Infomotions, Inc.The Wagner Story Book / Frost, William Henry, 1863-1902

Author: Frost, William Henry, 1863-1902
Title: The Wagner Story Book
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): knight; grail; dwarf; princess; sword; hero; castle; magic; king
Contributor(s): é, Gustave, 1832-1883 [Illustrator]
Versions: original; local mirror; HTML (this file); printable
Services: find in a library; evaluate using concordance
Rights: GNU General Public License
Size: 58,143 words (short) Grade range: 9-11 (high school) Readability score: 74 (easy)
Identifier: etext6443
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Title: The Wagner Story Book

Author: Henry Frost

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Helen Krebbier


























There is a certain little girl who sometimes tries to find out when I
am not over busy, so that she may ask me to tell her a story. She is
kind enough to say that she likes my stories, and this so flatters my
vanity that I like nothing better than telling them to her. One reason
why she likes them, I suspect, is that they are not really my stories
at all, the most of them. They are the stories that the whole world has
known and loved all these hundreds and thousands of years, tales of the
gods and the heroes, of the giants and the goblins. Those are the right
stories to tell to children, I believe, and the right ones for children
to hear--the wonderful things that used to be done, up in the sky, and
down under the ocean, and inside the mountains. If the boys and girls
do not find out now, while they are young, all about the strange,
mysterious, magical life of the days when the whole world was young, it
is ten to one that they will never find out about it at all, for the
most of us do not keep ourselves like children always, though surely we
have all been told plainly enough that that is what we ought to do.

This little girl's mother is rather a strange sort of woman. I do not
know that she exactly disagrees with us about these stories that we
both like so much, but she seems to have a different way of looking at
them from ours. I sometimes suspect that she does not even believe in
fairies at all, that she never so much as thought she saw a ghost,
that, if she heard a dozen wild horses galloping over the roof of the
house and then flying away into the sky, she would think it was only
the wind, and that she is no more afraid of ogres than of policemen.
Still she is a woman whom one cannot help liking, in some respects.

But one day she said something to the little girl that surprised me,
and made me think that perhaps I had done her injustice. The child came
to me with a face full of perplexity and said: "What do you suppose
mamma just told me?"

"I am sure I can't guess," I replied; "your mother tells you such
ridiculous things that I am always afraid to think what will be the
next. Perhaps she says that William Tell didn't shoot an apple off his
little boy's head, or that the baker's wife didn't box King Alfred's
ears for letting the cakes burn."

"Oh, no," said the child, "it isn't a bit like that; she says that you
can see pictures in the fire sometimes--men and horses and trees and
all kinds of things."

"Does she, indeed? And how does your mother know what I can see in the
fire or what I can't see?"

"Oh, I don't mean just you--yourself, I mean anybody. Now can you? I
mean can anybody?"

"Why, yes, if that is what you mean; I think some people can. It is the
most sensible thing I have known your mother to say in a long time."

"But how can anybody see such things? Can you see them? I have been
looking at the fire ever so long, and I can't see anything at all but
just the fire, the wood, and the ashes."

"Let us look at it together," I said; and I put a chair that was big
enough to hold both of us before the fireplace. "Just see how bright
the fire is; look down into those deep places under the sticks, and see
how it glows and shines like melted gold. Now, you know when you look
into a mirror you can see pictures of the things in front of it--your
own face, the walls of the room, the furniture. That is because the
mirror is so bright that it reflects these things; yet the mirror is
not bright enough to reflect anything except what is there before it,
such things as you can see with your eyes and touch with your hands.
But the fire can do better than that, for it is a great deal brighter
than the mirror, and it is so bright that it can reflect thoughts. So
you must think of the pictures first, and then, if you know just how to
look for them in the fire, you will find them reflected there, and
after a little while you will be surprised at the wonderful things you
will see."

"I don't know what you mean at all," said the child; "tell me what you
can see in the fire now."

"Very well. Suppose, then, first, that you almost close your eyes, but
not quite, so that you will not see the fire so plainly, and it will
all run together and look dim and misty. When I look at it in that way
it seems to me to be fire no more, but water. It is as if we were down
under a broad, deep river, and could see all the mass of water slowly
eddying and whirling and flowing on above us, with just the little glow
and glimmer of brightness that come down from the daylight and the air
above. But there is one little spot that is brighter, right in the
middle of the fire, where you see that one little yellow flame all by
itself. In my picture, it is like a big lump of pure gold, resting on a
point of rock that stands straight up from the bottom of the river. It
is really gold, and magic gold at that, for you know wonderful
treasures often lie at the bottoms of rivers. One of the wonderful
things about this gold is that, if anybody could have a ring made of
it, he could compel everybody else to obey him and serve him, and could
rule the whole world.

"Three forms I can see now moving backward and forward, and up and
down, and around and around about the gold. Now they grow a little
clearer. They are river nymphs, or something of the sort, and they are
here to guard the gold, lest anybody should try to steal it. It would
not be easy to steal, even if it had no guard, and knowing this has
perhaps made these pretty keepers a little careless about it, so that
now, instead of watching it very closely, they are swimming and diving
and circling about, trying to catch one another, having the jolliest
time in the world, and never thinking that there may be danger near."

"And you can see all those things in the fire?" said the little girl.
"I can't see any of them. How do you see them?"

"Just as I told you at first, by thinking of them and then seeing the
thoughts reflected there."

"Well, tell me some more."

"Look at that little dark spot under the fire. When I look at it in the
way I have told you, it is the form of a dwarf. He is ugly and rough-
looking, he is crooked, and he has a wicked face. He slips and tumbles
slowly along, till he catches sight of the water nymphs, and they look
so pretty and graceful and happy, as they chase one another about and
up and down and around, that his cruel little eyes light up with
pleasure, and he calls to them that he should like to come up and play
with them too."

"Oh, now I don't believe any of it at all," said the child; "I thought
just for a little while you might know how to see all those funny
things in the fire, but you can't hear people talk in the fire."

"Oh, my dear child, you don't know very much about the fire if you
think I can't see anything I want to in it, or hear anything I want to
either. I tell you I can hear what this dwarf says, just as plainly as
I can see him walk about. Still, if you don't believe any of it and
don't care to know about the dwarf and the nymphs and the gold, perhaps
you might better go and study your multiplication table, and I will
find something else to do."

"Oh, but I do want to know about them. Please tell me some more. What
do the nymphs say to the dwarf? Can you hear that too?"

"Of course I can hear it; they call to him to come up and play with
them if he likes, and he clambers up over the rocks and trees to catch
one of them after another, while they swim and glide away from him, and
find it much better fun than chasing one another. It is good fun, no
doubt, for the dwarf cannot swim like them, but only scrambles about in
the most ridiculous way, with never any hope of catching one of them,
except when she lets him come near her for a moment, to plague him by
slipping away again quite out of his reach. At last he gets thoroughly
tired and discouraged and angry, while the three sisters laugh at him
and taunt him and chatter with one another, and have clearly enough
forgotten all about the gold that they are supposed to be watching.

"But see now how much brighter the fire is getting. It makes me think
that something must have happened up above the river. The sun must have
risen, or something of that sort, for everything looks clearer and the
gold shines out so bright and beautiful, that the blear-eyed dwarf
himself sees it and forgets all about trying to catch water nymphs in
wondering what it is. He asks the nymphs, and they tell him about the
ring that could be made of it if only it could be stolen from them; but
it is of no use for him to try, they say, because it is a part of the
magic of the gold that it can never be stolen except by some one who
loves nobody in the world and has sworn that he will never love
anybody, and it is clear enough that the dwarf is in love with all
three of them at this very minute. When such a strange treasure as this
was to be guarded, it was no doubt very clever to set three such
beautiful creatures as these to watch it, for if a thief were not in
love already, it is a hundred to one that he would be before he got
near enough to the gold to steal it.

"But the nymphs do not understand at all how much more a heartless
little monster like this dwarf loves the glitter of gold than he could
ever possibly love them. So, even while they are laughing at him, he is
forgetting them completely, and then he swears a deep oath that as long
as he lives he will never love any living thing. Now, if you can think
of anything that anybody could do more wicked, more horrible, more
cruel than that, you must know a great deal more about wicked and
horrible things than you have any right to know. After that every kind
of wrong is easy, and a little thing like stealing a lump of gold of
the size of a bushel basket is a mere nothing. The dwarf scrambles up
the point of rock again, while the nymphs, who think that he is still
chasing them, swim far away from him, and he seizes the gold and
plunges down to the bottom with it. The nymphs rush together again with
a cry of horror and grief and fright, and in an instant everything is
dark, as the flames of our fire suddenly drop down.


"But you see they fall only for a moment, and now, as they blaze up
again, brighter than ever, I see another picture. It is on the hilltop
above the river. The grass there is soft and fresh, the trees are cool
and green, and the mellow light of morning is over them all. A light,
white morning mist comes up from the river, and the sun, which has just
risen from behind the purple hills, away off where the sky touches
them, turns the mist into shifting and shimmering silver, so that it
makes the whole scene look brighter instead of dimmer. On the hill
across the river is a glorious sight. It is a castle, the grandest and
most beautiful you ever saw. Its walls are thick and strong enough for
a fortress, yet its towers and battlements look so light and graceful
that you would think they might hold themselves up there in the air, or
rest on the silver river mist, if there were no walls under them. As I
look at the castle through the mist it seems half clear and solid and
firm, and half wavering and dim, mysterious and magical, like a castle
in a dream.

"There is something magical about it, for it was all built in one night
by two giants, and they built it for the gods themselves. And now you
must be prepared to meet some very fine company, for right here before
us are the great Father and the great Mother of the gods, looking
across the river at their splendid new home."

"Do you mean Jupiter and Juno?" the little girl asked.

"No, these are not Jupiter and Juno; and the other gods whom we shall
see soon, if the fire burns right, are not the gods you know already,
but they are a good deal like them in some ways. The Father of the Gods
is full of joy at having such a glorious castle, and the Mother of the
Gods is full of dread at the price that must be paid to the giants for
building it. A terrible price indeed it is, as she does not hesitate to
remind him, for the gods have promised to give the giants the beautiful
Goddess of Love and Youth. It was a foolish and wicked promise for them
to make, foolish because if they kept it they could never in the world
get on without her, and wicked because they did not intend to keep it.
The homes of the gods, like any other homes, would be dreary enough
without the Goddess of Love, but it is worse than that, for she has a
garden where apples grow for the gods to eat; it is eating these apples
that makes the gods always young, and nobody but her knows how to care
for them, so that if she goes away the gods will begin to grow old at
once and will soon die."

"Were the apples like that--oh, what was it? you know the name of it--
that the other gods used to eat?"

"Ambrosia? Yes, something like it, but not quite. You know the gods who
ate ambrosia would live forever and are living still; we have seen some
of them ourselves up among the stars. But these gods have to eat the
apples often, and they must get them from the Goddess of Love. This is
much the better story of the two, I think, because it shows us how gods
and other people, as long as they keep love with them, will be always
young, no matter how many years they may live; and how, if they let it
go away from them, they will be old at once, no matter how few their

"All this the Father and the Mother of the Gods are talking over
together now, and he tells her how the Fire God, who proposed the
bargain in the first place, said that the price need never be paid and
that he trusts the Fire God may yet find some way out of the trouble.
Yet the giants must be made in some way to give up their price of
themselves, for the Father of the Gods has the words of the promise cut
upon his spear, and he cannot break a promise that he has once made.
The Fire God has gone away now to search through the world for
something that may be offered to the giants instead of the Goddess of
Love. And now I see her come, running to the Father of the Gods for
protection, and the other gods are here, to help her if they can, and
the giants themselves have come to claim her for the building of the

"Well, to be sure, they are all in a fine state of excitement. The
giants are big, dreadful-looking fellows, with clubs made of the trunks
of trees, and the poor goddess does not want to go with them in the
least. All the other gods declare, too, that she shall not go with
them, and the giants insist that she shall. The Thunder God is there
and he has a wonderful hammer, a blow of which is like a stroke of
lightning. He is about to strike the giants with it, and that, you may
be sure, would settle the whole matter, big as they are, but the Father
of the Gods will not let him harm them. He has promised, and whatever
happens he cannot break his word.

"While everything is in this dreadful state, the Fire God comes back
from his search. It is not a very cheering story that he has to tell.
He has been through all the world, he says, and he has asked everywhere
what there is that is as good for gods or giants, or anybody else, as
the love of a woman, which makes those who have it always young. But
the people in those days knew more than a good many of the people in
these days, and everywhere they laughed at him and told him that he
might as well give up his search, for he would never find what he

"What do you mean by 'the people in those days'?" the child asked; "I
thought you said you could see them right here in the fire now."

"So I can, but it is the beauty of these pictures in the fire that I
can see things that happened years ago, thousands of years ago, if I
like, just as well as things that happen now, and perhaps a little
better. So you see the Fire God has not had very good luck, but as he
was coming back, he says, he passed near where the river nymphs were,
and they called to him, telling him that their beautiful gold had been
stolen, and begging him to ask the Father of the Gods to get it back
for them. They told him, too, about the wicked dwarf who stole it, and
how, before he could steal it, he had to swear never again, as long as
he lived, to love anybody or anything. The Fire God seems to have heard
about the dwarf somewhere else, too, for he says that he has already
made the magic ring out of the gold, that by the help of the ring he
has compelled all the other dwarfs to obey him and serve him, and has
piled up such a treasure of gold and jewels as was never seen before;
and finally, that, if the gods are not careful, the dwarf will soon
rule over them and the whole world besides.

"So it seems that there is one person in the world who has found
something which he thinks is worth more than love. And there are at
least two others who are as foolish as he, though they may not be quite
so wicked. And these are the giants, for when they hear the Fire God
tell of the wonderful treasure that the dwarf has heaped together, they
say to the gods that they think the dwarf is quite right, they would
rather have all that gold than the love of any woman, and, if the gods
will get it for them, they may keep their Goddess of Love and Youth.
The Father of the Gods hesitates; how can he get the treasure? he asks.

"'You can find some way to get it, if you like,' the giants reply.

"'I will not get it for you; you shall not have it,' says the Father of
the Gods.

"'Then we will hold to our first bargain,' they answer, 'and take your
Love Goddess with us. To-night we will bring her back; if you have the
treasure ready for us, then you may keep her; if not, then you have
lost her forever.' And they seize her and stride away, dragging her
with them, while the gods look on in grief and fear. And well they may
fear at the change that comes as soon as the beautiful goddess is gone.
You can see the change yourself in the fire. If it did not fit the
story that I am finding in it so well, I should say that the fire
needed more wood, for it seems almost out; see how the blackened sticks
are smouldering and smoking, with scarcely any bright flames at all.
The smoke is spreading like an ugly gray cloud over everything; the
trees and the flowers droop; the sky is dull and the grass is dingy;
the castle looks grim and heavy, and no longer bright and graceful; the
faces of the gods themselves grow pale and haggard; they feel that they
are suddenly older. They have not eaten the apples of youth to-day, and
nobody can get them but the one goddess who has gone. They know that
they will grow older every hour and will soon die if they do not get
her back, and the only way is to find the dwarf's treasure for the

"'Come quickly,' says the Father of the Gods, 'and let us get this
treasure; let us hasten down under the ground where the dwarfs live,
for we must have it to-night, when the giants come.'

"There, where the dirty yellow smoke is pouring out between the sticks
of wood at the top of the pile, I see a crevice in the rocks. The
Father of the Gods and the Fire God go down into it, and the smoke
comes thicker and blacker, and hides everything but those two, and I
see them climbing down and down over the rough, sharp rocks, toward the
caverns of the dwarfs, while the little tongues of flame shoot out at
them from the fissures, as if they were trying to catch and burn and
sting them, just as they shoot out from between the black, charred
sticks here before our eyes.

"It is a deep, dark cave that I see now, with little spots of light
here and there, like forges, and there is the sound of anvils. The
dwarfs live here, and they are all working hard, as they must now, for
the dwarf who stole the gold and made the ring from it. I see him too,
and he is scolding and beating another dwarf, who is his brother. It is
all about a piece of fine metal work that he has set his brother to do,
and now the brother wants to keep what he has made. But he drops it on
the ground and the dwarf king, for a king he really is now, picks it up
and claps it on his head. It is a helmet, made of delicate rings of
steel linked together. It is a magic helmet, and anybody who wears it
can disappear from sight whenever he likes, or can take any shape he
chooses. In a minute the dwarf is no more to be seen, and in his place
there is only a cloud of smoke. But he can still beat his brother, and
presently he leaves him whining and crying on the ground, and the cloud
floats away.

"You are not to suppose because this dwarf is treated in this cruel way
that he is any better than his brother who beats him. One of them is
just as wicked as the other, and he deserves all he gets. So here,
lying upon the ground and groaning, the two gods find him, as they come
down into the cave. 'What is the matter?' they ask, and he tells them
about the magic helmet. Then back comes the other dwarf, who wears the
helmet and the ring, driving before him a crowd of his fellows, all
laden down with gold and gems, and they throw them in a pile. They are
so rich and dazzling, and there is such a quantity of them that the
fire actually burns brighter there in the corner where they have heaped
them up. The dwarf drives all his workmen away, and then sulkily asks
the gods what they want here, for with his ring and his helmet he
thinks that he is just as good as any of the gods.

"The Fire God tells him that they have heard so much about his great
wealth that they have come to see it, and now they find his treasure
greater and finer than anything they ever saw before. At that the dwarf
is flattered and begins to boast. 'This that you see is nothing,' he
says; 'I shall soon have much more, and by the magic of my ring I mean
to rule the whole world and you gods too.'

"'But suppose,' says the Fire God, 'that some one should steal the ring
from you while you were asleep?'

"'That shows how little you know about it,' the dwarf answers. 'Why, do
you see this magic helmet of mine? With this I can make myself
invisible, or I can take any form I like, and so nobody can find me
while I am asleep to steal the ring.'

"'Oh, now you are telling us too big a story,' says the Fire God; 'it
is nonsense to say you can take any form you like, helmet or no helmet;
you can't expect us to believe that.'

"At this the dwarf begins to get a little angry; 'I tell you I can,' he
cries; 'I will prove it to you; I can change myself into anything; what
shall it be?'

"'Oh, whatever you like,' says the Fire God, 'only let it be something
big and horrible to show just how much you can do.'

"So, to show what he can do, in a second the dwarf changes himself into
a horrible dragon, with slimy scales and a writhing tail, and eyes and
jaws that look as wicked as the dwarf himself, and twice as savage. The
Fire God pretends to be dreadfully frightened, and when the dwarf comes
back to his own shape again he says: 'That was very good, but that does
not seem so hard, after all. Now, the way for you to hide, it seems to
me, would be to make yourself very small, so that you could slip into a
crack in the rocks. You can puff yourself up like a dragon, of course,
but can you make yourself small as easily? Oh, no, I cannot believe

"'I can be anything, anything, I tell you,' the dwarf cries, getting
still more angry; 'I will be as small as you like,' and in another
second he has changed himself into a toad, not much bigger than your
hand, as slimy as ever, looking still just as wicked as the dwarf
himself, and almost as ugly.

"'Now is the time--quick!' cries the Fire God, and in an instant the
Father of the Gods stamps his foot upon the toad and has him fast. The
Fire God stoops and pulls the magic helmet off the toad's head, and
instantly he is the dwarf again, but he is still firmly held under the
god's foot, and they tie him with cords and drag him away with them, up
among the rocks from which they came."

