.
Simon was silent. He did not know. The children roared, tremendously excited; and these sons of toil, most nearly related to animals, experienced that cruel craving which animates the fowls of a farmyard to destroy one among themselves as soon as it is wounded. Simon suddenly espied a little neighbor, the son of a widow, whom he had always seen, as he himself was to be seen, quite alone with his mother.
"And no more have you," he said, "no more have you a father."
"Yes," replied the other, "I have one."
"Where is he?" rejoined Simon.
"He is dead," declared the brat with superb dignity, "he is in the cemetery, is my father."
A murmur of approval rose amidst the scapegraces, as if this fact of possessing a father dead in a cemetery had caused their comrade to grow big enough to crush the other one who had no father at all. And these rogues, whose fathers were for the most part evil-doers, drunkards, thieves and ill-treaters of their wives, hustled each other as they pressed closer and closer, as though they, the legitimate ones, would stifle in their pressure one who was beyond the law.
He who chanced to be next to Simon suddenly put his tongue out at him with a waggish air and shouted at him, "No father! No father!"
Simon seized him by the hair with both hands and set to work to demolish his legs with kicks, while he bit his cheek ferociously. A tremendous struggle ensued between the two combatants, and Simon found himself beaten, torn, bruised, rolled on the ground in the middle of the ring of applauding vagabonds. As he arose, mechanically brushing his little shirt all covered with dust with his hand, someone shouted at him, "Go and tell your father."
He then felt a great sinking in his heart. They were stronger than he was, they had beaten him and he had no answer to give them, for he knew well that it was true that he had no father. Full of pride he attempted for some moments to struggle against the tears which were suffocating him. He had a choking fit, and then without cries he commenced to weep with great sobs which shook him incessantly. Then a ferocious joy broke out among his enemies, and, naturally, just as with savages in their fearful festivals, they took each other by the hand and set about dancing in a circle about him as they repeated as a refrain, "No father! No father!"
But Simon quite suddenly ceased sobbing. Frenzy overtook him. There were stones under his feet. He picked them up and with all his strength hurled them at his tormentors. Two or three were struck and rushed off yelling, and so formidable did he appear that the rest became panic stricken. Cowards, as a crowd always is in the presence of an exasperated man, they broke up and fled. Left alone, the little thing without a father set off running toward the fields, for a recollection had been awakened which brought his soul to a great determination. He made up his mind to drown himself in the river.
He remembered, in fact, that eight days before a poor devil who begged for his livelihood, had thrown himself into the water because he had no more money. Simon had been there when they had fished him out again; and the sight of the fellow, who usually seemed to him so miserable, and ugly, had then struck him his pale cheeks, his long drenched beard and his open eyes being full of calm. The bystanders had said, "He is dead."
And someone had said, "He is quite happy now."
And Simon wished to drown himself also because he had no father, just like the wretched being who had no money.
He reached the neighborhood of the water and watched it flowing. Some fishes were sporting briskly in the clear stream and occasionally made a little bound and caught the flies flying on the surface. He stopped crying in order to watch them, for their housewifery interested him vastly. But, at intervals, as in the changes of a tempest, altering suddenly from tremendous gusts of wind, which snap off the trees and then lose themselves in the horizon, this thought would return to him with intense pain, "I am about to drown myself because I have no father."
It was very warm and fine weather. The pleasant sunshine warmed the grass. The water shone like a mirror. And Simon enjoyed some minutes the happiness of that languor which follows weeping, in which he felt very desirous of falling asleep there upon the grass in the warmth.
A little green frog leapt from under his feet. He endeavored to catch it. It escaped him. He followed it and lost it three times following. At last he caught it by one of its hind legs and began to laugh as he saw the efforts the creature made to escape. It gathered itself up on its large legs and then with a violent spring suddenly stretched them out as stiff as two bars; while, its eye wide open in its round, golden circle, it beat the air with its front limbs which worked as though they were hands. It reminded him of a toy made with straight slips of wood nailed zigzag one on the other, which by a similar movement regulated the exercise of the little soldiers stuck thereon. Then he thought of his home and next of his mother, and overcome by a great sorrow he again began to weep. His limbs trembled; and he placed himself on his knees and said his prayers as before going to bed. But he was unable to finish them, for such hurried and violent sobs overtook him that he was completely overwhelmed. He thought no more, he no longer saw anything around him and was wholly taken up in crying.
Suddenly a heavy hand was placed upon his shoulder, and a rough voice asked him, "What is it that causes you so much grief, my fine fellow?"
Simon turned round. A tall workman with a black beard and hair all curled, was staring at him good naturedly. He answered with his eyes and throat full of tears, "They have beaten me...because...I...have no...father...no father."
"What!" said the man smiling, "why, everybody has one."
The child answered painfully amidst his spasms of grief, "But I...I...I have none."
Then the workman became serious. He had recognized La Blanchotte's son, and although but recently come to the neighborhood he had a vague idea of her history.
"Well," said he, "console yourself, my boy, and come with me home to your mother. They will give you...a father."
And so they started on the way, the big one holding the little one by the hand, and the man smiled afresh, for he was not sorry to see this Blanchotte, who was, it was said, one of the prettiest girls of the countryside, and, perhaps, he said to himself, at the bottom of his heart, that a lass who had erred might very well err again.
They arrived in front of a little and very neat white house.
"There it is," exclaimed the child, and he cried "Mamma."
A woman appeared and the workman instantly left off smiling, for he at once perceived that there was no more fooling to be done with the tall pale girl who stood austerely at her door as though to defend from one man the threshold of that house where she had already been betrayed by another. Intimidated, his cap in his hand, he stammered out, "See, madam, I have brought back your little boy, who had lost himself near the river."
But Simon flung his arms about his mother's neck and told her, as he again began to cry, "No, Mamma, I wished to drown myself, because the others had beaten me...had beaten me...because I have no father."
A burning redness covered the young woman's cheeks, and, hurt to the quick, she embraced her child passionately, while the tears coursed down her face. The man, much moved, stood there, not knowing how to get away. But Simon suddenly ran to him and said, "Will you be my father?"
A deep silence ensued. La Blanchotte, dumb and tortured with shame, leaned herself against the wall, both her hands upon her heart. The child, seeing that no answer was made him, replied, "If you do not wish it, I shall return to drown myself."
The workman took the matter as a jest and answered laughing, "Why, yes, I wish it certainly."
"What is your name, then?" went on the child, "so that I may tell the others when they wish to know your name?"
"Phillip," answered the man.
Simon was silent a moment so that he might get the name well into his head; then he stretched out his arms quite consoled as he said; "Well, then, Phillip, you are my father."
The workman, lifting him from the ground, kissed him hastily on both cheeks, and then made off very quickly with great strides.
When the child returned to school next day he was received with a spiteful laugh, and at the end of school when the lads were on the point of recommencing, Simon threw these words at their heads as he would have done a stone, "He is named Phillip, my father."
Yells of delight burst out from all sides.
"Phillip who?...Phillip what? What on earth is Phillip? Where did you pick up your Phillip?"
Simon answered nothing; and immovable in faith he defied them with his eye, ready to be martyred rather than fly before them. The schoolmaster came to his rescue and he returned home to his mother.
During three months, the tall workman, Phillip, frequently passed by the Blanchotte's house, and sometimes he made bold to speak to her when he saw her sewing near the window. She answered him civilly, always sedately, never joking with him, nor permitting him to enter her house. Notwithstanding which, being, like all men, a bit of a coxcomb, he imagined that she was often rosier than usual when she chatted with him.
But a fallen reputation is so difficult to recover and always remains so fragile that, in spite of the shy reserve La Blanchotte maintained, they already gossiped in the neighborhood.
As for Simon, he loved his new father much, and walked with him nearly every evening when the day's work was done. He went regularly to school and mixed with great dignity with his schoolfellows without ever answering them back.
One day, however, the lad who had first attacked him said to him, "You have lied. You have not a father named Phillip."
"Why do you say that? demanded Simon, much disturbed.
The youth rubbed his hands. He replied, "Because if you had one he would be your mamma's husband."