"That is just the way Puss in Boots caught the ogre, when he turned
himself into a mouse," said the little girl.

"Yes, to be sure it is, but you know there are only a very few stories
in the world, any way, and we cannot find new ones. The most we can
ever do is to tell the old ones over in different ways, and after all
it is better so, for old things are better than new almost always, as
you will find when you get a little older yourself. But now, with the
fire burning up a little better to help me, we are back above ground.
Let us put on more wood and see if we cannot make it better yet. We are
just where we were before, on the hill by the river and the castle of
the gods. And back now come the two gods from under the ground,
dragging the dwarf with them. 'And what will you give us now,' they
cry, 'if we will untie you and let you go?'

"'What must I give you?' he asks.

"'You must give us the whole of your treasure,' they answer; 'we will
not let you go for anything less.'

"That seems a large price, but the dwarf is as crafty as he is wicked,
though his craft seldom does him much good, and he thinks that even if
he gives up all his treasure he can soon pile up as much more, with the
help of the ring. So, by the power of the ring, he calls the dwarfs to
bring him the treasure, and up they come with it, out of the cleft of
the rocks, and they pile it in a great, glittering heap just there
where the new fire is beginning to burn so bright. 'There is the gold,'
cries the dwarf, 'let me go.'

"'Not yet,' says the Father of the Gods; 'give us your ring first, that
belongs to the treasure.'

"At that the dwarf screams and struggles and writhes and curses the
gods, but it is all of no use; the Father of the Gods tears the ring
from his finger, and then they untie him and tell him to take himself
off where he will. And now, as he goes, he lays a terrible curse on the
ring. To every one who shall ever gain it, he swears, shall come ill
luck, misfortune, sorrow, terror, and death; let him rule the world if
he will, never shall he be happy; everyone shall long for the ring, and
to him who gets it, it shall bring misery and ruin. Truly the dwarf has
gained little by stealing the gold from the river nymphs, but the gods
have done wrong as well in stealing it from him, and they are doing
wrong still in not giving it back to the nymphs; so they must suffer

"But it is not yet time for that, for now, as the fire burns up, the
whole picture grows brighter again. That is because the giants are
bringing back the Goddess of Love and Youth, to see if the treasure is
ready for them. The trees lift up their branches again and the happy
sunlight pours down through them; the flowers open their eyes to see
it; the sky is clear and bright, and the grass is again fresh; while
the faces of the gods, who run to meet their sister, look young and
happy as before. Only the castle is still hidden by the shining silver
river mist. The giants have come near. 'Is the ransom ready for us?'
they cry.

"'There is your treasure.' says the Father of the Gods, 'take it and be

"'We must see that it is enough first,' they answer; 'our treasure must
be as much as your goddess, so you must pile it up before her till she
is quite hidden by it; then we will take it, and you shall have her

"They heap up the gold and the jewels before the goddess, higher and
higher, till everything is gone from the old pile to the new one. Then
one of the giants looks over it and still sees the gold of her hair
above the gold of the treasure. 'Give me that helmet that you carry,'
he says to the Fire God, 'to put on the top.' and he gives it. Now the
other giant peeps through a chink in the pile and sees one of her eyes.
'Quick,' he cries to the Father of the Gods, 'give me that ring you
wear to stop this chink.'

"'No,' says the Father of the Gods, 'you shall not have that; it is the
ring that gives the power to rule the world, and I will keep it.'

"' Very well, then,' say the giants, 'we will have no more to do with
you, and we will take the goddess back with us.'

"All the gods stand terrified and pale. Will their great father let the
Goddess of Love be taken from them again, and must they all grow old
and die, that he may keep this ring? Everything grows dark again, as
our fire here drops down; only there is that pale blue flame that gives
no light, away at the back of the hearth. And now, right in the pale
blue flame, rises the form of a woman out of the ground. It is the
Earth Goddess, the wisest woman in the world, who knows all that ever
was, all that is, and all that ever shall be. She speaks to the Father
of the Gods and tells him to give the ring to the giants, for the curse
that the dwarf has laid upon it will surely destroy him who keeps it.
Then she sinks out of sight, and the Father of the Gods takes from his
finger the ring, and gives it.

"And even while the giants are stowing the treasure in a sack to carry
it away, they fall to quarrelling about how it shall be divided, and
one of them strikes the other a terrible blow with his club which lays
him dead upon the ground. Then he strides away with the treasure,
leaving the gods filled with horror at the first fatal work done by the
curse of the ring.

"Yet only for a moment; their grand new castle is ready for them now.
High up upon a rock stands the Thunder God. He swings his hammer and
the black clouds roll around him. The thunder mutters, and lightning
flames flash out from the dark vapors. The fire flickers and blazes up
again, the clouds part and melt away, and all is light at last. A
rainbow reaches across the river from shore to shore, and the gods
slowly walk across upon it toward their castle. Up from the river, far
below them, comes a sad cry of the nymphs, begging the gods to give
them back their gold. But the gods do not heed it. They rest upon the
rainbow, gazing only at their castle, as it stands before them,
stately, graceful, radiant, and rosy in the warm glow of the sunset."

"And did you really, really see it all in the fire?" the little girl
asked, after she had thought it all over for a few minutes. "It sounds
just as if it was a story you had read in a book."

"Well, perhaps I may have seen something, or heard something, or read
something of the kind somewhere," I replied, "but you know I told you
at first that you must think of the pictures before you could see them
reflected in the fire."

The little girl sat still and thought about it again for a time. "I
don't believe you saw any pictures in the fire at all," she said at


"If you say you can see all those things in the fire," said the little
girl, with an air of doubt not yet quite overcome, "I suppose I shall
have to believe it, but I don't see how. I try to think of them the way
you said, but I don't see them in the fire a bit. Can you see them all
the time?"

"It makes a good deal of difference how I feel about it," I answered,
"and a little difference how the fire burns. To-night, you see, the
fire does not burn quite as it usually does. It is cold out of doors,
and there is a wind that comes in gusts and blows different ways. It
gives the fire a good draught, and on the whole it burns rather
fiercely, but when the wind goes down the fire goes down a little too,
and when the wind changes it blows a puff of smoke down the chimney now
and then. Altogether it is not a well-behaved fire at all, and I am
afraid if we try to see things in it, some of them will be rather rough
and rude, and none of them very cheerful. Still, if you would like to

"Oh, do try," the child said, "I like nice gloomy things."

"Very well. Just now the fire is so fierce and hot that it seems to me
nothing less than a house on fire. It is a house that stands all alone
in the woods. Before it was set on fire a boy and a girl lived there.
Neither of them had any mother, but the boy's father lived with them
and took care of them, going out hunting and leaving the boy and the
girl together, till the boy was old enough to go hunting with him, and
then the girl was left alone. They were very happy there together, all
three of them, and the father always thought that the girl would
sometime grow up and be his son's wife. But now, while they are
hunting, a robber has come and has burned the house, and he takes the
girl with him and carries her off to his own house, far away among the

"After this it is not so pleasant roaming the woods and hunting all
day, with no house to go back to and no greeting of a bright face in
the evening. To make it still worse, one day, while they are hunting,
the poor boy loses sight of his father and never finds him again. So
now he is quite alone, but he still lives in the woods in the old way
till he grows to be a tall, strong, handsome young man. Perhaps he is
all the stronger and the better fighter because the most of his
enemies, and his friends too, for that matter, have been wild beasts.
That he has had one good enemy I know, because the coat that he wears
is the skin of a bear.

"And all this time the girl has been kept a prisoner at the house of
the robber, and she has grown up as well, now, to be a tall, beautiful
woman. At times, no doubt, the robber has treated her well enough, and
at times, I am afraid, not so well. But always he has urged her and has
tried to make her promise to be his wife, and now, after all these
years, at last she has promised. She has never forgotten the brave boy
whom she used to love, but the robber has told her that he is dead, and
finally she has come to believe it and has no more any hope of ever
being happy.

"I am looking right into the robber's house now. It is a strange house,
for right in the middle of it stands a large tree, which grows up
through the roof and spreads its branches over the house. And more
wonderful still, there is a sword sticking in this tree, up to the
hilt. Perhaps I might better tell you something about this sword before
we go any farther. Do you remember the gold that was stolen from the
river nymphs, the other night, when we were watching the fire, and the
magic ring that the dwarf made of it? Of course you do, and you
remember too how the Father of the Gods got it and paid it to the
giants for building his castle, and would not give it back to the river
nymphs, and how one of the giants killed the other and kept all the
treasure. Well, the Father of the Gods has been learning and thinking a
good deal since then, and he has begun to see what a great wrong he did
when he put the gold to his own uses, instead of giving it back to the
nymphs. It is no light punishment that falls on gods when they do
wrong, and he sees that for this sin he and all the other gods who live
with him in his castle must at last be destroyed utterly. Yet he still
hopes to save them if only the gold, or at least the ring, can be given
back again to the nymphs.

"Now, the giant who took all the treasure carried it away to a deep
cave in the side of a mountain, and then, by the help of the magic
helmet, he changed himself into a horrible, fierce, fiery, poisonous
dragon, so that he might stay in the cave and guard it. And there he
has stayed guarding it ever since. You will see at once that the
treasure never would do him any good in that way, but giants are
usually stupid, and he could not think of anything better to do with
it. A boy who has a penny and knows enough to buy a penny whistle with
it is richer than this dragon giant. Yet he guards the treasure pretty
well, and the Father of the Gods cannot take it away from him, and
cannot help anybody else to take it away from him, because he paid it
to him for the castle, and to touch it now would be to break his
promise. Yet he wishes that somebody, without his help, would kill the
dragon and give the gold back to its real owners. This would not really
do him any good, for his own old sin would still be just as great, and
he knows it; yet he has a strange kind of hope that it may somehow help
him. But the dragon is so big and fierce and fiery and poisonous, that
nobody could ever hope to kill him except the very greatest of heroes,
and one who simply did not know what fear meant. Even such a hero might
have a good deal of trouble about it, if he did not have a sword that
was just as keen and strong, just as sharp and firm and true as
himself. So, that he may not want for such a good blade, the Father of
the Gods has made a magic sword. No one but a god could make a sword
like this, and he has driven it up to the hilt into the great tree in
the robber's house. It is quite safe there, for the magic of it is that
nobody but the bravest, strongest, truest hero living can ever draw it
out, but for him it will be easy. There are some things besides drawing
swords out of trees which can be done easily by men who are brave and
strong and true, and which no other man can do at all.

"All this time I have been looking into the robber's house. There is a
storm outside, worse than the wind that is troubling our fire. It howls
above the house, and tears at the branches of the tree, till even the
great trunk shivers and trembles and makes the roof creak and groan.
Suddenly the door is burst open, and in, out of the storm, rushes a
man, and falls before the fire as if he were so weary that he could
move no more. Then from another room of the house comes the woman who
has promised to be the robber's wife, the girl who once lived in the
house that the robber burned. When she sees the stranger lying before
the fire, she lifts him up and brings him a big drinking-horn, and
tells him to stay and rest till the robber comes home. Then he looks at
her, and she seems to him the kindest, the sweetest, and the loveliest
woman he has ever seen.

"Soon the robber comes home, and he asks the stranger what he is and
how he came here. Then the stranger tells him all the story that I have
told you of the burning of the house where he lived with his father,
and how since then he has wandered the woods and has fought with the
wild beasts and with his enemies. As soon as he tells that, the woman
knows that the boy whom she used to love so long ago is not dead, but
is sitting here before her, and the hope comes to her that he may take
her away from this place, so that she may not have to be married to the
robber. Then she asks the stranger why he is unarmed, and he says that
he fought to rescue a woman from her enemies; he killed some of them,
but the others were so many that they broke his spear and his shield,
and he had to save himself from them, and so it was that he came to
this house.

"At this the robber grows red and pale with anger. He has heard of
the fight, and the men who were killed were his friends. 'Stay here
to-night,' he says; 'while you are in my house I cannot harm you, but
to-morrow you must go out and fight with me for killing my friends.'

"The robber and the woman have gone away and the stranger is left
alone. Sad and gloomy enough are his thoughts, for to-morrow he must
fight with the robber, and he has no sword, no spear, no shield. The
fire before him dies down, as our fire dies down too, for the moment,
and as all his hope grows darker and colder. And then, just as his life
and the world and the future seem blackest, the woman comes back. Why
should her coming bring him hope? He could not tell, perhaps, yet her
very presence cheers him; misfortune and death seem not so near when
she is by, and not so terrible, even should they come. He may not know
why it is, but I know, and so do you.

"She hastens to him and shows him the sword in the tree. She tells him
of its magic; he must be the hero to draw it out, she says, and then,
in the fight to-morrow, he must overcome his enemy and give her revenge
for all she had suffered from him. And how gladly he will do her
bidding! He seizes the sword and draws it quickly out of the tree,
while her eyes gaze at him and are filled with joy. The hero has come--
her hero. He holds the wonderful magic sword in his hand, but only for
a moment he looks upon its long, gleaming, beautiful blade. Then he
turns to her again. They twine their arms about each other and together
they leave this hateful house. And now, of a sudden, it is as if their
two hearts were all the world, as indeed they are, to each other, for
all around them the storm was stilled; the winter is gone and it is
spring; the peaceful moonlight fills the happy woods with a soft glory;
sweet airs breathe tenderly on them and on the flowers in their path;
quiet voices speak to them out of the budding trees; and so together
they are gone into the forest.

"The Father of the Gods has done more than I have told you yet to guard
against the end which he knows must come, in spite of all that he can
do. He has fancied that his castle might be safer if he were to fill it
with strong warriors to fight for him in any need. Therefore, wherever
battles are fought he sends his nine daughters to choose the bravest of
the men who are killed and to bring them to his castle. Each of these
daughters has a horse which flies through the air faster than any bird.
When the fallen heroes have come thus to the halls of the gods, they
are brought to life and their wounds are healed by means that the gods
know how to use, and they live there, feasting day after day with other
heroes. And lest they should forget their old skill and bravery in
fighting, every day they have a battle and many of them are killed and
chopped to pieces by the others' swords, but at sunset they are all
alive and well again, and they go back together to their feast in the
halls of the gods.

"It is one of these daughters of the god, one of these choosers of
heroes, whom I see before me now. I wish that I could make you see her.
She is more than a beautiful woman, and also she is less. She is tall
and her form is strong, yet light and buoyant. She is dressed all in
armor, and she has a spear and a shield which gleams and glistens like
a beacon-light for an army. She herself, as I see her here, is as
graceful and as full of warm life as a flame of the fire, the same hot
glow stirs her heart and moves her to the same eager, free action. Her
face is as clear and pure as the fire itself, and almost as radiant as
her silver shield, while the gold of her hair breaking from under the
light of her helmet, outshines them all. Beating under her bosom,
thrilling through her form, glowing in her cheeks, and beaming from her
eyes, is the joy of life and strength and beauty. Yet where is the
tenderness that one would seek in a woman's eyes? A glad light shines
in hers, but it is not softened by any kindly ray of gentleness or
mercy. Where is the sweetness of a woman's lips? Hers are calm and
beautiful, but they tempt no more than a stain of blood upon the snow.
What is there in her face that could melt into a woman's compassion and
pity? Her face is not cruel, not unkind, only still, stern, and placid
as marble. She is not a woman, you know; only a goddess--a war goddess.

"Just now the Father of the Gods is telling his daughter of the fight
that is to come between the robber and the hero who won the sword, and
he commands her to help the hero to win. She is delighted at this, for
she loves all brave, true heroes as he does, but she has scarcely left
her father when the Mother of the Gods comes, riding furiously through
the air in a chariot drawn by two rams. She has heard of the fight too,
and she takes quite a different view of it. 'This man whom you would
save and help,' she says, 'has taken the woman away from the man whose
wife she promised to be. Is that all you care for a promise? He must be
punished; you must help his enemy to kill him.'

[Illustration: "DAUGHTER OF THE GOD."]

"You see she cares nothing at all about heroes, but to her a promise is
a promise. And the Father of the Gods himself is very particular about
promises, as you must remember, so he is forced to say that he will not
help the hero. But that is not enough for her; he must command his
daughter not to help him. She shall not, he says, but that is not
enough; he must help his enemy and see that he wins. This is hard for
the Father of the Gods, for he loves the hero, and if he is left to
himself he must win, with his magic sword, yet he cannot choose; the
promise has been broken, and he gives his word that the hero shall die.

"The Father of the Gods is left alone, and again his daughter comes to
him. He tells her sadly that she must help the robber in the fight, and
that the hero must die. She is as sad as he at this command, for all
that she ever wishes is to do what he would have her do, and she knows
that, though he says that the hero must die, yet he would have him
live. But his word is given, and, full of sorrow, the god and his
daughter part. And now comes the hero himself, with his bride. She is
fearful of what may befall him in the fight, and would have him flee
farther away. He will not do that, and he tries to cheer her, till she
faints and sinks down at his feet. Then, beautiful and sad, but still
calm, stern, and placid, the Daughter of the God stands before him.

"'Soon,' she says to him, 'you must come with me to the castle of the
gods. There the Father of the Gods will welcome you, there your own
father, whom you lost so long ago, waits for you, there you will fight
and feast with heroes, and the daughters of the god will serve you.'

"'And shall this woman here,' he asks, 'whom I love, go with me and
with you there?'

"'No,' she answers, 'this woman cannot go.'

"'Then I will not go,' he replies; 'gladly I would stand before the
Father of the Gods, gladly I would see my own father again and the
heroes and the daughters of the god, but not without her; I will not go
with you; leave us here.'

"If the daughter of the god were a woman she would understand all this,
but now it would make her impatient, if anything could. She cannot know
and cannot feel why this man, who has had only trouble and ill luck all
his life, should choose to stay and wait for more trouble and ill luck
with this one poor woman who lies at their feet, fainting and knowing
not even that she is alive, rather than to sit and feast with gods and
heroes. How little a war goddess can really know about brave men!

"Yet she does know that her father, whose wishes are her own, wishes
this woman to live, and that she will be in danger after her hero has
left her; so she tells him that he may leave his bride with her and she
will protect her. But the man is still more unreasonable. He says that
she is cruel and hard-hearted. That is unjust, for she is not cruel. He
says too that the woman shall die rather than be left with her. If he
must die, he will kill the woman, too, and he is about to do it, when
the Daughter of the God holds his hand. She thinks only now of how much
her father longs that this man may live; she resolves that in spite of
the command she will save him; she tells him that he shall have her
help in the fight, and she leaves him, just as there comes a noise and
a shout of the robber with his men and his dogs hunting for the hero to
kill him.

"See how the black smoke is driven down the chimney by the changing
gusts of wind. It is like dark clouds gathering over the sky and
dropping down upon the mountain, so that it is hard to see anything at
all. The fire goes down, too, and its flames dart and flicker in
sudden, angry flashes. Some of them are like lightning, brightening the
whole scene for an instant, and then I can see the hero and the robber
in their fight, springing and thrusting and striking at each other so
that it seems as if they must both be killed a dozen times over. Again
in the sparkle of the fire I see the gleaming of the magic sword, as
the hero whirls it above his head and strikes at his enemy. Then comes
a flare of flame that shines from the shield of the Daughter of the
God, as she throws it over the hero to protect and save him. It is all
in vain, for there comes a hot, red glow in which for an instant all
the rest is lost, and now, in the midst of it stands the Father of the
Gods himself. The daughter falls back helpless before him, and he
stretches his spear toward the hero. The magic sword falls upon the
spear and is shivered to pieces. Nothing indeed could shatter that
blade but the spear of the god who made it, but with that spear to help
him the robber springs upon his enemy and his sword is through his
heart, and he is fallen.

"The Daughter of the God has come back to where the woman lay, she has
lifted her from the ground and has laid her across her horse's saddle
as if she were dead; she leaps upon his back and they are galloping
away like the wind. The Father of the Gods has avenged the broken
promise; he has killed the hero whom he loved, and now he turns for one
moment toward the robber whom he has helped to win the fight. Only once
the god waves his hand toward him and the robber falls dead; he will
fight and kill brave men no more. But a harder task than all is to come
for the Father of the Gods; how shall he deal with his own daughter,
who has disobeyed him?

"The fire is burning a little better now, but it does not yet seem to
be quite on good terms with the wind outside. The smoke is going up
again instead of down, and that is an improvement. It rises in sudden
puffs and flurries, like clouds flying across the sky after a storm.
The shadows of the clouds fall upon a mountain height, a rugged, rocky,
wild, beautiful place, where the daughters of the god are meeting to
ride home together with the heroes they have brought from some field of
battle. Now and then, as the quick flames leap up into the smoke, I can
see another and another coming, riding on her flying horse, racing with
the driving wind and the hurrying clouds, each with her warrior lying
before her across her saddle, and so alighting here and joining her
sisters. They are all here at last except the one Daughter of the God
whom we have seen before, and now she comes, but she brings no warrior
across her saddle, only the poor woman with whom she fled from the

"She tells her sisters how she has disobeyed their father, and she begs
them to protect her and the woman against his anger. They dare not help
her; never has one of them done anything that was not his will. What
can she do? He is coming in pursuit of her; sooner or later he must
find her, but she may at least save the woman. She bids her flee alone
while she waits with her sisters for her father and her punishment to
come. Far away, she tells her, there is a deep forest, and in the
forest is a cave where the horrible dragon that was once the giant
keeps and guards his treasure. So much does the Father of the Gods
dread the curse that the wicked dwarf laid upon the ring, and the doom
which he knows is coming to himself because of his own sin, that he
never wanders there. To this forest she must go, and there she may find
a refuge. The Daughter of the God gives the woman the fragments of the
broken magic sword, which she has brought with her from the field of
the fight, and bids her go.

"And now, with angry lightnings flashing all around him, comes the
Father of the Gods. Never before has he been shaken by such a storm as
this. His daughter whom he loved more than all the others, has
disobeyed him. Never before has she done anything but that which it was
his will that she should do. Now she has known his will, she has heard
his command, and she has broken it. She stands before him, sorrowful,
but still calm, stern, and placid, and asks what is to be her
punishment. She has brought her doom upon herself, he answers, and now
she must be a war goddess no more, but only a woman. He must kiss her
once, and all the strength and the valor and the pride of the goddess
will be gone. Then she will sink to sleep, and here on this rocky
mountain height she must lie till some man comes and awakes her, and
she must be a woman only and his wife.

"Very dreadful this seems to the poor war goddess, but it is because
she has never been a woman, and does not know much about women. To me
it does not seem dreadful at all. It is much better and sweeter and
nobler, I believe, to be the best that a woman can be than the
strongest and greatest and proudest that a goddess can be. And I hope
you will always remember what we see here in the fire to-night, and if
you ever feel that there is any danger of your being a goddess, or if
anybody ever tells you that you are one, then let somebody kiss you and
make you a woman.

"But to one who has so long been used to wearing armor and riding
through the air, and choosing the bravest of the fallen heroes, and
bearing them to the castle of the gods, the change may well seem hard
to suffer at first. So the Daughter of the God thinks that no heavier
punishment could have been found for her. Her sisters think so, too,
and they beg their father to have mercy on her, but he sternly bids
them be silent and to leave him. Now the Daughter of the God tells him
how she tried to do what he would have her do; she knew that he loved
the hero and hated the robber, and that his command to her was given
unwillingly; she hoped to gain for him the wish of his heart, in spite
of his words, and she threw her shield over the hero.

"It is useless; he cannot stay her punishment now, but his anger is all
gone and he is filled with sorrow like her own. He loves her still,
more than any other daughter, and now he will never have her beside him
in the halls of the gods again, never again see her ride to the battle,
never see her return with brave men to guard his house, never again
speak to her as he could to no other, and tell her all that is in his
heart, never again see her glad, deep, answering eyes look into his,
full of sympathy and help. One thing yet she begs: if all that they
have been to each other, the god and his daughter, must be no more, if
she must sleep and wait here for an unknown husband to wake her, she
prays him to set some guard around her, a wall of fire, that no one but
a brave man, the bravest of men, may win her for his bride.

"Yes, he will do this; she shall be shut in by fire and none shall ever
come to her but the bravest of heroes, one who knows no fear at all. No
one who fears even his own terrible spear, that spear which broke the
magic sword that he himself had made, shall ever awake her who was his
daughter, and now is to be his daughter no more. He draws her to him
for one last time; he kisses her lips and they are silent; he kisses
her eyes and they close. He lays her on a bank of soft moss; he closes
her helmet and covers her with her shield. Near by her horse lies upon
the ground asleep too; the flowers among the grass and in the crevices
of the rocks droop their drowsy heads; the winds as they pass make no
noise. He touches the point of his spear to the ground. Instantly the
fire springs up; it makes a fierce, raging ring around the rock; surely
only one who knows no fear can ever pass it. The Father of the Gods is
gone. Now we can see nothing but the fire streaming up and exulting in
its life and its hot defiance of all but the bravest; but there in the
midst of it lies the Daughter of the God, asleep till her lover shall
call her with a kiss to come with him and be a woman."

The little girl's mother had come into the room and had heard the last
of the story. "Isn't it time," she said, "that the daughter of somebody
else was asleep, too, if she wants to grow to be a woman?"

"It is late," I had to admit. "Well, the Daughter of the God is safe
for the present. Perhaps some other time, when we have a better-behaved
fire, we may see something of the lover."


"Don't you think the fire is very good to-night?" the little girl

"Yes, it is certainly very good indeed," I admitted.

"I should think," she said, "that anybody that could see things in
fires might see very nice things in this one."

When she who might command deigns thus delicately to make a mere
suggestion, it is the part both of chivalry and of loyalty to obey. I
should feel that having my head chopped off was altogether too good for
me if I hesitated at such a time. "Come," I said, "and let us see what
the fire really looks like. What does it look like to you?"

"Oh, it doesn't look like anything at all to me, only just the fire.
What does it to you?"

"It looks like a fire to me too, but it is the fire of a smith's forge.
The place where it is looks half like a room and half like a cavern. It
is all of rocks, but there is the forge and there are the chimney and
the anvil and the bellows and all sorts of smith's tools."

"You can see things all around the fire, just the same as in it, can't
you?" said the child.

"Oh, to be sure; when I want to see these things that make themselves
into stories, I can see them almost anywhere, only I think the fire is
a particularly good place. And who do you think is working at the
forge? It is an ugly little dwarf, the very one whom we saw the other
night, who made the magic helmet, the brother of the one who stole the
treasure from the river nymphs. You remember he was a clever smith,
else he never could have made that wonderful helmet. Now he is at work
here trying to make a sword. And he does make a sword too, but he does
not seem pleased with it when it is finished, and he leaves off his
work and sits down, with a very dissatisfied, sulky, ugly look in his

"It would be hard for anybody to look more unlike the dwarf than the
person I see now coming into the cave. He is a boy, or perhaps he would
rather be called a young man, and I shall be glad to call him whatever
he likes. He is dressed in skins and wears a little silver horn at his
side. If the dwarf is short and ugly, he is tall and handsome; if the
dwarf's face has a scowl of wicked hatred and cunning, his has a smile
that beams with kindliness and candor; if the dwarf is old and crooked
and rough and hairy, he is young and straight and graceful and fair. In
short, you surely never saw a young man who looked more free, happy,
generous, noble, strong, and bold than he. It makes one more good-
humored to look at him, and the sunlight follows him straight into the
cave. Something else follows him too, for he is leading a big brown
bear by a cord twisted around its neck. He sends the bear at the dwarf,
who screams and runs away in terror. The young man seems to have caught
the bear in the woods just to frighten the dwarf, and he lets it go
again when the dwarf tells him that the sword is finished and ready for
him. He takes the sword and looks at it scornfully. It is good for
nothing, he says. He strikes it upon the anvil and breaks it into a
dozen pieces. He is a little particular about his swords; he does not
like them unless he can chop anvils with them.

"Before we try to see any more, perhaps I ought to tell you something
about this wonderful youth and why he lives here in the cave with the
dwarf. He was born here. This is the forest where the treasure is
hidden that was paid to the giants for building the castle of the gods.
It is guarded, as you know, by the giant who killed his brother so that
he might have the whole of it, and he has changed himself into a
horrible dragon, by the magic helmet, so that he may guard it better.
The young man's mother was the woman whom the Daughter of the God sent
away into this forest to save her from the anger of the Father of the
Gods, as you remember. She took refuge here in the dwarf's cave and she
died soon after her son was born, and then the dwarf kept the boy and
brought him up. But it was not because he cared for him at all or had
the least kindly feeling for anybody. It was just because he wanted, as
so many others wanted, that rich treasure and the magic helmet and the
magic ring with the curse upon it.

"Now, you see, the boy's mother gave him the pieces of the broken magic
sword and told him to keep them for the boy. He knew something about
the sword and so he got it into his head that this was the very sword
that would sometime kill that dragon. And since this boy was to have
the sword, he thought, too, that he might very likely grow up to be the
man who would kill the dragon. Do you see, then, why he has kept him
and fed him and brought him up so carefully? It was just because he was
so cunning and cruel and selfish that he took good care of the boy. He
knew very well that he himself would never dare to go near enough to
that dragon for it to breathe on him, but he thought: 'Some day I will
give this boy the magic sword and make him go and kill the monster with
it, and then I will kill him and get all the treasure, with the helmet
and the ring, and then I shall be the ruler of all the dwarfs, of men,
of the gods themselves, and of the whole world.'


"So the baby that the dwarf took and tended at first has grown to be
this noble, brave, generous young man, and he hates the dwarf as anyone
as good and strong as he must hate anything so cowardly and mean and
wicked. All these years the dwarf has never told him anything about his
mother or how he came to be living with him here in the cave. But now
of a sudden the young man asks the dwarf some questions and shows that
he means to treat him very roughly if he does not answer them. So the
dwarf tells him a little of what I have told you, and to prove that
what he says about his mother is true he shows him the pieces of the
broken sword.

"The young man gets interested in these at once, you may be sure. 'That
was a good sword,' he cries; 'that is the sword I must have; mend it
for me, dwarf, and mend it quickly. I will go into the forest, and, if
it is not done when I come back, you shall be sorry that you worked so

"Then away he goes to play with the bears, perhaps, in the forest. Now
you can be quite sure that the dwarf has not kept that broken sword all
these years without ever trying to mend it. He has tried many times,
and he can no more put the pieces together than he can look as handsome
as the fiery youth who has just left him here frightened half to death.
So he simply sits down and lets himself get more frightened till he
looks up and finds that he has a visitor.

"The visitor is a tall old man whom he does not know, but I know him;
he is the Father of the Gods. He asks the dwarf to let him sit down and
rest, but the dwarf is even more ill-natured than usual and bids him go
away and not trouble him. The Father of the Gods replies that he might
perhaps tell the dwarf something that would be of use to him if he
would let him stay. Now you see what a good chance this would be for
the dwarf to ask how to mend the broken sword, but he is so cross and
surly that he thinks of nothing but how to be as disagreeable as
possible, so he says that he knows all that he needs to know and does
not care to learn from anybody. But the Father of the Gods persists; he
will give the dwarf his head, he says, if he cannot answer any three
questions that he may ask him. This pleases the dwarf, for he thinks it
would be a pleasure to him to cut off somebody's head. 'What people,
then,' he asks for his first question, 'live under the ground?'

"'The dwarfs,' says the stranger; 'one of them had a ring once, by
which he ruled all the others.'

"'And what people,' asks the dwarf, 'live upon the mountains?'

"'The giants; one of them, in the form of a dragon, has the ring now.'

"'And who live up among the clouds?'

"'The gods,' says the stranger, 'and the Father of the Gods has a spear
with which he rules the world.'

"As he says that, he lets the end of the spear which he carries drop
upon the ground and instantly there is a peal of thunder.

"'Now,' says the stranger, 'as I have saved my head, you must pledge me
yours to answer the three questions which I shall ask. Who is the
strongest of heroes whom the Father of the Gods loves?'

"The dwarf answers that he thinks it must be the son of the woman who
died long ago in the forest, who will kill the dragon and win the
treasure. This is a good answer, and the stranger asks again: 'What
sword must he use to kill the dragon?'

"What easy questions these are, to be sure! The dwarf says at once:
'The magic sword that the Father of the Gods made.'

"Now the stranger looks stern and says: 'But who shall mend the sword
that it may be fit for the fight?'

"At this the dwarf is frightened indeed. He cries out in terror that he
cannot do it, he knows no better smith than himself, and he does not
see how it can be done. 'Then you should have asked me that,' says the
stranger, 'instead of foolish questions about things that you knew
already. Yet I will tell you: as none but the best of heroes could pull
that sword out of the tree where it once stuck, so now none but a hero
who knows no fear can put its broken pieces together. Your poor head,
which belongs to me, I will leave to the same hero, and so good-by.'

"The dwarf falls upon the ground in a trembling heap, and so the young
man finds him when he comes back to ask if he has yet mended the sword.
'I can never mend it,' he cries. 'Have you ever known fear?'

"'Fear?' he answers; 'no, what is fear? Is it something I ought to know
how to do, something you ought to have taught me and have not? Is it a
pleasant thing to have or to know or to do? What is it like?'

"'I cannot teach you fear,' says the dwarf, 'but I know one who can, or
else you never can learn it. It is the dragon that lives in the cave at
the end of the wood. I will take you to him and if he will not teach
you fear then you may kill him.'

"'Very well,' says the young man, 'I will go; but first mend the sword
for me; I shall need it.'

"'I cannot mend it for you.' the dwarf answers; 'only one who does not
know how to fear can do that.'

"'Then I must do it myself,' says the young man, and he sets about it
at once.

"The fire on that forge has never been so hot and the fire here on our
hearth has never been so bright as now when the young man who knows no
fear blows the bellows. While the coals under that eager blast shine
redder and redder and then whiter and whiter he begins filing the
pieces of the sword to powder. The dwarf cries out to him that that is
not the way to mend a sword; but this is not a common sword, and the
dwarf has shown well enough already that he knows nothing about mending
it. So the young smith pays no attention to him, but goes on with his
work. In mending magic swords, just as in some other things, knowing
how at the start does not count for so much as not knowing any fear.

"So without any fear the young man melts the filings of the sword with
the splendid fire which you can surely see just as well as anybody, and
pours the melted metal into a mould of the shape of a sword blade. By
this time the dwarf has found that it is of no use to interrupt him and
has begun to think about his own work. When the dragon has been killed,
he thinks, the hero will be hot and tired, and then he will offer him
something to drink. It will be poison, the hero will die, and then he,
the poor dwarf, who has worked and waited all these years for this day,
will have all the treasure, with the magic helmet and the ring. So he
sets himself to brewing the poison by the very same fire that the young
man is using to forge his sword.

"And now the young man has heated the sword again and shaped it with
hammers and cooled it with water, he is sharpening and polishing the
blade and fitting it to the hilt, and now at last he holds it in his
hand and it is done. He has forged the magic sword and has proved his
right; he is the true hero, the hero who knows no fear. And is there
any thing that such a hero loves better than a good sword? Yes, to be
sure; but to this hero the time for that has not come yet, and he has
never felt such delight as fills him now when he looks along the
bright, smooth, keen edge of this blade. Oh, the sword was not like
this before it was broken. Sometimes people say that beautiful polished
things are like mirrors, but this sword is like a flame. It burns and
twinkles as he holds it and turns it in his hand. I can scarcely see of
what shape it is, for now it shines like a straight beam of light, now,
as he twists it, there is a flash in a half circle, like a scymitar,
and again the point alone gleams out and flashes, as if it would find
its own way to the heart of a foe, with no hand to guide it. He swings
the sword above his head, as he did the other that the dwarf made for
him, and strikes it upon the anvil. And this time the anvil falls in
two as if it were made of paper, and the sword glitters and shines and
shimmers in the joy of its magic sharpness and strength.

"Now that the sword is ready, the dwarf leads the young man away
through the woods, a long journey, to a place where he has never been
before, to find the dragon. You see that deep, dark hole under the
sticks; that is the dragon's cave in the side of the mountain. Just a
little light shines at the very bottom of it, where the dragon is
resting and breathing out fire. 'There is his hole,' says the dwarf;
'just wait here till he comes out and then kill him, Look out for his
teeth or he will catch you and eat you; be careful about his breath,
for it is fiery and poisonous; beware of his tail, for he may wind it
around you and crush you.'

"'I do not care for his teeth or his breath or his tail,' says the
young man; 'I only want to find his heart. Leave me here, and never let
me see you again.'

"The dwarf goes away and the young man sits down on the grass to wait
for the dragon. You see, since he knows nothing at all about fear it
does not seem to him such a great thing to kill a dragon. He does not
care much whether he kills it or not, and he is in no hurry about it.
So he sits on the grass and looks at the gray old rocks and the bright
young flowers about him, sees the golden sunlight falling in little
spots and flecks through the branches, feels the cool, fresh morning
air, and hears the soft rustle of the trees and the singing of the
birds. Most of all, he listens to the birds that flutter about in the
branches above him, as the sparks hover over the fire there, before
they fly away up the chimney, and in particular to one bird, right over
his head in the tree. It sings so loudly and so clearly that it seems
to be talking to him, only, of course, he cannot understand what it
says. He has wished for a long time that he might have some better
company than the ugly dwarf, and he thinks now that he should like to
talk with the bird.

"If he cannot understand the bird, perhaps the next best thing would be
to make the bird understand him, so he makes a pipe out of a reed and
tries to play upon it something like the bird's song. I don't know what
he thinks he is saying to the bird with his reed, and he seems not much
pleased with it himself, for he throws it away and blows a ringing,
echoing blast on his horn instead. And now he gets an answer, for this
time he has awakened the dragon, and it comes out of its cave to see
what is making so much noise so early in the morning.

"Oh, but it is an ugly-looking monster! It is something like a snake,
but more like a giant lizard. It has scales all over its body and it
has a long, shiny tail. It walks clumsily, because its legs are too
small for it, and writhes and wriggles itself along, raising its head
now and then to look about, and breathing out red fire and black smoke
like a blast from a furnace. When its poisonous breath has blown this
smoke away for an instant, it shows two rows of teeth like knives and a
long forked tongue like a snake's, and its jaws are opened wide enough
to take the young man into them and bite him into a dozen pieces at one
snap. Surely if he is ever to learn what fear is now is his chance.