Simon was confused by the truth of this reasoning, nevertheless he retorted, "He is my father all the same."
"That can very well be," exclaimed the urchin with a sneer, "but that is not being your father altogether."
La Blanchotte's little one bowed his head and went off dreaming in the direction of the forge belonging to old Loizon, where Phillip worked.
This forge was as though entombed in trees. It was very dark there, the red glare of a formidable furnace alone lit up with great flashes five blacksmiths, who hammered upon their anvils with a terrible din. They were standing enveloped in flame, like demons, their eyes fixed on the red-hot iron they were pounding; and their dull ideas rose and fell with their hammers.
Simon entered without being noticed and went quietly to pluck his friend by the sleeve. He turned himself round. All at once the work came to a standstill and all the men looked on very attentive. Then, in the midst of this unaccustomed silence, rose the little slender pipe of Simon; "Phillip, explain to me what the lad at La Michande has just told me, that you are not altogether my father."
"And why that?" asked the smith.
The child replied with all its innocence, "Because you are not my mamma's husband."
No one laughed. Philip remained standing, leaning his forehead upon the back of his great hands, which supported the handle of his hammer standing upright upon the anvil. He mused. His four companions watched him, and, quite a tiny mite among these giants, Simon anxiously waited. Suddenly, one of the smiths, answering to the sentiment of all, said to Phillip, "La Blanchotte is all the same a good and honest girl, and stalwart and steady in spite of her misfortune, and one who would make a worthy wife for an honest man."
"That is true," remarked the three others.
The smith continued, "Is it this girl's fault if she has fallen? She had been promised marriage and I know more than one who is much respected today, and who sinned every bit as much."
"That is true," responded the three men in chorus. He resumed, "How hard she has toiled, poor thing, to educate her lad all alone, and how much she has wept since she no longer goes out, save to go to church, God only knows."
"This also is true," said the others.
Then no more was heard than the bellows which fanned the fire of the furnace. Phillip hastily bent himself down to Simon. "Go and tell your mamma that I shall come to speak to her."
Then he pushed the child out by the shoulders. He returned to his work and with a single blow the five hammers again fell upon their anvils. Thus they wrought the iron until nightfall, strong, powerful, happy, like hammers satisfied. But just as the great bell of a cathedral resounds upon feast days above the jingling of the other bells, so Phillip's hammer, dominating the noise of the others, clanged second after second with a deafening uproar. And he, his eye on fire, plied his trade vigorously, erect amid the sparks.
The sky was full of stars as he knocked at La Blanchotte's door. He had his Sunday blouse on, a fresh shirt, and his beard was trimmed. The young woman showed herself upon the threshold and said in a grieved tone, "It is ill to come thus when night has fallen, Mr. Phillip."
He wished to answer, but stammered and stood confused before her.
She resumed, "And still you understand quite well that it will not do that I should be talked about any more."
Then he said all at once, "What does that matter to me, if you will be my wife!"
No voice replied to him, but he believed that he heard in the shadow of the room the sound of a body that sank down. He entered very quickly; and Simon, who had gone to his bed, distinguished the sound of a kiss and some words that his mother said very softly. Then he suddenly found himself lifted up by the hands of his friend, who, holding him at the length of his herculean arms, exclaimed to him, "You will tell them, your schoolfellows, that your father is Phillip Remy, the blacksmith, and that he will pull the ears of all who do you any harm."
On the morrow, when the school was full and lessons were about to begin, little Simon stood up quite pale with trembling lips. "My father," said he in a clear voice, "is Phillip Remy, the blacksmith, and he has promised to box the ears of all who do me any harm."
This time no one laughed any longer, for he was very well known, was Phillip Remy, the blacksmith, and was a father of whom anyone in the world would have been proud.
Often we do not fully recognize some of the important lessons of home and hearth until those who have taught us are gone.
Used to wonder just why father
Never had much time for play,
Used to wonder why he'd rather
Work each minute of the day.
Used to wonder why he never
Loafed along the road an' shirked;
Can't recall a time whenever
Father played while others worked.
Father didn't dress in fashion,
Sort of hated clothing new;
Style with him was not a passion;
He had other things in view.
Boys are blind to much that's going
On about 'em day by day,
And I had no way of knowing
What became of father's pay.
All I knew was when I needed
Shoes I got 'em on the spot;
Everything for which I pleaded,
Somehow, father always got.
Wondered, season after season,
Why he never took a rest,
And that I might be the reason
Then I never even guessed.
Father set a store on knowledge;
If he'd lived to have his way
He'd have sent me off to college
And the bills been glad to pay.
That, I know, was his ambition:
Now and then he used to say
He'd have done his earthly mission
On my graduation day.
Saw his cheeks were getting paler,
Didn't understand just why;
Saw his body growing frailer,
Then at last I saw him die.
Rest had come! His tasks were ended
Calm was written on his brow;
Father's life was big and splendid,
And I understand it now.
The Drover's Wife
In this story by Australian writer Henry Lawson (1867-1922), our hearts are touched by a lone mother's struggle to make a safe place for her children. And we are moved by her young son's final determination that he will be there for his family. This is a tale from another age and another side of the world that remains all too relevant to our time and culture.
The two-roomed house is built of round timber, slabs, and stringy-bark, and floored with split slabs. A big bark kitchen standing at one end is larger than the house itself, verandah included.
Bush all round bush with no horizon, for the country is flat. No ranges in the distance. The bush consists of stunted, rotten native apple-trees. No undergrowth. Nothing to relieve the eye save the darker green of a few she-oaks which are sighing above the narrow, almost waterless creek. Nineteen miles to the nearest sign of civilization a shanty on the main road.
The drover, an ex-squatter, is away with sheep. His wife and children are left here alone.
Four ragged, dried-up-looking children are playing about the house. Suddenly one of them yells: "Snake! Mother, here's a snake!"
The gaunt, sun-browned bushwoman dashes from the kitchen, snatches her baby from the ground, holds it on her left hip, and reaches for a stick.
"Where is it?"
"Here! gone into the wood-heap!" yells the eldest boy a sharp-faced urchin of eleven. "Stop there, Mother! I'll have him. Stand back! I'll have the beggar!"
"Tommy, come here, or you'll be bit. Come here at once when I tell you, you little wretch!"
The youngster comes reluctantly, carrying a stick bigger than himself. Then he yells, triumphantly:
"There it goes under the house!" and darts away with club uplifted. At the same time the big, black, yellow-eyed dog-of-all-breeds, who has shown the wildest interest in the proceedings, breaks his chain and rushes after that snake. He is a moment late, however, and his nose reaches the crack in the slabs just as the end of its tail disappears. Almost at the same moment the boy's club comes down and skins the aforesaid nose. Alligator takes small notice of this, and proceeds to undermine the building; but he is subdued after a struggle and chained up. They cannot afford to lose him.
The drover's wife makes the children stand together near the doghouse while she watches for the snake. She gets two small dishes of milk and sets them down near the wall to tempt it to come out; but an hour goes by and it does not show itself.
It is near sunset, and a thunderstorm is coming. The children must be brought inside. She will not take them into the house, for she knows the snake is there, and may at any moment come up through a crack in the rough slab floor; so she carries several armfuls of firewood into the kitchen, and then takes the children there. The kitchen has no floor or, rather, an earthen one called a "ground floor" in this part of the bush. There is a large, roughly-made table in the centre of the place. She brings the children in, and makes them get on this table. They are two boys and two girls mere babies. She gives them some supper, and then, before it gets dark, she goes into the house, and snatches up some pillows and bedclothes expecting to see or lay her hand on the snake any minute. She makes a bed on the kitchen table for the children, and sits down beside it to watch all night.
She has an eye on the corner, and a green sapling club laid in readiness on the dresser by her side; also her sewing basket and a copy of the Young Ladies' Journal. She has brought the dog into the room.
Tommy turns in, under protest, but says he'll lie awake all night and smash that blinded snake.
His mother asks him how many times she has told him not to swear.
He has his club with him under the bedclothes, and Jacky protests:
"Mummy! Tommy's skinnin' me alive wif his club. Make him take it out."