"He sees all this just as plainly as I see it here in the fire; but do
you think he is afraid? Why, he simply laughs at the monster. 'A
pleasant-looking fellow you are,' he says; 'can you teach me what fear
is? If you cannot, I shall prick you with my sword to make you think
about it.'

"Now, this dragon can talk just as well as it could when it was a
giant, so it begins to get angry and tells the impudent young man to
come on and see what he can do with his little tailor's needle of a
sword. He does not have to be asked twice, and in a minute there is
just as lively a fight as you ever saw. The dragon tries to breathe
fire upon the hero and scorch him up to a black cinder, but he does not
want to be a cinder and he runs around to the dragon's side. Then the
dragon tries to catch him with its long slimy tail, so that it may
crush him to a jelly, but he does not want to be a jelly either, so as
soon as the tail comes near enough he gives it a terrible wound with
his sword, and then runs back in front of the dragon. The monster gives
a dreadful roar as it feels the wound, and raises its head and breast
high up in the air, striking at the hero with its long, sharp claws and
trying to throw the whole weight of its body upon him. This is just
what he has been watching for, and as the dragon lifts itself before
him he drives his sword clear through its heart.

"Then he springs lightly away again, as the dragon, with another
horrible bellow, falls down and rolls over upon its side. 'It is the
curse of the ring that has killed me,' says the dragon, as it dies; 'my
treasure is there in the cave; you can take it now, bold boy, but the
curse of the ring will bring death to you, as it has brought it to me.'

"So the dragon lies dead. The young hero seizes the hilt of the sword
to draw it from the dragon's body, and as he pulls it out the blood
from the wound spurts upon his hand. It burns as if it were the fuel of
the creature's fiery breath. As he feels its heat he puts his fingers
into his mouth, and the instant that he tastes the blood the most
wonderful thing of all happens to him. He understands the songs of the
birds. The one that he tried to talk with before sings to him again,
and now he knows every word. It tells him that in the cave are gold and
jewels untold, that with the magic helmet he can do wonderful things,
and that with the magic ring he can rule the world. He thanks the bird
for telling him such good things, and goes to find the helmet and the
ring. In a minute he comes back with them; he does not want the rest of
the treasure, for he knows nothing about gold and cares nothing about

"Now the bird sings to him again. 'Beware of the dwarf,' it says, 'he
means to do you harm. But when he speaks to you the blood of the dragon
which you have tasted will help you to understand the meaning that is
in his heart instead of the words that he says.'

"So the dwarf comes back, with a drinking-horn in which he has poured
the poison, and he offers it to the hero to drink. But with all the
friendly words that he tries to speak, he can hide nothing from the
young man, who reads his heart and knows that he has kept him and fed
him all these years only that he might kill the dragon, and that now he
means to poison him and get the gold for himself. There is only one
thing to be done with such wickedness as this. He raises his sword and
with one blow strikes the dwarf dead.

"You can guess how the bird is delighted at this. It sings to him
again: 'I know where you could find the loveliest woman in the world.
There is fire burning all around her, and if you could only pass
through that you could win her for your wife.'

"'But could I pass through the fire?' he asks.

"'Only the hero who knows no fear can do that,' sings the bird.

"'Very well, then, I know no fear,' he answers; 'the dragon could not
teach it to me; lead me to this woman; perhaps I may learn it from

"The bird flutters down a little from the tree and then flies away. Did
you see the big, bright spark that flew up the chimney?

"Away runs the hero too, following the bird. It is a long journey,
through the forest and over the rocks and the mountains, but he is
young and eager, and his light heart makes the way almost as easy for
him as it is for the bird. Yet the bird is the faster, and by and by it
flies so far ahead that he cannot see it at all, and then his way is
barred by a mighty form that stands before him. It is the Father of the
Gods. The young man does not know what a terrible person he has met,
though it is fair to say that if he did know he would not care, and he
asks him if he knows where he may find the beautiful woman with the
fire all about her.

"The Father of the Gods asks him in turn how he heard of this woman,
what taught him to understand the song of the bird, who forged the
sword with which he killed the dragon. All these things he answers, and
the Father of the Gods is sure that the hero who knows no fear has come
at last. Yet one test remains for him. 'There is the place you seek,'
he says, as he points to the mountain-top, where the bright flames are
whirling and dancing and leaping up into the very sky, 'there is your
way, yet not another step upon it shall you go.' and he stretches his
spear across the path to keep the young man back.

"Ah, once before that spear was raised against this magic sword. It was
a mighty arm that swung the sword then, the arm of the best of heroes
living, but the hero had done a wrong, he had helped to break a
promise, and he who breaks promises can never break the spears of the
gods. His arm had not the young strength of that which masters the
sword to-day. Fierce and brave and noble was he, yet he had seen many
sorrows, and he knew what fear was; the glad, free hope of the new hero
was not his. The sword then was true of temper, bright and sharp, but
the heat and the light of the fire of a new manhood had not been forged
into it then, and it was not aflame with the glory of youth and the
promise of love. And so, with a sweep and a flash as of lightning, the
magic sword cuts through the spear that no other sword ever dared even
strike, and as the fragments fall upon the ground, the mountain shakes
and shudders, and the thunder rolls and rumbles about its top. The
young man is again upon his way. Half sadly and half gladly, the Father
of the Gods looks after him. He has come and has passed, the hero who
knows no fear; he has not even feared the spear that ruled the world,
and now that spear is broken. The time of the gods is near.

"Again I see the whole fire streaming up fiercely and joyously, as it
did when the Father of the Gods kissed his daughter to sleep. The winds
are still hushed around the mountain top, the flowers in the grass and
on the rock still droop with folded petals, and the horse still sleeps
upon the ground, for there, in the midst of the fire, on the bank of
moss still lies the Daughter of the God, her form covered with her
shield, and her face hidden by her closed helmet. Through all these
years nothing has changed or stirred in this magic circle except the
changing, stirring, restless, watchful fire that rings it around. Now,
the time for life has come again. Up from the mountain side comes a
ringing horn note, and in a moment the hero strides through the flames
that dart and flicker and lick at him, but cannot harm him, and stands
in the magic circle gazing in wonder upon its strange sleep.

"'Who is that,' he thinks, 'covered with the shield? It must be a
knight, but is it not hard for him to lie there all dressed in armor?'
He gently takes off the helmet and starts back in surprise as he sees
the lovely face and the soft spun gold that falls out upon the moss as
he lifts the helmet away. Now he raises the shield and tries to open
the armor in front, that the knight may breathe more freely. He cannot
unfasten it, and at last he cuts it with his sword, and then he starts
again as he sees the light, snowy folds of the garment underneath. This
can be no knight, this is a woman. What has he done? What shall he do?
He stands and looks at her; he has never seen anything half so
beautiful, and as he looks he trembles; he fears to wake her and he
fears to leave her asleep. Yes, the hero who knew no fear trembles. He
has learned to fear from this woman. Not by anything that she has done
has she taught him, for she still sleeps. It is only because she is a
woman that he fears. He is no less a hero for that. A man who lived
long and never feared at all would be no hero. The time has come to
him, as it must come to every man, when it is braver to fear.

"Yet, though he fears, he does not hesitate. He does just the only
thing that he possibly could do. He kneels beside her and kisses her
lips. Then she awakes. She opens those eyes that are blue with the
depth of the sea and the light of the sky. She gazes around her at the
rocks, at the trees, at the sunlight, at her hero, and her face is
filled with joy. And what a face it is! No longer as it was before. At
her father's kiss the goddess slept; her hero's kiss awoke the woman.
Her face is as clear, as pure, and as radiant as before, but soft and
gracious and gentle; her eyes are as full of light as they were, but
there is tenderness in them too; her lips are as calm and beautiful,
but they are all sweetness; what was still and stern and placid is full
of sympathy, kind, and loving.

"The flowers lift up their heads and open to look at her; the horse
neighs to say that he is awake again and knows her; the little winds
come back and murmur softly at first among the leaves; then they get
bolder and kiss her cheek and lift her hair and shake it out to the
light, and whisper to her hero and ask him if he saw any gold like that
in the dragon's cave. He has never seen any woman before, yet he knows
that in all the world there cannot be another such as this. She has
seen many heroes, yet this is he for whom she has waited so long. Each
knows all the depth of the other's thoughts, and so they stand and gaze
each into the other's eyes and into the other's heart."

"And is that all?" said the child. "It ends just like 'The Sleeping
Beauty,' doesn't it?"

"No; just here it is like 'The Sleeping Beauty,' but we shall see more
some other time. This is the end for the night."


The fire has always fascinated and charmed me. When I was a child
myself I used to watch it till my eyes ached, and my habit of throwing
sticks and paper into it to see them burn was a terror to all my aunts.
A bonfire was a delicious joy, and fireworks, especially if I could set
them off myself, were the summit of happiness. Even now, whenever I see
a house on fire I am afraid my pleasure in watching it is much greater
than my sorrow for the people who are losing their property or their
home. I do not want houses to burn, but if they must burn I want to see
them. As for the fire on the hearth, that is my counsellor and friend.
When we are alone together I sit and gaze into it, and it tells me of
old, happy times, of other friends who are far away now, and of the
pleasant nights we had together. It speaks to me of old hopes, it is
glad with me in their fulfilment or it cheers me in their loss. It
talks of bright, new hopes, and tells me that even if all else fails,
it will still be true to me and will try, if I will come back to it, to
cheer and help me again as it cheers and helps me now.

As I sat in this way with the fire, the little girl came and took a low
stool beside me. She looked into the fire too, laying her cheek upon my
hand, which rested on the arm of the chair. She does not care for our
talks about other hearth fires that long ago went out, so we had to do
something else to entertain her. "Did you want to know more about the
Daughter of the God and the Hero who knew no fear?" I said. "Well, I
can see them both now, just where we saw them last on the mountain top,
with the fire burning around them as it did before, but not so high and
fierce as before, because it is not needed for a guard so much as it

"The Daughter of the God is telling her hero that he ought to go to
seek more adventures. Perhaps he may find other things for his magic
sword to kill besides dragons and wicked dwarfs, and the more such
things he does the better she will love him when he comes back. Oh, she
knows all about heroes and what they ought to do. He does not like to
leave her at all, but if he knows that she really wants him to seek
adventures, you may be sure he will seek them. Before he goes, he gives
her the ring that he got from the dragon's cave, with the curse upon
it, but they are not the sort of man and woman to trouble themselves
about curses. In return she gives him her horse and her shield, not
that he will need it much against his enemies, with that magic sword,
and besides she knows how to cast a spell upon him so that he cannot be
wounded in battle; but the shield may keep off the rain, if he has to
sleep out of doors. So he goes away down the mountain and she waits for
him to come back.

"Now all the fire changes to a shining river. It is the same river
where the treasure was once kept by the nymphs, only now we are above
it instead of under it. On the bank is the hall of a king and I see the
king himself sitting on his throne, with his sister, a beautiful
princess, beside him. With them too is their half-brother. He is a
strange fellow and you ought to know him. His father is the dwarf who
stole the treasure, and his father has told him all about it many times
and has taught him to hope that some time he may get it again, so that
they two may divide all the riches between them, and with the ring and
the helmet may rule the world. He is just as wicked as his father, all
he cares for in the world is to get that treasure, and you may be sure
that he will try to get it in every way that he can find, good or bad.

"He is trying at this very moment, and in rather a strange way, you may
think at first. He is telling the king that he ought to have a wife,
and that his sister ought to have a husband. The king asks, just as
everybody always asks when he is told that, 'Whom do you want me to

"'The most beautiful and the most royal of all women,' says the half-
brother, 'lives upon a rock with fire all around it for a guard, and
whoever shall break through the fire and come to her shall win her for
his wife.'

"This does not encourage the king at all. He never walked through a
fire or did anything of the sort, and he does not even care to try. You
see the difference between a king and a hero. But the half-brother says
that he knows of a hero who would be glad to go through the fire and
get this woman for the king, if only he might have the king's sister
for himself. The princess is not displeased at all at the notion of a
husband who is so brave and can do such wonderful things, but she fears
that such a hero must long ago have seen and loved some woman more
beautiful than she, and that he will not care for her at all. But the
half-brother answers: 'There is a magic drink which you shall give him,
and it will make him forget any other woman he has ever seen, no matter
who she is.'

"The half-brother knows very well, I believe, that the hero already
loves the Daughter of the God, and it is she that he means to make him
forget before he sends him to get her for the king. Of course the king
and his sister know nothing about this, or they would have nothing to
do with such a wicked plan, for they are reasonably good people. The
half-brother says that the hero is going about the world to find
adventures and is sure to come here before long, and true enough, even
while he is speaking they see him coming with his horse in a little
boat on the river. They call to him to come on shore, and they welcome
him as if they were never so glad to see anybody before in their lives.

"Perhaps, indeed, they never were so glad to see anybody, and I am sure
the princess never was. A form so full of life and action and vigor, or
a face so full of freedom and courage and cheer surely she has never
seen. The fine frankness of his ways and the young grace of his motion
are new to her too, and that she can hope to win him at once for
herself is almost more than she can believe. She would not think of
such a thing at all if she knew how little he thought or cared about
her. He is charming and polite enough, of course, but as often as he
thinks of her or of anything else once he thinks of the Daughter of the
God twice, and when his thoughts are not especially drawn away he
thinks of her all the time. But now the princess offers him a horn
filled with the magic drink that is to make him forget. Oh, if only
that clever little bird were here now to warn him, as it did when the
dwarf mixed the drink for him, how much trouble might be saved! But,
you know, he never thinks of danger, so he drinks, and then he thinks
of nothing at all--nothing at all but the princess.

"Well, that is not surprising, for you know she is only the second
woman he ever saw and he has forgotten the first. You would scarcely
believe how much he has forgotten her. Why, if the king were to tell
him at this moment that a woman slept under a shield, guarded by fire,
that a young man came through the fire, cut open her armor, kissed her,
awakened her, and vowed that he would love her forever, he would not
remember that he had ever known of anything of the kind or had ever
heard of such a young man. For him there is no woman in the world now
but the princess.

"The king does tell him a little of this story, when the hero asks him,
still thinking of the princess, whether he has a wife as well a sister.
'No,' the king answers, 'I have no wife. The woman I want for my wife I
fear I never can win; she is far away upon a mountain and a fire burns
all around her. He who could pass through the fire and come to her
might win her, but I could never do it.'

"It is just as I told you. This absurd young man does not know that he
ever heard of a woman in the middle of a fire before; he does not know
that he ever learned to fear, so he says: 'I am not afraid of a little
fire; I will go and get your bride for you if you will give me your
sister for mine.'

"'I will give you my sister gladly,' says the king; 'but how is my
bride to be made to think that it is I who come to her and win her,
instead of you?'

"'That is easy,' says the half-brother; 'with that helmet which he
wears he can take any form he will, and he can make himself look
exactly like you. He shall bring the woman away through the fire and
then he shall leave her to you, and she will never know that it was not
you who came to her rock.'

"Now, the hero, you know, never knew what could be done with that
helmet. He only took it with him from the dragon's cave because the
little bird told him it was good for something. Now that he has learned
its use everything that he and the king want to do seems simple enough,
and they set off in the little boat for the rock with the fire around
it. The half-brother stays on the shore and looks after them, with his
pale face and his wicked eyes. The woman far away on that rock has the
magic ring. When the king brings her here as his bride he will find
some way to get the ring, and then what will he care for kings or
brides, for princesses or heroes? He and the wicked dwarf, his father,
will rule the world.

"The fire burns up high and clear again and within its circle sits the
Daughter of the God. She does not sleep now; she sits and gazes at the
ring her hero gave her, thinking nothing of the curse upon it, and
wonders when he will come back to her. Ah, when will her hero come back
to her? Do you remember how once on this very rock the daughters of the
god met to ride together to his castle, and how they came each riding
on her flying horse, racing with the driving wind and the hurrying
clouds? With just such a leap and a flash of a sudden flame up into the
smoke I can see one of them riding now. So quickly she gallops through
the sky that I can scarcely see what she is till she reaches the rock,
springs from her horse, and stands before her sister. Her sister runs
to meet her and to ask if their father is still angry with her.

"The war goddess has sad things to tell of their father. He sits in his
castle with the gods and his heroes around him. They do not go out to
fight and kill each other, and to be made alive and well again at
sunset any more. The Father of the Gods only sits there and looks at
his broken spear, and the rest, full of dread, look only at him. He is
weary of ruling the world, weary of all the trouble that has come from
the wrong that he did in not giving that treasure back to the river
nymphs. He is not sorry that his spear is broken and he would gladly
hasten the end of all. He has made his heroes cut down the great ash
tree from which his spear was made, the tree that spread its branches
over all his castle, and they have piled the wood high around the
walls. When the end comes it will help the castle to burn. And now the
Father of the Gods says that, if the woman who has the magic ring whose
curse has been so heavy would but give it back to the river nymphs, all
his great sorrows would be over.

"This his daughter, the war goddess, heard, and hastened here to tell
it to his daughter, the woman. Will she give up the ring? Will she help
the gods to find the rest that they long for? Ah, but a war goddess
knows as little of women as she does of men. No, no, the woman loves
the man who gave her the ring and she would not lose it for a moment to
gain ages of peace for the gods whose homes she shares no more. She
cares nothing for weary gods; she has a hero. The war goddess cannot
understand her sister. She leaves her and is away again, toward the
castle of the gods, riding on her flying horse, galloping against the
driving wind and the hurrying clouds.

"A horn sounds down in the valley. There is only one horn in the world
like that, and the woman springs joyfully up to meet her hero. He comes
and walks through the fire as he did before, but oh! how different he
is from what he was before! Then his face was young and fresh and noble
and his form was graceful and light; now his face and his form are
those of the king. Is this the promise that the Father of the Gods made
to his daughter? He said that none should ever come to her or win her
but the bravest of heroes. Yes, this is indeed the promise and this the
hero, but how sadly for her the promise is kept! When he saw her before
he gently lifted off her helmet and kissed her and learned to fear
before her; now he thinks only of the princess, away there by the
river, and he tells the Daughter of the God that he is the king and
that she must come with him and be his bride.

"She resists him, and he seizes her to force her. She holds out her
hand to him with the ring and bids him beware its power, which will
protect her from him; he seizes her hand and pulls the ring from her
finger. She is helpless; she faints in his grasp; he carries her
through the fire and down the mountain to where the real king is. He
leaves them together and goes back alone to the hall by the river and
to the princess.

"Very glad is the princess, you may be sure, to see him come back so
quickly and so safely, and glad too is the half-brother, but for a
different reason, for he sees the ring on his finger. Now they call all
the people together to greet the king and his bride as they come in
their boat on the river. There are shouts and cheers, and men with
waving banners and women who scatter flowers; the king smiles upon his
people and thanks them for their greeting, and there is only one who is
not merry and glad. And whom do you think the king's new bride sees in
all this happy crowd? Only her hero, in his own form again, and, if her
heart was wounded and sad before, it dies within her now, when she sees
him leading the princess out to meet them and knows that he thinks no
longer of her. She turns pale and faint at first and then angry and
fierce. She cries out that this man was her lover, that he has betrayed
her for the princess and that he has betrayed the king too.

"Of course, nobody can understand that at all--nobody but the half-
brother--but you can think how everybody must be shocked and
astonished, and how everybody tries to make out what she means, and
fails. To be sure, she understands it herself as little as the rest.
She knows nothing about the magic drink that made her lover forget her;
she knows only that he swore always to love her and that now he loves
the princess. The king does not know that the hero ever saw his bride
till he went to her mountain to bring her for him, so he supposes that,
if he ever told her that he loved her, it must have been then; that
would be betraying the king, his friend, in a most cruel way, of
course. The princess knows only just what the king knows, and if the
king has been deceived and betrayed, she must have been deceived and
betrayed a great deal more. As for the poor hero himself, he does not
remember that he ever saw this woman before, he does not know how he
can have done any wrong, and he is more puzzled than any of the rest.
Only the half-brother knows all about it, that nobody is to blame at
all except himself, and it is he whom nobody thinks of suspecting. The
hero lays his hand on the half-brother's spear and swears that he has
never wronged anyone here; if he has, he says, may this very spear slay

"Now is the time for the half-brother to work the hero's ruin and to
try to get the ring that he wears. When all have gone but him and the
king and his bride, he whispers to her that he will help her, and will
kill the hero to revenge the wrong that he has done her. 'You kill
him!' she cries. 'If he once looked at you, you would not dare come
near him.'

"'Yet,' he says, 'there must be some way that I could do it; tell me
what it is and you will be revenged.'

"'I cast a spell upon him,' she says, 'so that he could not be wounded
in battle, but I knew that he would never turn his back upon an enemy,
so I set no spell there; you may strike him in the back.'

"Now, he tells the king that nothing but the hero's death can restore
the honor that he has lost. 'To-morrow,' he says, 'we will go hunting;
I will kill him with my spear, and we will tell the princess that it
was a wild boar that did it.'

"'It shall be so,' they all cry; 'he must die.'

"And whom do you think I see now? The river nymphs again. Not before
the king's house, where we have been so long, but in another part of
the river, all shut in by wild woods and rocks. They are swimming and
playing on the water, just as they did under it when we saw them first,
and they seem just as careless and happy as they did then, but they are
still mourning for their lost treasure and longing to get it back
again. If they could only get the ring it would do as well as the whole
treasure, for the ring is the magic part of it. And now to this very
spot comes the hero, who wears the ring on his finger. He has wandered
away from the king and his men, who were hunting with him, and as soon
as the nymphs see him they beg him to give them back their ring.

"He says that he will not, at first; it was too much trouble for him to
win it from the dragon. But he really does not care so very much about
it, and I think he would let them have it in the end if it were not for
a great mistake that they make in asking for it. They tell him about
the curse of the ring, and that if he keeps it he will be killed this
very day. Now, you can see easily enough that that is the very worst
thing they could say if they hoped to get the ring from him, for he is
not in the least afraid of being killed, and he will not have anybody
believe that he is afraid. They shall not have it, he says, happen what
will. They will have it, they call back to him, and this very day; and
so they dive down under the water and leave him.

"Now come the rest of the huntsmen and sit about in a circle to rest
here in the shade and to talk. The king is gloomy, thinking still of
the wrongs that have been done him. His half-brother asks the hero if
it is true that he knows what the birds say. 'I listen to them no
more,' he answers; 'but to cheer the king I will tell you some stories
of the things that I have seen and the things that I have done.'

"He tells them of the dwarf who kept him and brought him up that he
might fight the dragon; he tells how he mended the magic sword, how he
killed the dragon with it, and took the helmet and the ring from the
cave. A bird then sang to him, he says, and told him that the dwarf
would try to kill him, but he killed the dwarf instead. Here he stops,
for he cannot remember anything about the mountain top with the fire
around it, or the Daughter of the God, or even what the bird sang to
him next. But the king's half-brother squeezes something into his wine
and tells him to drink it and it will make him remember better.

"He drinks, and it does make him remember better. He tells of the
lovely woman who slept with the fire all around her, and how he kissed
her and awoke her. Then suddenly the king understands it all; he
remembers the drink of forgetfulness that they gave the hero, and he
knows that nobody has done any wrong but his wicked half-brother; he it
was who told him of the woman in the fire who should be his wife, he
who said that the hero should bring her to him, he who bade them give
him the drink to make him forget, he who first said that the hero must
die. The king would gladly save the hero now, but it is too late.

"It is too late, for of a sudden two ravens fly up from beside the
river and away over the heads of them all. They are the ravens that fly
all over the world and then to the Father of the Gods, to tell him all
that they see and all that they hear. They are going now to tell him
that the end of the gods, the end that he longs for, is near. The hero
starts up to hear what they say. He turns his back to the others, and
the half-brother, before the king can stop him, thrusts his spear into
his back. The hero turns for an instant to rush against the murderer,
but his strength is gone, and he falls helpless upon the ground. All
the rest cry out in horror, and the half-brother turns from them and
strides away.

"And what now of the hero? He speaks no word to those who stand about
him as he lies here dying on the ground. Where are his thoughts now? He
is thinking of the only time he ever feared. He is back again upon the
rock, with the flames curling and whirling all around him. Before him
once more lies the Daughter of the God. Again he kisses her lips. She
awakes. He sees again those deep, blue, wonderful eyes. He does not see
the rocks, or the trees, or the sunlight--only her. Again for one last
moment he knows that in all the world there cannot be another woman
such as this. They look each into the other's eyes and into the other's
heart. He is dead.

"They lay him on his shield and lift it upon their shoulders, and so
they bear him back to the king's house by the river. The half-brother
is there before them and tells the princess that her lover has been
killed by a wild boar. She does not believe him, and when the others
come she calls the king and all the rest his murderers. The king indeed
wished his death once, but he is sorry enough for it now, and says that
it was his half-brother alone who did it. 'Well, then,' cries the
murderer, 'it was I, and now I will have my reward; I will take the

"The king cries out that he shall not have it, and draws his sword. The
half-brother draws his own and rushes upon him, and before the men can
run between them the king too lies dead upon the ground. Then again the
murderer turns toward the body of the hero to take the ring, but, as he
comes near it, the hand that wears the ring rises of itself, as if it
were not dead and would ward him off. He falls back in terror, and so
do all the rest.

"But now comes the Daughter of the God. She bids them all stand back
from her hero. 'He was mine, not yours,' she says to the princess; 'he
loved me and I loved him before you ever saw him.'

"'Then it was all the fault of this wicked man who has murdered him,'
the princess answers; 'he gave me the drink for him that made him
forget you.'

"She turns away from the hero and bends over the king, her brother. The
Daughter of the God understands now; he was never faithless to her of
himself. She tells the men to build a funeral pyre. They pile up the
wood and the women scatter flowers upon it. Then she takes the ring
from her hero's hand. While they lay his body on the pyre she bids them
bring his horse, the horse that once was hers, that flew with her
through the clouds when she was a goddess, and slept on the mountain
top with the fire around it where she slept. With a torch she lights
the pyre. See how the flames leap up and catch at the wood and stream
and grow. Once more the ravens fly up from the river bank and away into
the sky. Now the end for the gods comes indeed.

"The Daughter of the God springs upon the horse and with one bound they
leap into the middle of the flames. Yet, as soon as they are there,
they are gone, nor can I see the hero there any more. The pyre all
falls together; but in the middle of its hot, red embers I see
something brighter than all the rest. It is the ring. The water of the
river rises and rises till it flows over the fire and puts it out. Then
on the surface, swimming and playing about as always, I see the river
nymphs. They have found the ring, and their treasure is their own
again. But the wicked half-brother of the king, the son of that dwarf
who stole it at first long ago, tries one last time to gain it. He
plunges into the river to seize it from the nymphs, but one of them
holds it up high in her hand and swims away from him, and the others
twine their arms around him and draw him down and down under the water
and he is seen no more. The river sinks back to its old bed. The
treasure that was stolen is restored. All the evil and the punishment
that came from the curse of the ring is done."


A big stick that had been burning brightly and steadily for a long time
suddenly fell in two and the quick flames and the sparks sprang high up
into the chimney. "See, it is the castle of the gods itself that is
burning and lighting up all the sky. The wrong that they have done and
the sorrow that they have suffered are past, and their end has come.
But the fire burns fiercer still. It seizes upon everything, in the sky
and on the earth. Perhaps it is better that it should. The world that
we have seen in our fire here grew so selfish and cruel and bad after
the gold was stolen from the river that it may be best for it to end in
these flames. They will last for only a moment. Even now they are not
so fierce. I can see the sky again. There is a beautiful brightness in
it, like the coming of the morning; yet it is more than that, for it
streams and flashes like the northern lights. I can see the earth again
too, but it is not as it was before. It is a new world. It has all the
beautiful things that the old one had, the green pastures and plains,
the silver rivers, the blue mountains. Some of the gods have come back,
but not those who did such wrong and made the old world so wicked. The
God of Summer, who died long ago when the evil began, has come again;
and if he and all who were good and beautiful before are to be here
still, I am sure that the Daughter of the God and the hero who knew no
fear must find their way here somehow. A new world that is to be all
unselfish and brave and true needs such a woman and such a hero."


The little girl was lying on the rug before the fire, one elbow buried
in the long fur, and one cheek resting on her hand. She was gazing into
the fire, studying the bright, flickering flames and the red embers. I
had not noticed that she was there till her mother said, "You will ruin
that child's eyes with your stories about the things in the fire. She
would watch it half the day if I would let her; it is too bright and
too hot to look at so long and so near. Come away, dear, and don't look
at the fire again to-day."

"But why can't I see such things as you see?" the child said to me,
with a little sigh, as she got up slowly from the rug and came toward

"Just because you have not quite learned how yet," I said; "now suppose
you give up trying for a little while, because you might hurt your
eyes, as your mother says, and let me look into the fire for you again.
Sit here in the big chair with me; turn your face right away from the
fire and lay it against my shoulder. Now shut your eyes. Some people
can see a great deal better with their eyes shut, especially such
things as we are trying to see, because when their eyes are open they
see the every-day things all around them, and it confuses them and
prevents their seeing what they want to see or what they ought to see.
They are people who have not learned to look right through the every-
day things and see others, in spite of them, that are much better and
more beautiful, as you will learn to do some time. But just now keep
your eyes shut.

"I see then, first, a splendid company of knights and people. The
shining of the fire is like the light of the sun, that glances from the
polished armor, the gleaming weapons, the standards, and the banners of
bright-colored silk and gold. It is all so fine that it looks like a
holiday time; but it is not that, for the crowds of people seem bent on
something more important than dancing and playing games. They are all
looking toward the King, who stands under a great tree and seems to
have something to say to them. The heralds are blowing their trumpets
and calling to the people to come and hear what the King has to say,
though they are all there already and are only too anxious to hear, and
so the King speaks. He says that far away at the other end of the
country there is danger. Enemies are coming against him and his people,
and he calls upon all the men here about him to help him to guard the

"Then they all shout and wave their banners and their arms, as I can
see in the flickering of the bright little flames, and they all cry
that they will fight for their King and their country. But this does
not satisfy the King, for he says that since he has come here he finds
everything going wrong and everybody quarrelling, and he asks what it
all means. Now there comes forward a man who has all this while been
standing silent beside his wife; and it may be as well to say just here
that this man's wife is a wicked witch and that the man himself is none
too good. So a part of what he tells the King is true and another good
large part is not true at all. When he tells what the King knew before,
he tells the truth; and when he tells anything that the King did not
know before, it is generally a lie.

"So he tells the King that he was left the guardian of the two children
of the Duke who ruled in this part of the country, and who died a few
years ago. One of the children was a girl and the other was a boy, and
he tells the King, too, how he took care of them as they grew up. All
this is true and the King knew all about it before. But now he goes on
to say that one day, when the brother and the sister had gone away from
their castle together, the sister came back alone, trembling and crying
and saying that she had lost her brother. Probably this is true enough
too, but when he says that the poor sister was not really sorry at all,
because she had killed her brother herself, he is telling a dreadful,
cruel lie. Still perhaps it is not so much his fault, for his wife, the
witch, who you must remember is a good deal more wicked than himself,
knows much more about it all than it would do for her to tell, and she
may have deceived him as well as other people.

"Of course the King is shocked at such a dreadful story as this, and he
wants to know how the sister could ever have done anything so wicked.
Well, of course the man who accuses her so boldly has a reason to give
for what he says she did, or he never would have dared mention it at
all. So he explains that the sister was to be married to him and that
she refused him, and then he married the witch instead, only he does
not call her a witch. He thinks that the sister must have had some
other lover, and she must have thought that if her brother, who ought
to be Duke as soon as he should be old enough, were only dead, she
could be married to her lover, and then he would be the Duke. And now
he says that he thinks he himself ought to be Duke, since there is
nobody who deserves to be one better than he, and he asks the King to
make him so. Now, of course anybody as bright as you are can see at
once that the whole reason for all these wicked stories is just that he
wants to be Duke; but kings and knights and crowds of people are not
always very bright, though they may look so there in the fire, and they
do not feel so sure about it as you or I would. So the quarrel lies
between a rich and powerful man who is a soldier and once saved the
King's life, with a wife who is a witch and knows all about magic, and
one poor girl who knows nothing about magic and who has no friends who
would dare to help her. For these people here about the King are a
peculiar sort of people who shout very loud about justice and their own
rights and others' rights, but seldom do anything unless they feel sure
that they are on the side that is going to win. There are no such
people nowadays, of course; but there were once.

"But the King himself is a good king, and he means to be quite fair and
just, and he calls for the sister to come before him and tell her own
story. So the heralds blow their trumpets again and call for her, and
she comes. She is dressed all in white, and she looks so beautiful and
pale and sad that nobody who was not wicked himself could ever suspect
her of doing anything wicked, and all the men about mutter that the one
who says that she killed her brother will have to prove it. They have
just heard the King say something of the kind, so they feel very
righteous and very bold about it. The King, then, asks her if she can
say anything about this dreadful accusation, and she tells him how
often she has prayed for help, how, after she has prayed, she has
fallen into a sweet sleep and has seen a knight in bright armor,
leaning on his sword, and how he has comforted her. This knight, she
says, shall be the one to fight for her and to protect her.

"Now, of course, this is all very pretty, but it does not seem to have
much to do with the question of whether she killed her poor little
brother or not. Yet it does have something to do with it, and I will
tell you how. A long time ago, hundreds of years, when people had
quarrels, they did not hire lawyers to argue and plead and plot and
contrive for them, but they just stood up together, if they were both
strong men, and fought till one of them killed the other or showed that
he could if he wanted to. And everybody who looked on felt perfectly
sure that the one who was right could not possibly lose such a fight
and the one who was wrong could not possibly win it. If one of the two
who had the quarrel was a woman, some friend who trusted her enough to
think that she was right would fight for her."

"But what made the man who was wrong ever fight at all," the little
girl asked, "if everybody believed that he was sure to get beaten?"

"I have thought of that myself," I admitted, "and I think that it must
have been for one of two reasons: either the bad people did not believe
that the right was sure to win, or else the people who were wrong
usually thought that they were really right. I believe that was the
true reason, and it shows that bad people are not always quite so bad
as we think, for they usually contrive in some way, I am sure, to make
themselves believe they are right. And now, though all these things
that I am telling you are things that I see right here in the fire, yet
they are like things that must have happened long, long ago, and this
very way of settling disagreements by a good hard fight is the way that
the question of this poor girl's guilt or innocence must be settled.
She probably knows this just as well as anybody, and that is what she
means when she says that the knight she saw in her dream shall be the
one to fight for her. But the accuser turns everything against her, as
usual, and says: 'You see it is just as I said; she is talking about
this lover of hers who she hopes will marry her and be Duke instead of
her brother. Yet he says he is quite ready to fight anybody who wants
to try it with him, and he invites any of the men standing about to
come forward and fight for the poor, helpless girl, if he wants to. But
they all say no, they should be very sorry to have to kill such a great
man and so brave a soldier. The truth is, you see, they are all afraid
that if they should fight they might get hurt, and why should they
trouble themselves about this girl's rights or wrongs?

"Still she says that the knight whom she saw in her dream shall be her
champion, and if he will come now and help her in this need she will be
his bride if he will take her, and he shall have all her father's lands
and his crown, since her brother is dead. But nobody comes, and the
people all begin to think that she must be guilty after all, and that,
instead of the accuser having to prove that she is, she will have to
prove that she is not, if she wants any sympathy from them, though why
she should want it I hardly know. But the King still means to give her
every chance, and he orders the heralds to blow their trumpets toward
the north and the east and the south and the west, and to call upon
anybody who will defend her straightway to appear. And the heralds blow
their loud trumpets and the people gaze anxiously in all directions,
but nobody comes to help her. And then she tells the King that her
knight dwells far off and does not hear, and she begs him to call upon
him again, and the heralds blow once more, and she prays that her
knight may be sent to her, and now suddenly all the eyes of the crowd
are turned one way, and all the people shout and point and gaze at
something which they see away in the distance.

"I can see it too, for there in the fire, back on the hearth, is a bed
of bright embers that shines and glitters like a broad river under the
sun of noon, and at the very farthest place is one little spot brighter
than all the rest, and it seems to come nearer and nearer, and as it
comes I begin to make out its wonderful shape. There is a little boat,
and in it stands a knight, all in silver armor, and it is his armor
that shines so. But the strangest thing of all is that a beautiful
white swan, its wings almost as bright as the knight's armor, is
drawing the boat along by a silver chain wound about its neck. It is
this that makes the people gaze and point, and, while the swan and the
boat are coming nearer, I will tell you more about the knight than he
will be willing to tell about himself. Did you ever hear of the Holy
Grail? It was the crystal cup, the old stories say, out of which the
Saviour drank at the Last Supper, and afterward His blood was caught in
it, as He hung upon the cross. Hundreds of years later it was kept in a
beautiful temple which nobody ever knew how to find, except a few
chosen knights, who guarded the Grail and did its bidding, for this cup
seemed still to have the life of that blood in it, and it had ways of
telling its knights what they must do. And so they were sometimes sent
far away to fight for the right or to punish wrong, but wherever they
went they never knew hunger or thirst or weariness, and they could
never be killed or overcome in battle; but no one must ever ask one of
these knights his name or his dwelling place, and, if anyone having the
right should ask these questions, the knight must return to the temple
of the Holy Grail. Now, seven days ago a bell in the temple rang, all
of itself, meaning that help was needed somewhere. One of the knights
put on his armor and called for his horse, and stood ready, but he knew
not where he was to go or what he was to do, till a swan drawing a
little boat came sailing along upon the river, and the knight said:
'Take back the horse; I will go with the swan,' and so here is he come
to see what help is wanted of him.

"And now I see him step on shore, and the girl whom he has come to
rescue knows him as the knight of her dream, and everybody is glad of
his coming except the accuser and his wife, the witch, and she,
strangely enough, seems a good deal more frightened at the sight of the
swan than at that of the knight. Now the knight asks the young girl
whether, if he will fight her battle and win it, she will promise never
to ask him whence he comes or what he is, and she swears that she will
always love him and trust him, and will do whatever he commands. So now
the two knights, with all the people looking on and holding their
breaths with anxiety, and the king watching that all may be done fairly
and in order, draw their swords and stand against each other. But I see
only one or two little flashes of the flames as the gleaming swords are
whirled above their heads, and then the wicked accuser falls and the
Knight of the Swan spares his life, while all the people shout and lift
the knight above their heads on his shield, just as if they had known
all along that the girl was innocent, and just as if they would not
have shouted just as loud if the battle had gone the other way.

[Illustration: "THE KNIGHT OF HER DREAM."]