Tommy: "Shet up, you little ! D'yer want to be bit with the snake?"
Jacky shuts up.
"If yer bit," says Tommy, after a pause, "you'll swell up, an' smell, an' turn red an' green an' blue all over till yer bust. Won't he, Mother?"
"Now then, don't frighten the child. Go to sleep," she says.
The two younger children go to sleep, and now and then Jacky complains of being "skeezed." More room is made for him. Presently Tommy says: "Mother! listen to them (adjective) little possums. I'd like to screw their blanky necks."
And Jacky protests drowsily.
"But they don't hurt us, the little blanks!"
Mother: "There, I told you you'd teach Jacky to swear." But the remark makes her smile. Jacky goes to sleep.
Presently Tommy asks:
"Mother! Do you think they'll ever extricate the (adjective) kangaroo?"
"Lord! How am I to know, child? Go to sleep."
"Will you wake me if the snake comes out?"
"Yes. Go to sleep."
Near midnight. The children are all asleep and she sits there still, sewing and reading by turns. From time to time she glances round the floor and wallplate, and, whenever she hears a noise, she reaches for the stick. The thunderstorm comes on, and the wind, rushing through the cracks in the slab wall, threatens to blow out her candle. She places it on a sheltered part of the dresser and fixes up a newspaper to protect it. At every flash of lightning, the cracks between the slabs gleam like polished silver. The thunder rolls, and the rain comes down in torrents.
Alligator lies at full length on the floor, with his eyes turned towards the partition. She knows by this that the snake is there. There are large cracks in that wall opening under the floor of the dwelling-house.
She is not a coward, but recent events have shaken her nerves. A little son of her brother-in-law was lately bitten by a snake, and died. Besides, she has not heard from her husband for six months, and is anxious about him.
He was a drover, and started squatting here when they were married. The drought of 18 ruined him. He had to sacrifice the remnant of his flock and go droving again. He intends to move his family into the nearest town when he comes back, and, in the meantime, his brother, who keeps a shanty on the main road, comes over about once a month with provisions. The wife has still a couple of cows, one horse, and a few sheep. The brother-in-law kills one of the latter occasionally, gives her what she needs of it, and takes the rest in return for other provisions.
She is used to being left alone. She once lived like this for eighteen months. As a girl she built the usual castles in the air; but all her girlish hopes and aspirations have long been dead. She finds all the excitement and recreation she needs in the Young Ladies' Journal, and Heaven help her! takes a pleasure in the fashion-plates.
Her husband is an Australian, and so is she. He is careless, but a good enough husband. If he had the means he would take her to the city and keep her there like a princess. They are used to being apart, or at least she is. "No use fretting," she says. He may forget sometimes that he is married; but if he has a good cheque when he comes back he will give most of it to her. When he had money he took her to the city several times hired a railway sleeping compartment, and put up at the best hotels. He also bought her a buggy, but they had to sacrifice that along with the rest.
The last two children were born in the bush one while her husband was bringing a drunken doctor, by force, to attend to her. She was alone on this occasion, and very weak. She had been ill with a fever. She prayed to God to send her assistance. God sent Black Mary the "whitest" gin in all the land. Or, at least, God sent King Jimmy first, and he sent Black Mary. He put his black face round the door post, took in the situation at a glance, and said cheerfully: "All right, missus I bring my old woman, she down alonga creek."
One of the children died while she was here alone. She rode nineteen miles for assistance, carrying the dead child.
It must be near one or two o'clock. The fire is burning low. Alligator lies with his head resting on his paws, and watches the wall. He is not a very beautiful dog, and the light shows numerous old wounds where the hair will not grow. He is afraid of nothing on the face of the earth or under it. He will tackle a bullock as readily as he will tackle a flea. He hates all other dogs except kangaroo-dogs and has a marked dislike to friends or relations of the family. They seldom call, however. He sometimes makes friends with strangers. He hates snakes and has killed many, but he will be bitten some day and die; most snake-dogs end that way.
Now and then the bushwoman lays down her work and watches, and listens, and thinks. She thinks of things in her own life, for there is little else to think about.
The rain will make the grass grow, and this reminds her how she fought a bush fire once while her husband was away. The grass was long, and very dry, and the fire threatened to burn her out. She put on an old pair of her husband's trousers and beat out the flames with a green bough, till great drops of sooty perspiration stood out on her forehead and ran in streaks down her blackened arms. The sight of his mother in trousers greatly amused Tommy, who worked like a little hero by her side, but the terrified baby howled lustily for his "mummy." The fire would have mastered her but for four excited bushmen who arrived in the nick of time. It was a mixed-up affair all round; when she went to take up the baby he screamed and struggled convulsively, thinking it was a "blackman"; and Alligator, trusting more to the child's sense than his own instinct, charged furiously, and (being old and slightly deaf) did not in his excitement at first recognize his mistress's voice, but continued to hang on to the moleskins until choked off by Tommy with a saddle strap. The dog's sorrow for his blunder, and his anxiety to let it be known that it was all a mistake, was as evident as his ragged tail and a twelve-inch grin could make it. It was a glorious time for the boys; a day to look back to, and talk about, and laugh over for many years.
She thinks how she fought a flood during her husband's absence. She stood for hours in the drenching downpour, and dug an overflow gutter to save the dam across the creek. But she could not save it. There are things that a bushwoman cannot do. Next morning the dam was broken, and her heart was nearly broken too, for she thought how her husband would feel when he came home and saw the result of years of labour swept away. She cried then.
She also fought the pleuro-pneumonia dosed and bled the few remaining cattle, and wept again when her two best cows died.
Again, she fought a mad bullock that besieged the house for a day. She made bullets and fired at him through cracks in the slabs with an old shotgun. He was dead in the morning. She skinned him and got seventeen-and-sixpence for the hide.
She also fights the crows and eagles that have designs on her chickens. Her plan of campaign is very original. The children cry "Crows, Mother!" and she rushes out and aims a broomstick at the birds as though it were a gun, and says "Bung!" The crows leave in a hurry; they are cunning, but a woman's cunning is greater.
Occasionally a bushman in the horrors, or a villainous-looking sundowner, comes and nearly scares the life out of her. She generally tells the suspicious-looking stranger that her husband and two sons are at work below the dam, or over at the yard, for he always cunningly inquires for the boss.
Only last week a gallows-faced swagman having satisfied himself that there were no men on the place threw his swag down on the verandah, and demanded tucker. She gave him something to eat; then he expressed his intention of staying for the night. It was sundown then. She got a batten from the sofa, loosened the dog, and confronted the stranger, holding the batten in one hand and the dog's collar with the other. "Now you go!" she said. He looked at her and at the dog, said "All right, mum," in a cringing tone, and left. She was a determined-looking woman, and Alligator's yellow eyes glared unpleasantly besides, the dog's chawing-up apparatus greatly resembled that of the reptile he was named after.
She has few pleasures to think of as she sits here alone by the fire, on guard against a snake. All days are much the same to her; but on Sunday afternoon she dresses herself, tidies the children, smartens up baby, and goes for a lonely walk along the bush track, pushing an old perambulator in front of her. She does this every Sunday. She takes as much care to make herself and the children look smart as she would if she were going to do the block in the city. There is nothing to see, however, and not a soul to meet. You might walk for twenty miles along this track without being able to fix a point in your mind, unless you are a bushman. This is because of the everlasting, maddening sameness of the stunted trees that monotony which makes a man long to break away and travel as far as trains can go, and sail as far as ship can sail and further.
But this bushwoman is used to the loneliness of it. As a girl-wife she hated it, but now she would feel strange away from it.
She is glad when her husband returns, but she does not gush or make a fuss about it. She gets him something good to eat, and tidies up the children.
She seems contented with her lot. She loves her children, but has no time to show it. She seems harsh to them. Her surroundings are not favorable to the development of the "womanly" or sentimental side of nature.
It must be near morning now; but the clock is in the dwelling-house. Her candle is nearly done; she forgot that she was out of candles. Some more wood must be got to keep the fire up, and so she shuts the dog inside and hurries round to the wood-heap. The rain has cleared off. She seizes a stick, pulls it out, and crash! the whole pile collapses.
Yesterday she bargained with a stray blackfellow to bring her some wood, and while he was at work she went in search of a missing cow. She was absent an hour or so, and the native black made good use of his time. On her return she was so astonished to see a good heap of wood by the chimney, that she gave him an extra fig of tobacco, and praised him for not being lazy. He thanked her, and left with head erect and chest well out. He was the last of his tribe and a King; but he had built that wood-heap hollow.
She is hurt now, and tears spring to her eyes as she sits down again by the table. She takes up a handkerchief to wipe the tears away, but pokes her eyes with her bare fingers instead. The handkerchief is full of holes, and she finds that she has put her thumb through one, and her forefinger through another.
This makes her laugh, to the surprise of the dog. She has a keen, very keen, sense of the ridiculous; and some time or other she will amuse bushmen with the story.
She had been amused before like that. One day she sat down "to have a good cry," as she said and the old cat rubbed against her dress and "cried too." Then she had to laugh.
It must be near daylight now. The room is very close and hot because of the fire. Alligator still watches the wall from time to time. Suddenly he becomes greatly interested; he draws himself a few inches nearer the partition, and a thrill runs through his body. The hair on the back of his neck begins to bristle, and the battle-light is in his yellow eyes. She knows what this means, and lays her hand on the stick. The lower end of one of the partition slabs has a large crack on both sides. An evil pair of small, bright bead-like eyes glisten at one of these holes. The snake a black one comes slowly out, about a foot, and moves its head up and down. The dog lies still, and the woman sits as one fascinated. The snake comes out a foot farther. She lifts her stick, and the reptile, as though suddenly aware of danger, sticks his head in through the crack on the other side of the slab, and hurries to get his tail round after him. Alligator springs, and his jaws come together with a snap. He misses, for his nose is large, and the snake's body close down in the angle formed by the slabs and the floor. He snaps again as the tail comes round. He has the snake now, and tugs it out eighteen inches. Thud, thud comes the woman's club on the ground. Alligator pulls again. Thud, thud. Alligator gives another pull and he has the snake out a black brute, five feet long. The head rises to dart about, but the dog has the enemy close to the neck. He is a big, heavy dog, but quick as a terrier. He shakes the snake as though he felt the original curse in common with mankind. The eldest boy wakes up, seizes his stick, and tries to get out of bed, but his mother forces him back with a grip of iron. Thud, thud the snake's back is broken in several places. Thud, thud its head is crushed, and Alligator's nose skinned again.
She lifts the mangled reptile on the point of her stick, carries it to the fire, and throws it in; then piles on the wood and watches the snake burn. The boy and dog watch too. She lays her hand on the dog's head, and all the fierce, angry light dies out of his yellow eyes. The younger children are quieted, and presently go to sleep. The dirty-legged boy stands for a moment in his shirt, watching the fire. Presently, he looks up at her, sees the tears in her eyes, and, throwing his arms round her neck exclaims:
"Mother, I won't never go drovin'; blarst me if I do!"
And she hugs him to her wornout breast and kisses him; and they sit thus together while the sickly daylight breaks over the bush.
A Worn Path
Often love of one's own summons the most miraculous human strengths. In this splendid story, an old woman's love for her grandson quietly knocks down all obstacles the world sets before her, including her own frailty and suffering.
It was December a bright frozen day in the early morning. Far out in the country there was an old Negro woman with her head tied in a red rag, coming along a path through the pinewoods. Her name was Phoenix Jackson. She was very old and small and she walked slowly in the dark pine shadows, moving a little from side to side in her steps, with the balanced heaviness and lightness of a pendulum in a grandfather clock. She carried a thin, small cane made from an umbrella, and with this she kept tapping the frozen earth in front of her. This made a grave and persistent noise in the still air, that seemed meditative like the chirping of a solitary little bird.
She wore a dark striped dress reaching down to her shoe tops, and an equally long apron of bleached sugar sacks, with a full pocket: all neat and tidy, but every time she took a step she might have fallen over her shoelaces, which dragged from her unlaced shoes. She looked straight ahead. Her eyes were blue with age. Her skin had a pattern all its own of numberless branching wrinkles and as though a whole little tree stood in the middle of her forehead, but a golden color ran underneath, and the two knobs of her cheeks were illumined by a yellow burning under the dark. Under the red rag her hair came down on her neck in the frailest of ringlets, still black, and with an odor like copper.
Now and then there was a quivering in the thicket. Old Phoenix said, "Out of my way, all you foxes, owls, beetles, jack rabbits, coons and wild animals!...Keep out from under these feet, little bob-whites....Keep the big wild hogs out of my path. Don't let none of those come running my direction. I got a long way." Under her small black-freckled hand her cane, limber as a buggy whip, would switch at the brush as if to rouse up any hiding things.
On she went. The woods were deep and still. The sun made the pine needles almost too bright to look at, up where the wind rocked. The cones dropped as light as feathers. Down in the hollow was the mourning dove it was not too late for him.
The path ran up a hill. "Seem like there is chains about my feet, time I get this far," she said, in the voice of argument old people keep to use with themselves. "Something always take a hold of me on this hill pleads I should stay."
After she got to the top she turned and gave a full, severe look behind her where she had come. "Up through pines," she said at length. "Now down through oaks."
Her eyes opened their widest, and she started down gently. But before she got to the bottom of the hill a bush caught her dress.
Her fingers were busy and intent, but her skirts were full and long, so that before she could pull them free in one place they were caught in another. It was not possible to allow the dress to tear. "I in the thorny bush," she said. "Thorns, you doing your appointed work. Never want to let folks pass, no sir. Old eyes thought you was a pretty little green bush."
Finally, trembling all over, she stood free, and after a moment dared to stoop for her cane.
"Sun so high!" she cried, leaning back and looking, while the thick tears went over her eyes. "The time getting all gone here."
At the foot of this hill was a place where a log was laid across the creek.
"Now comes the trial," said Phoenix.
Putting her right foot out, she mounted the log and shut her eyes. Lifting her skirt, leveling her cane fiercely before her, like a festival figure in some parade, she began to march across. Then she opened her eyes and she was safe on the other side.
"I wasn't as old as I thought," she said.
But she sat down to rest. She spread her skirts on the bank around her and folded her hands over her knees. Up above her was a tree in a pearly cloud of mistletoe. She did not dare to close her eyes, and when a little boy brought her a plate with a slice of marble-cake on it she spoke to him. "That would be acceptable," she said. But when she went to take it there was just her own hand in the air.
So she left that tree, and had to go through a barbed-wire fence. There she had to creep and crawl, spreading her knees and stretching her fingers like a baby trying to climb the steps. But she talked loudly to herself: she could not let her dress be torn now, so late in the day, and she could not pay for having her arm or her leg sawed off if she got caught fast where she was.
At last she was safe through the fence and risen up out in the clearing. Big dead trees, like black men with one arm, were standing in the purple stalks of the withered cotton field. There sat a buzzard.
"Who you watching?"
In the furrow she made her way along.
"Glad this not the season for the bulls," she said, looking sideways, "and the good Lord made his snakes to curl up and sleep in the winter. A pleasure I don't see no two-headed snake coming around that tree, where it come once. It took a while to get by him, back in the summer."
She passed through the old cotton and went into a field of dead corn. It whispered and shook and was taller than her head. "Through the maze now," she said, for there was no path.
Then were was something tall, black, and skinny there, moving before her.
At first she took it for a man. It could have been a man dancing in the field. But she stood still and listened, and it did not make a sound. It was as silent as a ghost.
"Ghost," she said sharply, "who be you the ghost of? For I have heard of nary death close by."
But there was no answer only the ragged dancing in the wind.
She shut her eyes, reached out her hand, and touched a sleeve. She found a coat and inside that an emptiness, cold as ice.
"You scarecrow," she said. Her face lighted. "I ought to be shut up for good," she said with laughter. "My senses is gone. I too old. I the oldest people I ever know. Dance, old scarecrow," she said, "while I dancing with you."