"The fire is going down a little and everything looks darker. It is
night now. Here on one side is a church, all dark, and on the other
side, where the light still shines, I can see the bright windows of the
palace, where they are making preparations for a grand wedding
tomorrow, and you can guess who are to be married. On the steps of the
church, looking up at the palace windows and the lights that shine in
them, are the witch and her husband. He is bemoaning his disgrace and
accusing his wife of causing it all by telling him that the good sister
had killed her brother. And this shows me, more than anything he has
done before, how bad he is, and what a coward he is, because, when a
man has tried to gain things that he knows are not his by ways that he
knows are not right, he ought to take all the consequences, if he
fails, like a man, and not snivel and say that a woman made him do it.
But the witch says that there is a chance yet for them to be revenged,
for, if only the Knight of the Swan can be made to tell who he is, he
will have to go away as he came and be lost, and she believes she can
find some way to tempt his bride to ask him the forbidden questions,
and then he will have to answer.

"Now the bride that is to be to-morrow comes out upon a balcony of the
palace, and the witch, sending her husband away, calls to her and tells
her how sorry they both are for all that they have done. No doubt they
are very sorry indeed, as they ought to be. But the bride is so happy
and so kind that she cannot bear to see anybody unhappy, so she says
that she forgives them, and if she has injured them in any way she asks
that they forgive her. That is absurd, of course. Then she lets the
witch talk to her till the wicked woman says that she hopes the knight
who came to her in such a strange way, that nobody can account for,
will never deceive her, and that she will always live happily with him;
and by this she means, of course, that she thinks that he will deceive
her and that she will not be happy. But the bride says that she trusts
her knight wholly, and she asks the witch to come in with her and rest
for the night. And that is just the one thing she ought not to do, for
here is what I hope you will see and remember more than anything else
in all this: be as kind and as helpful and as compassionate as you can,
always, but never help, never listen to, never allow to be near you a
man or a woman who says one word against anyone you love. Put no trust
in anyone till you know that trust is safe, and, when you once know,
never hear of one breath of doubt again.

"The fire burns higher and brighter, and the morning is coming. The
square grows light and fills with people. Now come the heralds again,
and they sound their trumpets and proclaim that the Knight of the Swan
is to have the crown of his bride's father, and is to be called
Guardian instead of Duke, that the accuser of his bride is an outcast
and must be shunned by all men, and finally that everybody to-day is to
come to the marriage, but that to-morrow all the men must go to the
defence of the King and the country. And now, with all its sparkle and
glitter, comes the procession, leading the bride to the church, when,
just as she is at the door, right before her stands the witch, full of
anger and pride, and cries aloud that it is her place to go before this
woman, and no one shall keep her from the place that is hers, and she
taunts the bride with not knowing who or what her knight is; and so a
great clamor arises among the people, and in the midst of it come the
King and the Knight of the Swan and their train. The witch's wicked
husband comes, too, and calls out that the knight beat him yesterday by
magic and not by honest fighting, and he demands that the King ask the
knight who he is. But he and his wife are put aside, and the procession
goes into the church, and as I look into the church itself now the
whole of the fire is a blaze of candles on the altar. Now turn your
face away from the fire as it was before and shut your eyes again.
There is no more to be seen in this wedding than there was in the
battle of the two knights, and all that there is I will tell you.

"The light of the candles on the altar changes to a blaze of wedding
torches, and the King and the knights and the ladies are leading the
bride and the bridegroom to their chamber. Slowly and solemnly, yet
joyfully, they march along, and it is all so clear to me that I can
even hear the music that they chant as they come. Soft and low it is at
first, and then it swells out fuller and stronger and clearer but
always so noble and pure and stately in its melody and its rhythm that
nobody who had once heard it could ever forget how grand and beautiful
it was. I have heard it many times, and you will hear it often, too,
and once, I hope--I almost know--you will hear it at one of the
sweetest moments of your life, and whenever you hear it I think it will
be more full of meaning for you if you will think of the Knight of the
Swan and his bride. But do not think of what comes to them afterward,
for that need never come to you or to anyone who remembers what I told
you a little while ago; and if ever you feel tempted to forget for one
moment, then think of this true and lovely music--you will know it well
and can think of it when you like by that time--and I am sure you will
feel truer and better again at once.

"But the torches pass away and out of sight, and the knight and his
bride are left alone; and now comes the sad part, for the poor bride
has listened too much to those who spoke evil of her husband, or
something evil has come into her own mind and made her forget her
promise, for she tells him that she loves him so much that she wishes
she might know what he is whom she loves. Now this may be very natural
and might be very right if she had not promised never to ask; but
though he begs her not to demand of him this one thing, yet she
implores him more and more to tell her, till at last she speaks very
cruelly to him, and as much as tells him that he does not love her at
all. You would never think that she was the same poor girl who knelt by
the river and prayed that her knight might be sent to help her in her
danger. And suddenly, as he is about to tell her all she asks, her old
accuser breaks into the room with his men, and rushes with his sword
drawn to kill the knight, and now indeed his bride does seize his sword
and hold it out to him, while he draws it from the sheath; then there
is one little flash of a flame as he swings it high above his head, and
his enemy lies at last dead before him. He tells the men to take him
away and to lead his bride before the King, where he will come and tell
her everything.

"It is morning again on the banks of the river, and the knights and the
people are coming in crowds as I saw them in the beginning. The King
comes, and the poor bride, sadder now even than she was at first. The
Knight of the Swan comes too, and he asks the King if he did right to
kill his wicked enemy, who was trying to kill him unprepared. The King
answers that he did right. Then he says that he cannot go with the King
to his wars, because his bride has forgotten her promise to him, and
has asked him whence he came, and now, by the law which he obeys, as
soon as he has answered her, he must leave her and all the rest
forever. Then, while they all listen in sorrow, he tells them that he
is a Knight of the Holy Grail, and must go back to the temple which he
left to come here and help his bride. And while she weeps at the
thought of losing him, suddenly I see the swan again on the river,
drawing the little boat as before, ready to take the knight away, and
then he tells his bride that if she could but have trusted him and
never questioned him for a year, her brother would have come back to

"And now for one last time the witch stands up, more proud and
revengeful then ever, and cries out that she has beaten them all, for
the swan is really the brother, and that it was she who wound the chain
about his neck that enchanted him and made him a swan. But while she
exults in her triumph, there flies down over the heads of all of them a
beautiful white dove. It is the dove that comes once a year to the
temple and strengthens the power of the Holy Grail, and as the knight
sees it he kneels and prays and then rises and unwinds the silver chain
from the swan's neck, and at the very instant the swan is changed into
a beautiful boy, the lost brother, and he runs to his sister and they
clasp each other in their arms, while the witch falls down upon the
ground, overcome at last and powerless, and the knight steps into the
boat, the dove lifts the silver chain, and they glide away upon the
river, farther and farther, and the little spot where they were, that
was the brightest in the fire, grows dimmer and fainter and goes out
and is dark."

"And won't the knight come back at all?" asked the little girl.

"No," I answered, "the brother and the sister are close in each other's
arms and they are gazing away upon the river as far as they can see,
but the Knight of the Swan will never come back."


The fire was almost out. It was so late in the spring that none at all
was needed, but we liked it to look at. As for the little girl and me,
we should hardly have known how to get on without it, and the little
girl's mother chose to humor us, so we wasted a great deal of wood, as
ignorant people would think, and were just as comfortable with the sky
smiling and the trees budding all around us as if we had been in the
midst of snow-drifts and howling storms. This afternoon the sun had
been shining right in upon the fire, as if he would like to know what
it was doing there at all, when he was making the weather quite warm
enough, in the house as well as out. A fire never burns well when the
sun shines on it, and besides, nobody had taken much care of ours, so
that after the sun had gone it looked very low and discouraged.

"Do you think anybody could see anything in a fire like that?" the
little girl asked, with a doubtful gaze into it and a meaning, clearly
enough, that, if I thought it at all possible for anybody to see
anything, she wished that I myself would try.

"We will put on another stick," I said, "and have a better fire. It
will not be a very hot fire even then, and with all this soft spring
air about us, I don't think we can see any more gods and giants and
knights and dragons in it. But we may see some simpler people, with
bright young hearts that begin to stir and move and to beat quicker and
harder in the spring, as young hearts ought to do, not only in the
spring of the year, but in their own spring, and we may perhaps see
some people with older hearts, which stirred and beat too in their
time, and we shall see by them that those which move freest and grow
warmest in their spring are the fullest and the richest in their autumn
and can never be hurt in the winter, just as the tree in which the sap
flows best in the spring spreads out the broadest shade in the fierce
heat of the summer, bears the finest fruit in the autumn, and lives the
strongest till the next spring comes. If you ever tell any very learned
people what we see here in this fire they may tell you, perhaps, that
it all happened on Midsummer Day and not in the spring at all, and they
will be quite right, in their own poor way of being right, but
Midsummer Day is not in the middle of the summer, you know, but just at
the beginning of it, when the spring has been gone only a few days. It
is then that the lovely touch of the spring has done all that it can
for the world, when the sun climbs his very highest in the heavens to
look at all the sweetness and beauty that have been spread over the
earth, when the summer is young and happy and kind and has not begun to
burn and wither everything that would like to love its brightness and
its power. So if you would see all the joy and the light that the
spring can bring, you must look for them not far from Midsummer Day.

"We shall not begin to see all this till our new stick begins to burn
better, but in the meantime we may see some things that are pleasant
enough, if they are not quite so radiant, and while the fire is still
rather dark, just burning quietly in a few little places, we seem to me
to be in a dim, old church. The service is just ending. In one of the
pews sits a pretty girl who is behaving herself in a most unbecoming
way, for she is constantly sending shy glances toward a young man who
leans against a pillar not far off and looks at her in his turn in a
way that really ought to shock her, instead of pleasing her, as it
seems to do."

"Is he a knight?" asked the little girl, instinctively knowing him for
the hero of the story.

"Do you want him to be a knight?"

"Oh, yes; let's have just one knight, if we can't have any giants or

"I believe you are beginning to see the pictures in the fire yourself.
Well, he shall be a knight, but he shall not wear any armor and he
shall not fight, and all the rest of the people we see shall be quite
common people, mere tradesmen, a goldsmith and a tailor and a toy-maker
and a cobbler and the like. But whether the young man is a knight or
not, he and the pretty girl ought to know better than to look at each
other in that way in church, with looks that seem to mean so much and
yet to have no connection with the service at all. The service is over
now and the people all leave the church, except a few, but the young
knight and the pretty girl stay behind, and he does not lose a minute
in telling her that he loves her and that he is dreadfully anxious to
know if she can love him. Now, of course, as she has done nothing all
through the service but steal glances at him and probably could not
even tell what hymns were sung, or whether there was a sermon or not,
and has been thinking all the time how handsome he was, and knows very
well that he was looking at her all the time, and knows very well, too,
being a pretty girl, that he was thinking how pretty she was, of
course, you see, she could not tell at all whether she could love him
or not, and such a question naturally throws her into the greatest

"But while the young man is saying all the pretty things that the time
allows, and the young woman is trying to think what she shall answer,
her maid, who has been running about all this time, looking for things
she has lost, bustles up, hears a part of what the young man says, and
tells him that her mistress is already betrothed; and the mistress
quickly says yes, but that nobody yet knows to whom. This is such a
surprising state of things that it needs an explanation; so the maid
tells the young knight that her mistress is to be given as bride for a
prize to-morrow, which will be Midsummer Day, to the man who shall sing
the best song. He asks if the bride herself is to judge whose song is
best; and at that she makes up her mind at last, and says that she will
choose nobody but him. But there is something else, for nobody can even
try for the prize unless he belongs to a certain company or society of
poets and singers here in the town, and the knight, though he has a
pretty good opinion of the song he could make if he should try, is
quite a stranger here. And now, as if for the very purpose of helping
the knight, comes another young man, who turns out to be a prentice,
and he begins arranging benches and chairs in some queer sort of way,
while the looks that he casts at the maid and the looks she throws back
at him show that they are not total strangers; and he tells them that
these very poets and singers are to meet here in a few minutes, and
that if anybody wants to join them he will have a chance to sing to
them and to prove whether he is worthy.

"So the young man of course determines that he will try, and it is
clear that he expects nothing in the world but that he will carry
everything before him; and while the young women hurry away, the
prentice tells him something about the singers, who are always called
masters, and the queer rules that they have for making all their songs.
Queer enough they are, too, and so many that if you were to hear them
all you would think that they were quite enough to prevent anybody's
ever making a song at all; but the most important thing that the knight
learns is that, while he is singing, the judge will make a mark with
chalk every time he breaks a rule, and, if more than seven chalk marks
are scored against him, he cannot be a master, and so cannot try for
the prize that he wants so much to win to-morrow.

"Now the masters begin to gather for their meeting, coming in one by
one and two by two. First comes a goldsmith, the father of the pretty
girl we have just seen. With him is a queer-looking, awkward, self-
conceited man, who, anybody can see in a minute, must be a town clerk.
From what he is saying to the goldsmith it is clear that he means to
try for the prize of his daughter's hand to-morrow. He is in no doubt
that he can sing better than anybody else, but is not sure that the
goldsmith's daughter will think so. That is a very unlucky thing that
happens to singers sometimes; they themselves know perfectly well that
they can sing better than anybody else anywhere about, but all the
other people are so stupid that they will not understand it.

"The young knight, who knows the goldsmith, tells him now that he wants
to join this company of singers, and be a master too; and the goldsmith
says that he shall be glad to help all he can. But the town clerk
overhears them, and he sees at once that what the knight wants is to
sing for the prize to-morrow. Now, the rule is, you remember, that
nobody but a master may even try for the prize; so the jealous town
clerk resolves that he will keep the young man from becoming a master.
And it happens, by good luck for him and bad luck for the knight, that
it is his turn to-day to take the chalk and mark the mistakes that are
made in singing by anybody who tries to prove himself worthy to be a

"When the masters are all met, the goldsmith makes a little speech, and
tells them how the prize is to be given to-morrow. They are to decide
who wins, but his daughter is to judge too. She may choose none without
their voice, but she may refuse any. That is no more than fair, of
course. No girl would like to be married to a man just because the
lines of his poetry came out right when somebody else counted them. Yet
the masters all argue and dispute and suggest about the rules; but in
the end they agree to do just what the goldsmith says, since they
cannot do anything else.

"Now comes the trial of the young knight who wants to be a master. The
town clerk goes behind a curtain, with his slate and his chalk, and you
may be sure he does not forget his promise to himself that the knight
shall fail. Then the young man stands up in the midst of them all and
sings his song. A happy, free, beautiful song it is. It tells first how
the spring came into the forest and awakened the trees and brought the
flowers. Then it tells how the spring came into the young man's own
heart, as you know I told you it ought to do, and how it made him sing
of love; and that is quite right too, though perhaps I forgot to say so

"But happy and beautiful as the song is, it is scarcely begun before
the most dreadful scratching of the chalk is heard behind the curtain.
All the masters begin to shake their heads, too, for this knight is
bold enough to make his own song in his own way, and he knows and cares
no more about the rules and measures of these masters for making songs
than you know or care about the game laws of Scotland. So by the time
the song is half over, out rushes the town clerk with his slate, not
with the eight marks on it that would end the singer's hopes of being a
master, but with nearer eighty. He vows the case is hopeless, and as he
shows the slate to the other masters they all seem to agree with him,
though they are not all quite so jealous as he is.

"All but one; for there is one old shoemaker who says that he thinks
the song was very good. It did not follow the rules, but it had rules
of its own, and he liked it. Then there is trouble indeed. For any man
to say in this old church and this old town that a song can be good
when it has one line too many or one rhyme too few is almost as bad as
for him to say that the King is bald-headed and that the oldest
princess has freckles. All the masters say that to let such a song pass
is out of the question, and that the shoemaker is quite absurd to think
of such a thing. At this the shoemaker declares that the town clerk is
not a fair judge, because he is jealous. At that again the town clerk
says that the shoemaker had better not talk so much about poetry, but
go home and finish the shoes he has ordered. Now, the shoemaker is
really the only one of all the masters who knows anything at all about
poetry; but now and then, years ago, a man who knew a great deal had to
stand aside and let others, who knew very little but could talk louder,
do what they liked in their own way. That is what the shoemaker has to
do now, and for this time the knight has failed.

"What a bad fire we have, to be sure! It is getting lower and lower,
and even our new stick will not burn. While everything is as dark as
this we shall have to think that it is night. Never mind, we can see a
little still, and the little that I can see is the street of the old
town, with its queer old houses and peaked roofs and sharp steeples.
Here, on one side, where there is a bit of light shining like a glow in
a window, is the shop of our old cobbler; and over there, with no light
at all, the fire is so bad, is the goldsmith's house. The cobbler is
sitting outside his door, trying to work; but the light is as bad for
him as it is for us, and, besides, he cannot think of his work, much
less do it. He is thinking, I know, of the young knight and his song,
and is wishing that he might win the prize to-morrow, master or no
master. His heart had its spring-time once, you may be sure, and its
glowing summer, and they have brought it a rich, peaceful autumn, such
as they alone can bring. That was why he knew all the meaning of the
song and liked it, though it broke every one of his own rules. And so,
like the good old fellow that he is, he wishes the man who sang the
song all joy and good luck--and the prize.

"While he is thinking of all this, comes the goldsmith's daughter, for
she has heard that the young man has failed, and she is sad, and wants
to talk to some one. Perhaps, too, she wants to know something. They
talk about to-morrow, of course, and the shoemaker tells her that the
town clerk means to sing for the prize. At that the prize herself gets
quite alarmed, for she likes the town clerk no better than you or I do.
'But why should he not win?' the shoemaker says; 'there will not be
many bachelors there to try.'

"'And might not a widower try?' she asks slyly.

"Now, the shoemaker knows that she means himself, but he says no, he is
too old. And then the absurd girl actually urges him to try, though she
does not want him the least bit, and does not want anybody except the
young knight, who makes such beautiful songs that are all out of shape.
When you get to be a woman, perhaps you will know why she does this;
but I confess I do not. Perhaps she thinks that the shoemaker would not
be half so bad as the town clerk, or perhaps she only wants to find out
if the shoemaker really does mean to sing, so that she may know whether
he is the knight's friend or his enemy. At any rate, he pretends to be
not half so much the friend of the young people as I know he really is,
and when she is beginning to get quite angry with him her maid comes
and tries to lead her into the house. But just at this moment the
knight himself is seen coming down the street, and not a step toward
the house does she go after that.

"The shoemaker has gone into his shop now, and the lovers are alone. He
tells her how he sang his very best, that he might be a master, because
that was the only way to win her, and it was of no use. But she does
not care whether he failed or not. She declares that he is a poet, that
she will give the prize herself and to nobody but him; so now what do
you suppose it matters to him if all the masters in the world said that
his songs were wrong? He will not sing for them, and they need not

"There is just one way now, as anybody can see, for him to make sure of
the prize, and that is to take it while he has it. And that is just
what he is about to do. But I am sorry to see that the cobbler, behind
the door of his shop, has been impolite enough to listen to all this
important talk about poets and songs; and he sees that if he lets these
two run away together now, there will be no prize and no singing for
to-morrow. So he sets a lamp in his window, right there where the fire
is kind enough to burn for us a little at last, and sends the light
streaming out across the street, and the lovers know that if they try
to pass they will be seen. And while they are helping each other think
what they can do, somebody else comes slowly down the street, walking
in the shadows and looking around to see if he is watched, like a
burglar. It is the town clerk, and he has come here just to sing under
the window of the goldsmith's daughter the song that he means to sing
to-morrow, to see if she will like it and if she will probably give it
the prize. Oh, he is a good, honest poet and faithful lover, and he
means to leave nothing untried that can help him. One does not get a
chance to marry a goldsmith's daughter every day.