She kicked her foot over the furrow, and with mouth drawn down, shook her head once or twice in a little strutting way. Some husks blew down and whirled in streamers about her skirts.
Then she went on, parting her way from side to side with the cane, through the whispering field. At last she came to the end, to a wagon track where the silver grass blew between the red ruts. The quail were walking around like pullets, seeming all dainty and unseen.
"Walk pretty," she said. "This the easy place. This the easy going."
She followed the track, swaying through the quiet bare fields, through the little strings of trees silver in their dead leaves, past cabins silver from weather, with the doors and windows boarded shut, all like old women under a spell sitting there. "I walking in their sleep," she said, nodding her head vigorously.
In a ravine she went where a spring was silently flowing through a hollow log. Old Phoenix bent and drank. "Sweet-gum makes the water sweet," she said, and drank more. "Nobody know who made this well, for it was here when I was born."
The track crossed a swampy part where the moss hung as white as lace from every limb. "Sleep on, alligators, and blow your bubbles." Then the track went into the road.
Deep, deep the road went down between the high green-colored banks. Overhead the live-oaks met, and it was as dark as a cave.
A black dog with a lolling tongue came up out of the weeds by the ditch. She was meditating, and not ready, and when he came at her she only hit him a little with her cane. Over she went in the ditch, like a little puff of milkweed.
Down there, her senses drifted away. A dream visited her, and she reached her hand up, but nothing reached down and gave her a pull. So she lay there and presently went to talking. "Old woman," she said to herself, "that black dog come up out of the weeds to stall you off, and now there he sitting on his fine tail, smiling at you."
A white man finally came along and found her a hunter, a young man, with his dog on a chain.
"Well, Granny!" he laughed. "What are you doing there?"
"Lying on my back like a June-bug waiting to be turned over, mister," she said, reaching up her hand.
He lifted her up, gave her a swing in the air, and set her down. "Anything broken, Granny?"
"No sir, them old dead weeds is springy enough," said Phoenix, when she had got her breath. "I thank you for your trouble."
"Where do you live, Granny?" he asked, while the two dogs were growling at each other.
"Away back yonder, sir, behind the ridge. You can't even see it from here."
"On your way home?"
"No sir, I going to town."
"Why, that's too far! That's as far as I walk when I come out myself, and I get something for my trouble." He patted the stuffed bag he carried, and there hung down a little closed claw. It was one of the bob-whites, with its beak hooked bitterly to show it was dead. "Now you go on home, Granny!"
"I bound to go to town, mister," said Phoenix. "The time come around."
He gave another laugh, filling the whole landscape. "I know you old colored people! Wouldn't miss going to town to see Santa Claus!"
But something held old Phoenix very still. The deep lines in her face went into a fierce and different radiation. Without warning, she had seen with her own eyes a flashing nickel fall out of the man's pocket onto the ground.
"How old are you, Granny?" he was saying.
"There is no telling, mister," she said, "no telling."
Then she gave a little cry and clapped her hands and said, "Git on away from here, dog! Look! Look at that dog!" She laughed as if in admiration. "He ain't scared of nobody. He a big black dog." She whispered, "Sic him!"
"Watch me get rid of that cur," said the man. "Sic him, Pete! Sic him!"
Phoenix heard the dogs fighting, and heard the man running and throwing sticks. She even heard a gunshot. But she was slowly bending forward by that time, further and further forward, the lids stretched down over her eyes, as if she were doing this in her sleep. Her chin was lowered almost to her knees. The yellow palm of her hand came out from the fold of her apron. Her fingers slid down and along the ground under the piece of money with the grace and care they would have in lifting an egg from under a setting hen. Then she slowly straightened up, she stood erect, and the nickel was in her apron pocket. A bird flew by. Her lips moved. "God watching me the whole time. I come to stealing."
The man came back, and his own dog panted about them. "Well, I scared him off that time," he said, and then he laughed and lifted his gun and pointed it at Phoenix.
She stood straight and faced him.
"Doesn't the gun scare you?" he said, still pointing it.
"No, sir, I seen plenty go off closer by, in my day, and for less than what I done," she said, holding utterly still.
He smiled, and shouldered the gun. "Well, Granny," he said, "you must be a hundred years old, and scared of nothing. I'd give you a dime if I had any money with me. But you take my advice and stay home, and nothing will happen to you."
"I bound to go on my way, mister," said Phoenix. She inclined her head in the red rag. Then they went in different directions, but she could hear the gun shooting again and again over the hill.
She walked on. The shadows hung from the oak trees to the road like curtains. Then she smelled wood-smoke, and smelled the river, and she saw a steeple and the cabins on their steep steps. Dozens of little black children whirled around her. There ahead was Natchez shining. Bells were ringing. She walked on.
In the paved city it was Christmas time. There were red and green electric lights strung and crisscrossed everywhere, and all turned on in the daytime. Old Phoenix would have been lost if she had not distrusted her eyesight and depended on her feet to know where to take her.
She paused quietly on the sidewalk where people were passing by. A lady came along in the crowd, carrying an armful of red-, green- and silver-wrapped presents; she gave off perfume like the red roses in hot summer, and Phoenix stopped her.
"Please, missy, will you lace up my shoe?" She held up her foot.
"What do you want, Grandma?"
"See my shoe," said Phoenix. "Do all right for out in the country, but wouldn't look right to go in a big building."
"Stand still then, Grandma," said the lady. She put her packages down on the sidewalk beside her and laced and tied both shoes tightly.
"Can't lace 'em with a cane," said Phoenix. "Thank you, missy. I doesn't mind asking a nice lady to tie up my shoe, when I gets out on the street."
Moving slowly and from side to side, she went into the big building, and into a tower of steps, where she walked up and around and around until her feet knew to stop.
She entered a door, and there she saw nailed up on the wall the document that had been stamped with the gold seal and framed in the gold frame, which matched the dream that was hung up in her head.
"Here I be," she said. There was a fixed and ceremonial stiffness over her body.
"A charity case, I suppose," said an attendant who sat at the desk before her.
But Phoenix only looked above her head. There was sweat on her face, the wrinkles in her skin shone like a bright net.
"Speak up, Grandma," the woman said. "What's your name? We must have your history, you know. Have you been here before? What seems to be the trouble with you?"
Old Phoenix only gave a twitch to her face as if a fly were bothering her.
"Are you deaf?" cried the attendant.
But then the nurse came in.
"Oh, that's just old Aunt Phoenix," she said. "She doesn't come for herself she has a little grandson. She makes these trips just as regular as clockwork. She lives away back off the Old Natchez Trace." She bent down. "Well, Aunt Phoenix, why don't you just take a seat? We won't keep you standing after your long trip." She pointed.
The old woman sat down, bolt upright in the chair.
"Now, how is the boy?" asked the nurse.
Old Phoenix did not speak.
"I said, how is the boy?"
But Phoenix only waited and stared straight ahead, her face very solemn and withdrawn into rigidity.
"Is his throat any better?" asked the nurse. "Aunt Phoenix, don't you hear me? Is your grandson's throat any better since the last time you came for the medicine?"
With her hands on her knees, the old woman waited, silent, erect and motionless, just as if she were in armor.
"You mustn't take up our time this way, Aunt Phoenix," the nurse said. "Tell us quickly about your grandson, and get it over. He isn't dead, is he?"
At last there came a flicker and then a flame of comprehension across her face, and she spoke.
"My grandson. It was my memory had left me. There I sat and forgot why I made my long trip."
"Forgot?" the nurse frowned. "After you came so far?"
Then Phoenix was like an old woman begging a dignified forgiveness for waking up frightened in the night. "I never did go to school, I was too old at the Surrender," she said in a soft voice. "I'm an old woman without an education. It was my memory fail me. My little grandson, he is just the same, and I forgot it in the coming."
"Throat never heals, does it?" said the nurse, speaking in a loud, sure voice to old Phoenix. By now she had a card with something written on it, a little list. "Yes. Swallowed lye. When was it? January two, three years ago "
Phoenix spoke unasked now. "No, missy, he not dead, he just the same. Every little while his throat begin to close up again, and he not able to swallow. He not get his breath. He not able to help himself. So the time come around, and I go on another trip for the soothing medicine."
"All right. The doctor said as long as you came to get it, you could have it," said the nurse. "But it's an obstinate case."
"My little grandson, he sit up there in the house all wrapped up, waiting by himself," Phoenix went on. "We is the only two left in the world. He suffer and it don't seem to put him back at all. He got a sweet look. He going to last. He wear a little patch quilt and peep out holding his mouth open like a little bird. I remembers so plain now. I not going to forget him again, no, the whole enduring time. I could tell him from all the others in creation."
"All right." The nurse was trying to hush her now. She brought her a bottle of medicine. "Charity," she said, making a check mark in a book.
Old Phoenix held the bottle close to her eyes, and then carefully put it into her pocket.
"I thank you," she said.
"It's Christmas time, Grandma," said the attendant. "Could I give you a few pennies out of my purse?"
"Five pennies is a nickel," said Phoenix stiffly.
"Here's a nickel," said the attendant.
Phoenix rose carefully and held out her hand. She received the nickel and then fished the other nickel out of her pocket and laid it beside the new one. She stared at her palm closely, with her head on one side.
Then she gave a tap with her cane on the floor.
"This is what come to me to do," she said. "I going to the store and buy my child a little windmill they sells, made out of paper. He going to find it hard to believe there such a thing in the world. I'll march myself back where he waiting, holding it straight up in this hand."
She lifted her free hand, gave a little nod, turned around, and walked out of the doctor's office. Then her slow step began on the stairs, going down.
"One, Two, Three!"
Henry Cuyler Bunner
The play of kindred spirits across generations can be one of the great blessings of family. In our time, it is an irony that even though people live to record numbers of years, many children do not know the joy of playing with their grandparents.
It was an old, old, old, old lady,
And a boy that was half past three;
And the way that they played together
Was beautiful to see.
She couldn't go running and jumping,
And the boy, no more could he;
For he was a thin little fellow,
With a thin little twisted knee.
They sat in the yellow twilight,
Out under the maple tree;
And the game that they played I'll tell you,
Just as it was told to me.
It was Hide and Go Seek they were playing,
Though you'd never have known it to be
With an old, old, old, old lady,
And a boy with a twisted knee.
The boy would bend his face down
On his one little sound right knee,
And he'd guess where she was hiding,
In guesses One, Two, Three!
"You are in the china closet!"
He would cry, and laugh with glee
It wasn't the china closet;
But he still had Two and Three.
"You are up in Papa's big bedroom,
In the chest with the queer old key!"
And she said: "You are warm and warmer;
But you're not quite right," said she.
"It can't be the little cupboard
Where Mamma's things used to be
So it must be the clothespress, Gran'ma!"
And he found her with his Three.
Then she covered her face with her fingers,
That were wrinkled and white and wee,
And she guessed where the boy was hiding,
With a One and a Two and a Three.
And they never had stirred from their places,
Right under the maple tree
This old, old, old, old lady,
And the boy with the lame little knee
This dear, dear, dear old lady,
And the boy who was half past three.
Theseus and the Stone
Adapted from retellings by Charles Kingsley and Nathaniel Hawthorne
Home is the place to build strength and resolve before going out into the world. Plutarch and Appolodorus, among other ancient writers, have left us accounts of how the Greek hero Theseus journeyed toward manhood.
In the old city of Troezen, in Greece, there lived long ago a princess named Aithra. She had one young son named Theseus, the bravest lad in all the land. Aithra smiled whenever she looked at him, but it was a sad kind of smile, for the boy had never seen his father, who lived far across the sea.
One day she took her son into a grove which stood behind the temple. She led him to a tall oak, beneath whose shade grew arbutus and lentisk and purple heather bushes. There she sighed, and said, "Theseus, my son, go into that thicket, and at the base of the tree you will find a great fiat stone. Lift it and bring me what lies underneath."
Theseus pushed his way through the thick bushes, seeing they had not been moved for many years. And searching among their roots he found a great fiat stone, all overgrown with ivy and moss.
He tried to lift it, but he could not. He tried till the sweat ran down his brow from heat and the tears from his eyes for shame, but all was to no avail. At last he came back to his mother and said, "I have found the stone, but I cannot lift it. Nor do I think any man could in all Troezen."
His mother sighed and said, "The gods wait long, but they are just. Let it be for another year. The day may come when you will be a stronger man than lives in all Troezen."
And when a full year was past she led Theseus again up to the temple and bade him lift the stone, but he could not.
Then she sighed and said the same words again, and again they went home together. The next year they made the same pilgrimage, but Theseus could not lift the stone then, nor the year after. He longed to ask his mother the meaning of the stone and what might lie underneath it, but her face was so sad he had not the heart to ask.
Meanwhile the rock seemed to be sinking farther and farther into the ground. The moss grew over it thicker and thicker, until at last it looked almost like a soft green seat, with only a few gray knobs of granite peeping out. The overhanging trees, also, shed their brown leaves upon it, as often as the autumn came, and at its base grew ferns and wildflowers and vines, which crept over its surface. To all appearance the rock was as firmly fastened as any other portion of the earth's substance.
But as impossible as the task looked, Theseus was growing certain he would someday get the upper hand of the stone.
"Mother, it has moved!" he cried, after one of his attempts. "The earth around it is a little cracked!" And he showed her the place where he thought the stem of a flower had been partly uprooted by the movement of the rock. Aithra only sighed, for she knew the time was coming when she must send her son forth among the perils of the world.
So in order to grow strong Theseus spent all his days in wrestling and boxing and taming horses, and hunting the boar and the bull, and chasing goats and deer among the rocks, till upon all the mountains there was no hunter so swift as Theseus.
And when his eighteenth year was past, Aithra led him again to the temple, and said, "Theseus, lift the stone this day, or never know who you are."
And Theseus went into the thicket and stood over the stone and tugged at it and it stirred! His spirits swelled within him, and he said, "If I break my heart in my body, it shall come up." He wrestled with the sluggish stone, straining every sinew, as if it were a living enemy. He heaved, he lifted. He resolved now to succeed, or else perish there and let the rock be his gravestone forever! Aithra stood gazing at him, and clasped her hands, partly with a mother's pride and partly with a mother's sorrow. And slowly the great rock rose from the bedded moss and earth, uprooting the shrubs and flowers along with it, and was turned on its side. Theseus had conquered!
And when he looked beneath the stone, on the ground lay a sword of bronze, with a hilt of glittering gold, and by it a pair of golden sandals. He caught them up and burst through the bushes like a wild boar, and leaped to his mother, holding them high above his head.
When she saw them she wept in long silence, hiding her face in her shawl, and Theseus stood by her wondering, and wept also, although he knew not why. And when she was tired of weeping she lifted her head and said, "Bring what you have found, and come with me where we can look down upon the sea."
They went outside the sacred wall and looked down over the bright blue sea. Aithra pointed across the water and said: "There is Attica, where the Athenian people dwell. It is a fair place, a land of olive oil and honey, the joy of gods and men. What would you do, son Theseus, if you were king of such a land?"
Then his heart grew great within him, and he said: "If I were king of such a land, I would rule it wisely and well in wisdom and in might, that when I died all would weep over my tomb and cry, 'Alas for the shepherd of his people.'"
Aithra smiled and said: "Your father is King Aegeus of Athens. When he went to be king, he bade me treat you as a child until you should prove yourself by lifting this heavy stone. That task accomplished, you are to put on his sandals, in order to follow in your father's footsteps, and to gird on his sword, so that you may fight giants and dragons, as King Aegeus did in his youth. And you are to go to him in Athens and say, 'The stone is lifted.'"
But Theseus wept. "Shall I leave you, O my mother?" he cried.
She answered, "Weep not for me. That which is fate must be, and grief is easy to those who do naught but grieve."
Then she kissed Theseus and wept over him, and went into the temple, and Theseus saw her no more.