"All this is annoying enough, but there is nothing for the lovers to do
but to wait for the town clerk to sing and go away; so they get into
the deepest shadow, and then they put their arms around each other so
that they can stand closer and not be seen so easily. It is a good plan
for another reason, too, because some people can wait much more
patiently in that position than in any other. But things are getting
worse and worse, for the shoe-maker seems bound to have his part of the
fun too; and just as the town clerk is about to sing he begins to work
again and to hammer on his last. This is the most impolite shoemaker, I
suppose, that this polite old town ever saw, if he is a poet. Think of
a man who will hammer on a shoe when a town clerk is going to sing, and
a song that he made himself, too. Something must be done, of course; so
the town clerk comes and talks with the cobbler, and pretends that he
is very anxious to get his opinion of the song he is going to sing.
That seems natural enough, because everybody knows that the cobbler is
the best poet in town. So they agree that whenever the town clerk
breaks a rule in his song the cobbler shall strike one blow on his
last, just as if he were marking the mistakes on the slate, the way the
town clerk himself did with the knight.

"Oh, but he must be a good town clerk, he knows so many tricks, and can
always arrange everything so well to make it go his way. The town is
lucky to have such a clerk. Yet, strange to say, the minute he begins
to sing, he makes more mistakes than even the poor young knight did,
and it is really a question whether his song or the shoemaker's
pounding makes the more noise. Mind, I say noise, not music; if it were
a question of music the shoemaker would be far ahead. Well, between
them, they wake up the shoemaker's prentice, and he comes to the window
of the shop, to see what is the matter. He is the same prentice whom we
saw in the church, who looked at the goldsmith's daughter's maid in
such a strange way, you remember. And now, as he looks across at the
house opposite, he sees the goldsmith's daughter's maid again, standing
at the window. She is standing there in one of her mistress's gowns, to
make the town clerk think that the mistress herself is listening to his
song; and he does think so, but the poor prentice knows who she is very
well indeed. And since he knows who she is, of course he makes up his
mind at once that the town clerk is singing to her, that he loves her,
and that just as likely as not she loves him. No doubt you think he
might know better; and perhaps he might, if he were not so much in love
with the goldsmith's daughter's maid; but when a man is in love he is
always ready to believe anything that it is particularly uncomfortable
for him to believe.

"So, what does the shoemaker's prentice do but jump right out of the
window, fetch the good town clerk one blow under the chin, that shuts
his mouth and stops his singing, and begin just as lively a fight with
him as any we ever saw among our knights and giants and dragons. They
make so much noise that more people wake up, and come out of their
houses into the street; and, since the old town is usually a bit dull
and quiet, they find this just the sort of thing they like, and they
all begin fighting, too, with a jolly good will. Of course, not one of
them has the slightest notion of what he is fighting about; but that
makes no difference to any good, honest fighter, and there is a fine
breaking of heads and kicking of shins. Just as everything is in the
most delightful confusion possible, the knight and the goldsmith's
daughter try to make their way through the crowd and escape; but the
troublesome old shoemaker, who has been watching them from the very
beginning, runs quickly out, pushes the girl to her own door, where her
father stands to receive her, drags the knight into his shop, seizes
his prentice too, and shuts his door behind him. Somebody cries that
the watchman is coming; the people scatter right and left, and, by the
time that little flame there under the andiron has burned up and shown
itself to me as the old watchman's lantern, it shines on nothing but
the quiet, empty street.

"But there is more light than the watchman's lantern, for our new stick
is beginning to burn now. The night must be past, and, if the night is
past, it is Midsummer Day. It is not so bright yet as it might be. Let
us put on still another stick, and have all the Midsummer weather we
can. I see a room now, not very handsome or rich, but very comfortable
and cheerful, with flowers in the window and more flowers scattered
about. It is the old shoemaker's shop, and the old shoemaker himself
sits at the window, pretending to read, but really thinking, as usual,
about the young knight who sings to please himself and not to obey
other people's rules, and about the goldsmith's daughter; and he is
trying, also as usual, to plan some way to make the prize go as he
wants it to go. He does not quite see how it is to be done, but he has
a comfortable feeling that it will all come out right; and while he is
studying over it, the knight himself comes put of the room where he has
slept to say good-morning.

"He tells the shoemaker that he has had a beautiful dream, and the
shoemaker asks him what it was, saying that it is the true business of
a poet to have dreams and to tell them, so that everybody may know
them. So the knight tells his dream, making it into a song as he goes
along, and now and then the shoemaker stops him quietly to tell him
what are the rules of the masters for making such songs as this. The
knight always asks why such rules should be, and the shoemaker gives
him some pretty reason for each one, and he shows that the rules are
not so bad after all, if only one knows how to use them and to make the
most of them. The dream was about a beautiful garden with a tree that
bore fruit of gold, and as the dreamer looked at it there came a lovely
maiden, who you may be sure was the goldsmith's daughter, and she
embraced him and then pointed to the fruit of the tree, and when she
pointed to it, it was golden fruit no longer, but stars, and the tree
itself was a laurel-tree.

"You may guess that the poor old masters never heard such a song as
this. As the knight sings it the shoemaker writes it down on a bit of
paper and tells the knight to remember the melody, and then they go
away together. Scarcely have they gone when the door opens softly and
in a treacherous-looking sort of way that must be strange to the
shoemaker's door, and in comes the town clerk. Ridiculous enough he
looks in his gorgeous holiday clothes, and limping along, because of
the beating that the prentice gave him last night. And angry enough he
is, too, with the shoemaker and the prentice and the knight and the
world in general, except himself, with whom it might be reasonable for
him to be angry. You can see a wicked red glow, right there in the
middle of the fire, where he stands. But he has not forgotten about the
prize--oh, not in the least. He is still plotting and contriving how he
can best make sure of it, and so it does not take long for his sharp
little eyes to find the song lying on the table, where the shoemaker
left it when he went out.

"Now, there is one peculiar thing about these people who can see
through mill-stones, and that is, that they sometimes think they are
seeing through one when there is really no mill-stone there at all;
just as you and I might think we were looking through a glass window
when it was only an empty sash. Just see, for instance, how much
cleverer the town clerk is than there is any sort of need for him to
be. He sees that this song is a song; well, anybody could see that. He
sees that it is in the shoemaker's handwriting; anybody who knew the
shoemaker's handwriting could see that. But now he takes the liberty of
guessing that the shoemaker made this song himself, and that he is
going to sing it himself for the prize. So he gets more angry still,
for he knows that the shoemaker is the best poet in all this dear old
town, where anybody can be a poet by learning the rules, and he knows
that if the shoemaker tries to win the prize he will probably do so.
But he hears the shoemaker coming back and he has just time to hide the
song in his pocket.

"Now he boldly accuses the shoemaker of meaning to sing for the prize.
It may seem to you that it is no affair of his whether the shoemaker
means to sing or not, and it may seem so to me too, but we are not town
clerks. Yet the shoemaker assures him that he does not mean to sing,
accuses him in turn of stealing the song, and then, to prove his own
words, gives it to him. With that the town clerk is altogether
delighted, for he is one of those shallow people who think that when
one man has done a good thing, another man can do just as well as he by
doing the same thing. He feels sure that if he sings one of the
shoemaker's songs he cannot fail to win the prize, and he makes the
shoemaker promise that, whatever happens, he will not claim the song as
his. The shoemaker is quite ready to promise anything, because he is a
wise old soul and he knows that it is not altogether what one does, but
pretty largely how one does it, as a cobbler or as a town clerk or as a
singer, that wins him fame and honor--and Midsummer Day prizes.

"The town clerk hobbles away, and now who should come in but the
goldsmith's daughter herself? Well, no one could wonder at her lover's
having pleasant dreams, for she is as pretty a prize as ever a poet
sang a song for, or to, or about. With her best gown and her flowers
and her jewels, and especially with herself, I don't think you could
find any prize that a poet would rather have, even in a town twice as
big as this. It seems there is something wrong about the shoe that the
cobbler has made for her to wear to-day, and she has come to get him to
mend it. I wonder, by the way, if she knows that the knight was the
shoemaker's guest last night. She says that when she wants to
standstill the shoe insists on walking, and when she wants to walk the
shoe makes up its mind to stand still. You see yourself what a
remarkable and improper way this is for a shoe to behave. It is so
strange that I am inclined to doubt if it is the fault of the shoe at
all, or if she really knows whether she wants to walk or stand still.
You see it is not easy for us to tell just how a girl would feel at
being put up for a prize.

"While the cobbler is at work on the shoe, the knight too appears, and
the cobbler hints that he should like to hear the rest of the dream
that the young man began to tell him before. So he sings more of his
song and tells how the stars among the branches of the laurel-tree
formed a crown for the lovely maiden's head, how her eyes, as he looked
into her face, were to him brighter than all of them, and how then she
twined with her own hand, about his head, the wreath of the star-fruit
of the laurel-tree, and still and always he saw her eyes brighter than
the stars.

"After he has sung this they all seem to understand one another better.
The goldsmith's daughter's maid comes in to look for her mistress, the
prentice tumbles in to look for the maid, or for something else, and
away they all start for the fields outside the town, where all who
will--that is, if they are masters and may--are to sing for the prize.

"At last the fire is burning as it ought, and we can see all the life
and light that we care to enjoy. Those flames that stream up so far
must mean that the sun has mounted his very highest to mark the noon of
Midsummer Day, and the floods of merry sparks that pour up the chimney
are not brighter or merrier than the throngs of people, men and women,
boys and girls, that walk and run, and caper and dance, and tumble out
of the city gates and into the meadows where the singing is to be. But
there is more gravity all at once when the masters come. They are
mighty and important persons at any time, and above all they are so
to-day, when they are to decide who is to have this wonderful prize.
They have a higher place to sit than the rest of the meadow, and the
common people of the town, who do not pretend to be poets at all, can
stand wherever they can find room. The goldsmith and his daughter have
the highest seats of all, and the shoemaker is next to them, for he is
supposed to know a good song when he hears it. All the other masters
have good places too, including the town clerk. The knight is somewhere
in the crowd of people who know nothing about poetry.


"When everything is ready the town clerk is the first to sing his song
for the prize, because he is the oldest of those who are to try, and
indeed he seems to be about the only one, with the knight quite out of
the race, because he did so badly in the church yesterday. So the town
clerk stands forth, and after a little opening plink-plunk on his
guitar, he tries to sing the knight's own song, which the shoemaker
gave him, knowing well that he would get into trouble with it. And
indeed, the dream that he tells about must have been a nightmare,
though nobody who hears him knows what it is about, and the poor town
clerk seems to know least of all. He has the song under his coat and
tries to look at it now and then, but he reads it wrong and sings
nonsense, and in a moment all the people are laughing at him, even
those who do not know a good song when they hear it, for they seem to
know a bad song very well when they hear it.

"At that he gets angry, stops singing, and says that the song is not
his at all but the shoemaker's, and he is to blame. Here is a fine
state of things, for the shoemaker is supposed, as I said before, to
know more about songs than any of the other people in town, and indeed
he knows more about most things than all of them put together. He says
that the song is not his, but that it is good enough, if only it could
be sung right, and he asks if there is anybody here who knows how to
sing it.

"This is the time for the young knight, and he comes forward from the
crowd and says that he will try. But first, the shoemaker makes all the
masters promise that if he sings the song well and if it is a good song
he shall have all the honor just as if he were a master. Now the young
man takes his place and everybody is still. He looks straight at the
goldsmith's daughter; he does not know that there are any others around
him; and now he sings. And what a glorious song it is, full of hope and
happiness and victory and joy! He did not sing like this to the masters
in the church yesterday; not even to the shoemaker this morning did he
sing like this. It is not hard to see the reason. Yesterday he tried to
be a master, and when he sang he was wondering how these fussy old
fellows would measure his song with their rhyme-gauges and their foot-
rules. How could anybody sing when he was thinking of that? Even then
it was not a bad song and the goldsmith's daughter would have known it
if she had been the judge. The shoemaker, with his warm old spring-time
heart, knew it as it was, but the masters were too learned ever to know
anything. But now the goldsmith's daughter is the judge and the young
poet sings only to her, only for her, only about her. If one smile
curves her pretty lips as he sings, it is more to him than the shouts
of all the people. That is the way to sing, and that is why, when he is
done, all the people do shout, and do clap their hands and wave their
hats, and do cry out that he must have the prize.

"And he does have the prize. She crowns his head with a wreath of
laurel, which he cares for only because she sets it there, and the
goldsmith himself brings him the gold chain that makes him a master.
This the young man would put aside, but the wise old shoemaker bids him
take this too, and to honor the masters and their art; for, he says,
though the Holy Roman Empire should vanish in smoke, yet art will
remain. And I think he means by this that all the kingdoms of the earth
may be lost and may fall into dust and ashes, as our fire here will do
when we leave it to-night, but that the happy young people, with their
stirring hearts of spring, and the kindly old people, with their ripe
hearts of autumn, will still sing songs and still tell stories."


The fire had been out for weeks. Somebody who came from the country had
almost filled the fireplace with a huge bouquet of wild roses. They
made it look very pretty for a few days, but now the roses had all
faded and fallen to pieces too, and nobody cared enough even to sweep
up the dry, dead leaves and throw them out. It all looked forsaken and
desolate enough. But it was no more desolate than I. We were lonely and
unhappy for the same reason, the poor fireplace and I, because the
little girl had gone away with her mother down to the sea and would not
be back for more weeks and weeks yet. The city was so hot and dull and
stupid! It made me feel dull and stupid to stay in it, except when it
made me angry. Yet perhaps the fireplace was even a little worse off
than I, though it was not more forsaken and alone, for it had no work
to do, while I had plenty. Then again the fireplace, in spite of all
the wonderful and beautiful things we had seen in it sometimes, had
never been anywhere except just where it was now, and it knew nothing
about the sea. But I had been in several other places; and even in the
city, with the heat pouring down from the sky and quivering up from the
pavements, one can dream of "waters, winds, and rocks," and dreams are
good things to have for those who can have nothing else.

And I had the dreams and something else. For the little girl and her
mother had said that I might come down to the sea too, whenever I
thought the city could get on without me. What surprised me was that
the city got on at all, but all the time I thought more and more that I
was of no use to it, and it was of no use to me, and finally I left all
my work in it to take care of itself and fled away to the sea. Oh, how
lovely it was! That first long unbroken sight of the line where the sky
and the water met made me feel, as I always feel at such times, that it
was worth half the year's worry and care just to see this ocean and
this heaven, to breathe this free, salt air, to smell the flowers by
the roadside, and to gaze and gaze again at the two great tracts of
peaceful blue. How wonderful is this calm rest of a thing that can rage
and destroy when it will! The peace of a field of daisies is pretty and
sweet; the peace of the ocean is like that of God.

The little girl and I had a long walk along the beaches, over the
rocks, and through the tall, salt grass. We hunted among the smooth,
round pebbles for the smoothest and the roundest; we studied the jelly-
fish that was borne up the beach by the wave and then glided swiftly
back again with it, as if it had forgotten something, till one wave,
higher than the others, would leave it lying on the sand at our feet,
where we could study it as much as we liked; we wondered if the jelly-
fish ever did forget anything and if he had remembered it now, so that
he did not want to go back any more. We caught little crabs and made
them run races, laying huge wagers on our favorites; I filled my
pocket, and the little girl filled her handkerchief with the tiny,
pointed shells that can be strung into such pretty necklaces. Then we
found a great, bright, curly ribbon of seaweed, as wide as two hands,
so long that when the little girl held it by the middle she could
scarcely lift the ends off the sand, and rich and beautiful in color
like dark-red tortoise-shell. The little girl looped one end of it
around her head and wound the rest about her body, so that she looked a
true little sea princess.

All day a fresh, cool breeze came up from the sea, so different from
the air of the dreadful city. Toward evening it grew cooler yet. The
wind blew more, and little shreds and patches of fog, and then larger
clouds of it, hurried along over the fields. We could see them coming,
away off over the water, then they reached the shore and hid the walls
and the pastures, then they wrapped us up within themselves and passed
us, and we saw them flying off again as if they were trying to carry a
chill from the sea as far into the land as they could. And it was
chilly after the sun was quite gone--not very cold, but just cool
enough so that everybody thought it would be pleasant to have a bit of
fire on the hearth. And when we thought a fire would be pleasant we
always had it.

Of course down there we never think of making a fire of anything but
driftwood. It makes the most wonderful, magical fire in the world. One
could dream out stories for a whole evening from the wood alone. Here
is a stick that must have been a part of a spar. Was it blown away from
the mast in a gale? Now hold your breath and think if some poor sailor
was blown off into the waves with it. Did he catch at this very stick
as he sank? Did his wife wait and wait for him at home, till his
shipmate came and told her? Here is a little piece of smooth board,
with a bit of cornice fastened to the end. It must be from the wall of
a cabin. Did the captain's daughter and the young mate sit under it and
whisper stories to each other in the calm evenings of the voyage? There
is a piece of barrel-stave. Perhaps it once held rum for the sailors'
grog; it burns as if it did. There again is a float from a fisherman's
net. Was the net torn when it broke away, and did the fisherman lose
some fish? And because of that did his sweetheart perhaps lose a ribbon
or a trinket? Then here is a broken fragment of a lobster pot. Even
this might be some loss to a poor man. And not only are all these
things and a hundred times as many more to be thought of, but all this
wood has been soaked in the salts of the sea, and when it burns the
flames are of all sorts of strange and beautiful and ghostly colors--
white and red and green and blue and yellow and violet.

Everybody feels the charm of a driftwood fire. The little girl surely
could not help feeling it, and she came and sat on the stool at my
feet, leaned her head against my knee, and gazed at the flames without
saying a word. But I answered her thought. "Yes," I said, "we may see
almost anything in that fire. Look at that strip of cocoanut husk. Does
it not tell of green palm-groves and sunny skies and warm breezes? Yet
as it lies there on its curved side, with the two ends lifted from the
hearth, has it not the shape of a galley, like those in which the rude
old pirates of the North used to sweep over the sea, bringing terror to
all who came in their way? It is all burnt and blackened, and right
over it rises a tall flame of bright red. It is a black ship, with
sails all of the color of blood. The strangest of ships it is, and it
has the strangest of stories.

"Long, long years ago, in a fearful storm, the captain tried to sail
this ship around the cape. The captain of another ship hailed him and
asked him if he did not mean to find a harbor for the night. But he
swore a terrible oath that he would sail around the cape in spite of
Davy Jones, if it took till doomsday. At this Davy Jones was angry, and
swore on his part that it should take till doomsday, that the captain
should sail in the storm till then and should never get around the
cape. Do you know who Davy Jones is? He is the wicked spirit of the
sea. When the winds and the waves rage and tear away the sails of the
ships, or sink the ships or drive them upon the reefs, it is his work;
when it is all smooth and calm and sparkling, as we saw it to-day, then
the good fairies of the sea are there and are making everything about
it calm and happy.