In the Uttermost Parts of the Sea
Hans Christian Andersen
As we go out into the world, we find that lessons we've learned and loved at home stay with us and sustain us. Virtues travel well. The title of this Beautiful Hans Christian Andersen story comes from Psalm 139: "If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there shall Thy hand lead me, and Thy right hand shall hold me."
Some large ships were sent up toward the North Pole, for the purpose of discovering the boundaries of land and sea, and of trying how far men could make their way.
A year and a day had elapsed. Amid mist and ice had they, with great difficulty, steered farther and farther. The winter had now begun; the sun had set, one long night would continue during many, many weeks. One unbroken plain of ice spread around them; the ships were all fast moored to it. The snow lay about in heaps and had even shaped itself into cubiform houses, some as big as our barrows, some only just large enough for two or three men to find shelter within. Darkness they could not complain of, for the Northern Lights Nature's fireworks now red, now blue, flashed unceasingly, and the snow glistened so brightly.
At times when it was brightest came troops of the natives, strange-looking figures, clad in hairy skins, and with sledges made out of hard fragments of ice. They brought skins to exchange, which the sailors were only too glad to use as warm carpets inside their snow houses, and as beds whereon they could rest under their snowy tents, while outside prevailed an intensity of cold such as we never experience during our severest winters. But the sailors remembered that at home it was still autumn, and they thought of the warm sunbeams and the leaves still clinging to the trees in varied glories of crimson and gold. Their watches told them it was evening and time for rest, and in one of the snow houses two sailors had already lain down to sleep. The youngest of these two had with him his best home treasure, the Bible that his grandmother had given him at parting. Every night it lay under his pillow. He had known its contents from childhood, and every day he read a portion; and often as he lay on his couch, he recalled to mind those holy words of comfort, "If I should take the wings of the morning, and remain in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there should Thy hand lead me, and Thy right hand should hold me."
These sublime words of faith were on his lips as he closed his eyes, when sleep came to him, and dreams with sleep busy, swift-winged dreams, proving that though the body may rest, the soul must ever be awake. First he seemed to hear the melodies of songs dear to him in his home. A mild summer breeze seemed to breathe upon him, and a light shone upon his couch, as though the snowy dome above him had become transparent. He lifted his head and behold! The dazzling white light was not the white of a snow wall; it came from the large wings of an angel stooping over him, an angel with eyes beaming with love. The angel's form seemed to spring from the pages of the Bible, as from the pitcher of a lily blossom. He extended his arms and lo! The narrow walls of the snow hut sank back like a mist melting before the daylight. Once again the green meadows and autumnal-tinted woods of the sailor's home lay around him, bathed in quiet sunshine. The stork's nest was empty, but the apples still clung to the wild apple tree. The blackbird whistled in the little green cage that hung in the lowly window of his childhood's home. The blackbird whistled the tune he had taught him, and the old grandmother wound chickweed about the bars of the cage, as her grandson had been wont to do. The smith's pretty young daughter stood drawing water from the well, and as she nodded to the grandmother, the latter beckoned to her, and held up a letter to show her, a letter that had come that morning from the cold northern lands, from the North Pole itself, where the old woman's grandson now was safe under God's protecting hand. And the two women, old and young, laughed and wept by turns and he the while, the young sailor whose body was sleeping amid ice and snow, his spirit roaming in the world of dreams, under the angel's wings, saw and heard it all, and laughed and wept with them. And from the letter these words were read aloud, "Even in the uttermost parts of the sea, His right hand shall hold me fast"; and a sweet, solemn music was wafted round him, and the angel drooped his wings. Like a soft protecting veil they fell closer over the sleeper.
The dream was ended; all was darkness in the little snow hut, but the Bible lay under the sailor's head, faith and hope abode in his heart. God was with him, and his home was with him, "even in the uttermost parts of the sea."
Christmas at Sea
Robert Louis Stevenson
Often it is hard to leave, but we go knowing that home and hearth make a point on our compass for the rest of life's journey.
The sheets.were frozen hard, and they cut the naked hand;
The decks were like a slide, where a seaman scarce could stand,
The wind was nor'-wester, blowing squally off the sea;
And cliffs and spouting breakers were the only things a-lee.
They heard the surf a-roaring before the break of day:
But 'twas only with the peep of light we saw how ill we lay.
We tumbled every hand on deck instanter, with a shout,
And we gave her the maintops'l, and stood by to go about.
All day we tacked and tacked between the South Head and the North;
All day we hauled the frozen sheets, and got no further forth;
All day as cold as charity, in bitter pain and dread,
For very life and nature we tacked from head to head.
We gave the South a wider berth, for there the tide-race roared;
But every tack we made we brought the North Head close aboard;
So's we saw the cliffs and houses, and the breakers running high,
And the coastguard in his garden, with his glass against his eye.
The bells upon the church were rung with a mighty jovial cheer;
For it's just that I should tell you how (of all days in the year)
This day of our adversity was blesséd Christmas morn,
And the house above the coastguard's was the house where I was born.
O well I saw the pleasant room, the pleasant faces there,
My mother's silver spectacles, my father's silver hair;
And well I saw the firelight, like a flight of homely elves
Go dancing round the china-plates that stand upon the shelves!
And well I knew the talk they had, the talk that was of me,
Of the shadow on the household and the son that went to sea;
And O the wicked fool I seemed, in every kind of way,
To be here and hauling frozen ropes on blesséd Christmas Day.
They lit the high sea-light, and the dark began to fall.
"All hands to loose topgallant sails!" I heard the captain call.
"By the Lord, she'll never stand it," our first mate Jackson cried.
..."It's the one way or the other, Mr. Jackson," he replied.
She staggered to her bearings, but the sails were new and good,
And the ship smelt up to windward just as though she understood.
As the winter's day was ending, in the entry of the night,
We cleared the weary headland, and passed below the light.
And they heaved a mighty breath, every soul on board but me,
As they saw her nose again pointing handsome out to sea;
But all that I could think of, in the darkness and the cold,
Was just that I was leaving home and my folks were growing old.
The Hampshire Hills
As this beautiful story reminds us we go into the world wisely, go through the world bravely, and go out of the world peacefully when we start with the great fortification that is home.
One afternoon many years ago two little brothers named Seth and Abner were playing in the orchard. They were not troubled with the heat of the August day, for a soft, cool wind came up from the river in the valley over yonder and fanned their red cheeks and played all kinds of pranks with their tangled curls. All about them was the hum of bees, the song of birds, the smell of clover, and the merry music of the crickets. Their little dog Fido chased them through the high, waving grass, and rolled with them under the trees, and barked himself hoarse in his attempt to keep pace with their laughter. Wearied at length, they lay beneath the bellflower tree and looked off at the Hampshire hills, and wondered if the time ever would come when they should go out into the world beyond those hills and be great, noisy men. Fido did not understand it at all. He lolled in the grass, cooling his tongue on the clover bloom, and puzzling his brain to know why his little masters were so quiet all at once.
"I wish I were a man," said Abner, ruefully. "I want to be somebody and do something. It is very hard to be a little boy so long and to have no companions but little boys and girls, to see nothing but these same old trees and this same high grass, and to hear nothing but the same bird songs from one day to another."
That is true," said Seth. "I, too, am very tired of being a little boy, and I long to go out into the world and be a man like my gran'pa or my father or my uncles. With nothing to look at but those distant hills and the river in the valley, my eyes are wearied; and I shall be very happy when I am big enough to leave this stupid place."
Had Fido understood their words he would have chided them, for the little dog loved his home and had no thought of any other pleasure than romping through the orchard and playing with his little masters all the day. But Fido did not understand them.
The clover bloom heard them with sadness. Had they but listened in turn they would have heard the clover saying softly: "Stay with me while you may, little boys; trample me with your merry feet; let me feel the imprint of your curly heads and kiss the sunburn on your little cheeks. Love me while you may, for when you go away you never will come back."
The bellflower tree heard them, too, and she waved her great, strong branches as if she would caress the impatient little lads, and she whispered: "Do not think of leaving me: you are children, and you know nothing of the world beyond those distant hills. It is full of trouble and care and sorrow; abide here in this quiet spot till you are prepared to meet the vexations of that outer world. We are for you we trees and grass and birds and bees and flowers. Abide with us, and learn the wisdom we teach."
The cricket in the raspberry hedge heard them, and she chirped, oh! so sadly: "You will go out into the world and leave us and never think of us again till it is too late to return. Open your ears, little boys, and hear my song of contentment."
So spake the clover bloom and the bellflower tree and the cricket; and in like manner the robin that nested in the linden over yonder, and the big bumblebee that lived in the hole under the pasture gate, and the butterfly and the wild rose pleaded with them, each in his own way; but the little boys did not heed them, so eager were their desires to go into and mingle with the great world beyond those distant hills.
Many years went by; and at last Seth and Abner grew to manhood, and the time was come when they were to go into the world and be brave, strong men. Fido had been dead a long time. They had made him a grave under the bellflower tree yes, just where he had romped with the two little boys that August afternoon Fido lay sleeping amid the humming of the bees and the perfume of the clover. But Seth and Abner did not think of Fido now, nor did they give even a passing thought to any of their old friends the bellflower tree, the clover, the cricket, and the robin. Their hearts beat with exultation. They were men, and they were going beyond the hills to know and try the world.
They were equipped for that struggle, not in a vain, frivolous way, but as good and brave young men should be. A gentle mother had counselled them, a prudent father had advised them, and they had gathered from the sweet things of Nature much of that wisdom before which all knowledge is as nothing. So they were fortified. They went beyond the hills and came into the West. How great and busy was the world how great and busy it was here in the West! What a rush and noise and turmoil and seething and surging, and how keenly did the brothers have to watch and struggle for vantage ground. Withal, they prospered; the counsel of the mother, the advice of the father, the wisdom of the grass and flowers and trees, were much to them, and they prospered. Honor and riches came to them, and they were happy. But amid it all, how seldom they thought of the little home among the circling hills where they had learned the first sweet lessons of life!
0 And now they were old and gray. They lived in splendid mansions, and all people paid them honor.
One August day a grim messenger stood in Seth's presence and beckoned to him.
Who are you?" cried Seth. "What strange power have you over me that the very sight of you chills my blood and stays the beating of my heart?"
Then the messenger threw aside his mask, and Seth saw that he was Death. Seth made no outcry; he knew what the summons meant, and he was content. But he sent for Abner.
And when Abner came, Seth was stretched upon his bed, and there was a strange look in his eyes and a flush upon his cheeks, as though a fatal fever had laid hold on him.
"You shall not die!" cried Abner, and he threw himself about his brother's neck and wept.
But Seth bade Abner cease his outcry. "Sit here by my bedside and talk with me," said he, "and let us speak of the Hampshire hills."
A great wonder overcame Abner. With reverence he listened, and as he listened a sweet peace seemed to steal into his soul.
"I am prepared for Death," said Seth, "and I will go with Death this day. Let us talk of our childhood now, for, after all the battle with this great world, it is pleasant to think and speak of our boyhood among the Hampshire hills."
"Say on, dear brother," said Abner.
"I am thinking of an August day long ago," said Seth, solemnly and softly. "It was so very long ago, and yet it seems only yesterday. We were in the orchard together, under the bellflower tree, and our little dog "
"Fido," said Abner, remembering it all, as the years came back.
"Fido and you and I, under the bellflower tree," said Seth. "How we had played, and how weary we were, and how cool the grass was, and how sweet was the fragrance of the flowers! Can you remember it, brother?"
"Oh, yes," replied Abner, "and I remember how we lay among the clover and looked off at the distant hills and wondered of the world beyond."
"And amid our wonderings and longings," said Seth, "how the old bellflower tree seemed to stretch her kind arms down to us as if she would hold us away from that world beyond the hills."
"And now I can remember that the clover whispered to us, and the cricket in the raspberry hedge sang to us of contentment," said Abner.
"The robin, too, carolled in the linden."
"It is very sweet to remember it now," said Seth. "How blue and hazy the hills looked; how cool the breeze blew up from the river; how like a silver lake the old pickerel pond sweltered under the summer sun over beyond the pasture and broom-corn, and how merry was the music of the birds and bees!"
So these old men, who had been little boys together, talked of the August afternoon when with Fido they had romped in the orchard and rested beneath the bellflower tree. And Seth's voice grew fainter, and his eyes were, oh! so dim; but to the very last he spoke of the dear old days and the orchard and the clover and the Hampshire hills. And when Seth fell asleep forever, Abner kissed his brother's lips and knelt at the bedside and said the prayer his mother had taught him.
In the street without there was the noise of passing carts, the cries of tradespeople, and all the bustle of a great and busy city; but, looking upon Seth's dear, dead face, Abner could hear only the music voices of birds and crickets and summer winds as he had heard them with Seth when they were little boys together, back among the Hampshire hills.
We Are Seven
This moving poem reminds us that families remain together even after death.
A simple child,
That lightly draws its breath,
And feels its life in every limb,
What should it know of death?
I met a little cottage girl:
She was eight years old, she said;
Her hair was thick with many a curl
That clustered round her head.
She had a rustic, woodland air,
And she was wildly clad;
Her eyes were fair, and very fair;
Her beauty made me glad.
"Sisters and brothers, little maid,
How many may you be?"
"How many? Seven in all," she said,
And wondering looked at me.
"And where are they? I pray you tell."
She answered, "Seven are we;
And two of us at Conway dwell,
And two are gone to sea;
"Two of us in the churchyard lie,
My sister and my brother;
And, in the churchyard cottage, I
Dwell near them with my mother."
"You say that two at Conway dwell,
And two are gone to sea,
Yet ye are seven! I pray you tell,
Sweet maid, how this may be."
Then did the little maid reply,
"Seven boys and girls are we;
Two of us in the churchyard lie
Beneath the churchyard tree."
"You run about, my little maid;
Your limbs they are alive;
If two are in the churchyard laid,
Then ye are only five."
"Their graves are green, they may be seen,"
The little maid replied:
"Twelve steps or more from my mother's door,
And they are side by side.
"My stockings there I often knit;
My kerchief there I hem;
And there upon the ground I sit,
And sing a song to them.
"And often after sunset, sir,
When it is light and fair,
I take my little porringer,
And eat my supper there.
"The first that died was Sister Jane;
In bed she moaning lay,
Till God released her of her pain;
And then she went away.
"So in the churchyard she was laid;
And, when the grass was dry,
Together round her grave we played,
My brother John and I.
"And when the ground was white with snow,
And I could run and slide,
My brother John was forced to go,
And he lies by her side."
"How many are you, then," said I,
"If they two are in heaven?"
Quick was the little maid's reply:
"O Master! we are seven."
"But they are dead; those two are dead!
Their spirits are in heaven!"
'Twas throwing words away; for still
The little maid would have her will,
And said, "Nay, we are seven!"
Prayer for Home and Family
Robert Louis Stevenson
This beautiful prayer sums up, I think, what family life should be. I read it for the first time recently, and hope to make it familiar in the Bennett home.
Lord, behold our family here assembled. We thank Thee for this place in which we dwell; for the love that unites us; for the peace accorded us this day; for the hope with which we expect the morrow; for the health, the work, the food, and the bright skies, that make our lives delightful; for our friends in all parts of the earth.
Let peace abound in our small company. Purge out of every heart the lurking grudge. Give us grace and strength to forbear and to persevere. Offenders, give us the grace to accept and to forgive offenders. Forgetful ourselves, help us to bear cheerfully the forgetfulness of others.
Give us courage and gaiety and the quiet mind. Spare to us our friends, soften to us our enemies. Bless us, if it may be, in all our innocent endeavors. If it may not, give us the strength to encounter that which is to come, that we may be brave in peril, constant in tribulation, temperate in wrath, and in all changes of fortune, and down to the gates of death, loyal and loving one to another.
As the clay to the potter, as the windmill to the wind, as children of their sire, we beseech of Thee this help and mercy for Christ's sake.
Copyright © 1995 by William J. Bennett
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