"But the fairies never came near this ship. She was always driven
about, and there was a storm wherever she went. Never could her captain
bring her into any port and never could he round the cape. Only for
years and years he sailed and sailed in the storm, and found no harbor
and no rest. At first he was bold and tried to sail on and gain his
port; then he was angry and raged again, and swore that he would not be
beaten; then he was in despair; and at last he grew so weary with the
storm and the sea and the clouds and again the wind and the sky and the
ocean and yet the rain and the waves and the fog, that he longed only
to die and to be at peace.

"But he did not die, and no one of his crew died. The sailors all grew
old, and their hair and their beards were white, and they looked like
ghosts, and their ship was like the ghost of a ship; but they were not
ghosts; they were real men and they sailed in a real ship. Sometimes
the crews of other ships saw them. Sometimes they hailed the crews of
the other ships and begged them to take letters to their friends at
home. They said that their almanac had been blown away and they did not
know how long they had been from home. They would lower a boat and row
to the ship they had hailed, in a sea that would swamp any other boat
in half a minute, and so they would bring their letters on deck. Those
who knew their story refused to take the letters, and then the sailors
would nail them to the mast or lay them on the deck, with a heavy
weight to keep them from blowing away, and go back to their own ship.
So the letters sometimes reached their homes, for it was said to bring
bad luck either to take their letters willingly or to throw them away
when they were left on the ship.

"But oh, what of those to whom the letters were sent? Once a captain
brought a packet of them to the port from which the strange ship had
sailed. Not one of those to whom they were directed could be found, and
he opened some of them, hoping that the letters themselves might tell
him some way of finding the sailors' friends. One of the sailors had
written to his father that after this voyage he meant to live on the
land with him and never to go to sea again. When the captain took this
letter to its address, he found a man of the right name, but the man
said: 'No, no, the letter is not for me; no son of mine is a sailor.
None of our family ever went to sea except one, for there is an old
story that my great-grandfather's brother once went away in a ship and
that the ship was never heard of again. For years his old father used
to dream about him and to declare that his ship still floated, and he
died believing that his boy was yet alive. No, that is my name on the
letter, but it is not for me' One sailor had sent a bank-note to his
sister, but where her house stood there was a church, and it had been
there for a hundred years. Another in his letter sent a pressed
tropical flower to his sweetheart. It was of the color that looked
pretty in her hair, but the poor fellow forgot that pressing it would
spoil it for that. The captain, despairing of delivering the letters,
went into the church, and there, on one of the stones of the floor, he
read the sweetheart's name. It said that she was ninety years old when
she died, and the words were almost worn away by the feet that had
crossed them. The captain dropped the flower upon the stone, and the
next morning it was swept away.

"So the sailors grew so old that it seemed they could not grow any
older. Then slowly they began to know what they had always refused to
believe, that they had been sailing for years and for hundreds of
years, and that all who ever knew them and loved them had been long,
long dead. Then their eyes grew more hollow, and their hair and their
long beards thinner, and their faces more wrinkled and withered, and it
was as if all the blood had dried out of their hearts. Perhaps it was
when the blood went out of their hearts that it stained the sails that
dreadful red. So much for the crew, but it was different with the
captain. Davy Jones was preparing something worse yet for him, or
thought he was. He was tired of seeing him simply wander hopelessly on
the ocean; he wanted to plague him more. He could do this, he thought,
by giving him now and then a little hope and then shattering it and
sinking it to the bottom of the sea, and dragging the man's heart to
the bottom of the sea, too, with a leaden load of despair.

"The captain had never grown to look old, and now, to carry out his
wicked plan, Davy Jones promised that once in every seven years he
might enter a port and go on shore, and if ever he should find a good
woman who would love him and give her life for him, he might rest and
never sail again; but when he failed to find such a woman he must go on
board his ship again and sail through the storm and the wind and the
waves for seven years more. Now, Davy Jones would never have promised
this if he had thought that there could be such a good and loving
woman, but being only a wicked spirit of the sea he did not know much
about good women.

"And for a long time his plan did succeed and the poor captain was more
wretched than ever. Once in seven years he would go on shore to seek
that true woman, and as often he would return to his ship and sail
away. Good women he found many, but none of them would love him. Then
his heart would fill with bitterness, for he saw them loving and giving
their lives to men who, he could not but know, were less brave and
patient and worthy of them than he; faithless men who forgot them,
cruel men who misused them, dull men who knew not their own blessings.
Why should they love such men as these and never him? Now, you and I,
who are so wise, know, of course, that such thoughts were selfish and
wicked. For what was he to any woman that she should give her life, or
even an hour of it, for him? Was his life or his peace better than
another's, that another's should be given for his? Why should any woman
love him when there were so many others for her to love?

"But he never thought of these things, so he would rage against all
women and he would steer his ship into the most awful waves and
whirlpools, hoping that she would be wrecked and sunk, but his ship was
never harmed; and he would steer toward pirates, hoping that they would
kill him for the chests of gold he had, but even the pirates, when they
saw his blood-red sails, would cross themselves and flee from him. Then
the seven years would pass and he would go on shore, and now, perhaps,
a woman would say that she loved him; yet when the time came she would
not give her life for him, and he would throw himself down upon his
face on the deck of his ship and steer nowhere, but still drive on
through the wind, the black waves, the black storm, and his own blacker

"Oh, my!" said the little girl, "that's awfully nice and ghosty, but I
thought this was the best fire we ever had, and now you don't see
anything in it at all."

"Oh, yes, I do," I replied, "I have seen the ship all the time, that
black ship with its sail of red flame. I have seen it tossing upon the
sea, sweeping up till the flame of its sail almost touched the clouds,
and then plunging down into the black water, but always, always rushing
on with the storm around it and with never any rest. And I have seen
the angry clouds tearing across the sky; you can see them yourself when
the smoke flies up the chimney, and then when the white flames are
flickering and flashing up and then dying down, you can think that you
see the lightning. Yes, and you cannot help hearing the wind, whistling
up there around the top of the chimney as it would whistle through the
rigging of a ship.

"The seven years have passed again, and now the ship has come to land,
that the captain may try the little chance once more that has failed
him so often. The red flame has dropped down, for the sails are furled,
and the wind has stopped for a minute, too, while the ship is at
anchor, and there is no need for the storm to pursue it. I see the
captain walking on the shore and talking with the master of another
ship that is anchored near by. The master tells him that he lives only
a few miles away, and asks him if he will come and spend the night with
him on shore. The captain replies that for a little rest at his house
he will give the master untold treasures from his ship. He makes a sign
to his men and they bring a big chest. He opens it and shows the master
that it is full to the top of gold and pearls and rubies and emeralds,
that flash and shine with all the colors that ever our driftwood fire
can show us.


"Such a price for a night's or a year's lodging the master never
dreamed of. He cannot believe that such wealth is all for him, and he
asks what he can ever do for the captain to earn it. 'Have you not a
daughter?' the captain asks. You see he knows how to go about his work
without loss of time, even though he has never been very lucky in it.

"'Indeed I have,' the master answers, 'a good, true, lovely girl.'

"'Give her to me,' says the captain, 'for my wife; that is all I ask.'

"The master thinks that is a good deal to ask, but not too much, when
he looks at the chest again, and he says, joyfully enough: 'You shall
have her, indeed; I know such a man as you will make a good son-in-law;
come home with me quickly.'

"So each goes on board his own ship. The master sails first to lead the
way, and then the red flaming sail springs up again and the black ship
is off the shore. And the storm howls again too; the waves rise, the
clouds tear across the sky, and in a minute the ship has passed out of

"Listen to the wind around the chimney. It was roaring and whistling a
minute ago, but now it is not so loud. It grows fainter still, till its
sound is no more a roar or a whistle, but only the lightest humming of
a wind, and to me all the wind seems gone now and it is the hum of
whirling spinning wheels that I hear. And what I see is a room where a
dozen girls sit spinning and singing songs about their wheels and about
their lovers. But one among them does not spin. She lets her wheel
stand idle and only sits and looks at a picture that hangs on the wall.
It is of a dark man with black hair, a black beard, and deep, piercing
eyes; it is the captain whom we have seen so much already. The other
girls laugh at her, say that she is in love with the picture, and ask
her why she does not sing with them. She cannot sing their happy songs,
she says. Then they ask her to sing by herself, and she sings them a
song about the captain. It tells them his story, as we know it already,
and as she sings they all stop their wheels and begin to gather around
her, and in spite of all their merriment it moves them at last, as such
a sad story ought to move anybody.

"And when she has finished they all say, 'Ah, poor fellow, if only some
good woman would save him from his dreadful lot! But who would do it
and give up her own life?'

"'I would do it,' she replies, 'and I hope that the winds may blow him
here, so that I can tell him that I am ready to love him and to save

"The others, who are very charming girls, no doubt, but just now not
quite so noble and resolute as this one, are almost frightened to hear
her talk so, and when somebody says that her father is coming they all
slip away and leave her to meet him alone, while they chatter among
themselves about what a strange girl she is to want to give her life
for a man whose black hair and piercing eyes she has never even seen
except in a picture. Her father is the shipmaster whom we saw, as you
have guessed by this time, and he has brought the stranger captain home
with him. 'This is my daughter,' he says; 'is she not all and more than
all that I told you?'

"Then, having always found her, no doubt, a good and obedient child, he
tells her at once that the captain is to stay with them, and that he
expects her to be his wife. Some girls do not like to be ordered to
marry even the men they love; but she is so true and simple and kind
that she means to love the captain with all her heart, and even her
father's wish that she shall do so cannot change her. The father thinks
very wisely that they will get on better without him, so he leaves
them, and they do get on better at once. First they gaze for a long
time into each other's eyes, those deep, piercing, sad eyes of the
captain, and those true, soft, young eyes of the master's daughter.
Then he thinks that her face is not strange to him, as he remembers,
dimly at first and then more clearly, that he has seen this face in
dreams many times, when it was the face of an angel who was to save him
from his long weariness. And the dreams were not far wrong, for she
looks into his eyes with no thought for herself, but only: 'This is one
who has suffered for many years and must suffer for many years more,
unless I love him and save him.'

"He asks her if she can give herself wholly to him, and she answers
that, whatever his fate may be and whatever hers, she will take it all
and will be all his own forever. 'If you knew what it would cost you to
be true to me,' he says, 'you would shrink away from me and try to save
yourself.' 'Never,' she answers; 'let it cost what it will, I will be
true to you till death.'

"I see the shore and the sea again. This time it is near the master's
house, and the two ships are moored not far apart. The red sails are
furled, but on the ship there is the little pale blue flame of a
ghostly watch-fire. The captain comes out of the house and strides up
and down along the shore. All the gladness that he had when we saw him
last is gone--no, not all, but there is doubt and perplexity with it
now. The fact is that the captain has learned something now that he
never knew before. All these weary years he has been longing and hoping
for some good woman to love him, but he has never thought much about
loving any good woman. What right had he to expect anything when he
meant to give nothing? He has never thought of this before, but he
thinks of it now. And the reason is that now, when he has found a woman
who loves him and will gladly die for him, he finds too that he loves
her as well; and if he loves her, how can he let her die for him? She
is so good and unselfish that perhaps it would be a happiness to her to
do it, but it is the more to his credit that he does not think of that.

"That is why he paces up and down the shore and fights hard with
himself. Only think of it. For all these many years, while other men
were living happy lives and growing old, and their children and their
grand-children were growing old too, the angry winds and waves have
driven him about and have given him no rest; now this woman could save
him, but his love tells him that he ought to save her instead. Can he
save her and go back again to the rage of the storm and live in it
forever, live in it till doomsday? Oh, it is a hard fight, but at last
he answers yes; all that he has borne so long he can bear still longer.
The sea shall swallow his ship and cast it up again, the clouds shall
sink down upon it, the winds shall drive it over the whole ocean, but
she shall not die because of him. And it will not be with him quite as
it was before; now he will remember through all the hundreds of years
that are to come that she loved him once, he will think of her always,
and thinking of her he will wait for doomsday.

"I see him go on board his ship again; he is calling to his men; they
are hoisting the sails; see the red flame spring up again. The storm
comes again too. Look at the black smoke that is like flying clouds,
and hear the wind up there around the chimney. But now out of her
father's house comes the master's daughter. She sees the ship speeding
away, and in an instant she knows all the reason; she knows it because
she would have done the same if she had been the captain. Then she runs
to a high rock that stands out into the sea; she calls through the loud
wind that drowns her voice that she will come to him and will be true
to him till death, and then she leaps from the rock into the rough,
raging waves. But look; the waves that very instant are rough and
raging no more; the sea is all still; the clouds are gone, and the wind
is silent. The ship with the blood-red sails is sinking out of sight.
See how the red flame dies down and the black hull is breaking to
pieces. And right where it was I can see the captain and the master's
daughter rising out of the sea together, with a beautiful light around
them, as beautiful as all the colors of our fire can make it. They seem
to float along the water, away and away, and I think the good fairies
of the sea must be taking them to Fairyland or to some pleasant island,
where they will always live happily together."

The fire blazed up brighter than ever for a minute and then dropped
down again. "Come here to the window," I said; "see how the fog has all
cleared away and has left the moon shining down upon the sea. What a
broad track of light it makes from the shore here where it is nearest
us, away off to the edge of the sky! How the little flecks and sparkles
of light run and dance and chase one another, and how happy and glad
they seem, riding the little ripples of waves in the light of the moon!
Are they the sea fairies, dancing and playing together and calming the
water, to bring the sailors safe back to their homes, do you think?"


There was a beautiful moon and everybody said it was a pity to have it
wasted. So indeed it was, and everybody asked everybody else what we
should do to prevent its being wasted. A few, who had made the best
possible use of more moons than the rest of us, were in favor of simply
sitting on the rocks and looking at the moon and the sea under it. That
was really not a bad plan at all. When you sit with somebody beside you
and the rest of the party not too near, on a high rock that runs far
out into the water, and look at the big white moon and the soft colors
of the sky around it, and then at the stretch of water, unobstructed to
the horizon, with the moon's reflection broken by the waves into a
million dancing sparkles, when you turn and look toward the beach,
seeing the black surges rolling swiftly up to the shore and then
breaking into gleaming foam, but still plunging on, like banks of
tumbling snow--then indeed you can think of wonderful things and say
wonderful things if you like. But perhaps you may prefer to say nothing
at all, and that is a very good and pleasant way too, for at such a
time it seems really not quite right to talk unless you can talk in
poetry, and that is not easy to do, no matter how much you may feel
like doing it.

These people who had made the best of so many moons knew all this, but
some of the others thought that this moon was worthy of a greater
effort and a more deep-laid plan. All the things that are usually done
on moonlight nights were rejected one by one. Then one of those strange
persons who are always noticing things said, not at all as if he
thought it had anything to do with the subject, that there was an
uncommon quantity of wood scattered along the shore. Then it was
decided, just because nothing better could be thought of, that there
should be a bonfire down on the shore, and nothing else, except the
moon. So in the forenoon the daily bathing party started for the shore
a little earlier than usual, and instead of spending our extra time in
lying on our backs with the sun in our eyes, in the hope of getting
sunburned, we spent it in gathering wood for the fire.

Picking up driftwood for a bonfire is not very easy work, but there
were so many of us that we soon had two good piles, one for the fire at
the start and one to feed it as it burned. Among the wood there were
two whole barrels, and one of them had had tar in it, so we were sure
of a splendid fire. Then we all went home, and after it was dark we all
came back again. The fire was lighted; the bright-colored flames of the
driftwood played together and grew and streamed up above our heads,
crackled and roared and sent up torrents of black smoke mixed with
golden sparks. For a little while nobody was tired of feeding it and
watching it, but by and by we let a few attend to keeping it up, while
the rest of us made a very little fire among the stones and let it
quickly die down to a bed of red embers for toasting marshmallow drops.
The man up at the village who keeps the shop with everything in it, and
the post-office, must have a notion that city people live chiefly on
marshmallow drops, that is, if he ever lets himself be troubled by any
notions except those he keeps to sell.

After that the most of the people strolled away along the shore. Some
said they wanted to see how the fire looked from a distance, and
others, I think, were trying to get nearer to the moon. At last the
little girl and I were left alone. We made cushions of folded coats and
shawls, and sat leaning against a big rock, looking at the fire.

"We scarcely need the fire to-night," I said; "if we try a little we
can see pictures through it and all around it, as well as in it. See
that big, black rock, that stands almost in the edge of the water, like
an old castle, built upon the shore. Then look away across the water to
the island over yonder. I see a ship coming from the island toward our
shore; perhaps you do not see it yet. As it gets nearer I can see a
knight standing in the bow. He is a big, bold, fine-looking fellow, and
he is all in black armor. The ship reaches the shore and the knight and
his men go toward the castle, where the King lives, while the King and
all his court come out to meet him. Some people may tell you, or you
may some time find out for yourself, that this King is a very wicked
man, mean, cruel, and treacherous. Perhaps he is, but all I can tell
you is that now he does not seem so to me; on the contrary he seems as
kind and generous as you could wish.

"The knight in the black armor marches proudly up to him and tells him
that he has been sent by his brother, the King of the island over there
from which he came, to get the tribute which the king here has owed to
him for years, and it must be paid, or else the king or some one of his
knights must fight with him to see whether it shall be paid or not. The
black knight is such a big man and looks like such a good fighter that
the men about the King seem to think it would be a pretty good thing to
pay the tribute and let him go home with it. Not one of them says a
word about wanting to fight with him, for a little while; but by and
by, when all the rest have had a fair chance, a young man comes forward
and asks the King if he may try. He is as big a man as the black knight
himself, and as handsome and brave looking as any you ever dreamed of
seeing, but he is so young that he cannot have fought many battles, and
one would think that he would be afraid to set himself against the big
black knight, unless one looked at his face, as I do, and saw that he
could not possibly be afraid of anything."

"Is he braver than the one that killed the dragon?" the child asked.

"Why, no, I suppose not; nobody could be braver than he, because, you
know, he could not learn what fear meant, and did not even know whether
it was something to feel or something to eat or something to wear, but
this young knight is just as brave as there is any need for anybody to
be, and when he asks the King to let him try to beat the black knight,
all the other knights say at once, 'By all means, let him try,' and
they are really quite eager about it, and almost all of them change
their minds about giving the tribute. So the King says that he may
fight the battle if he will, and he puts on his armor, which is all of
green, and mounts his horse.

"The black knight is on his horse too, and they ride far apart and then
face each other and hold their long spears before them, ready for the
battle. All the people stand far off at the sides, the heralds blow
their trumpets, and the two knights run together with all the speed of
their horses. The points of their spears are down and they are both
well aimed, but each catches the other's spear fairly in the middle of
his shield, and they rush together so hard that there is a great crash,
and both the knights and both the horses fall to the ground with a
terrible clatter of arms. But the knights are both on their feet again
in a moment, and are falling upon each other with their swords, cutting
and slashing and warding and advancing and retreating, till it is hard
to tell which is the black knight and which the green, or whether they
are not both black and both green. First one seems to be getting a
little the better of the fight and then the other. The black knight is
better trained, but the green knight is so much younger and fresher
that he keeps his strength better, and by and by the black knight sees
that he is surely gaining a little. Then he rushes upon the green
knight and fights with all his strength and all his skill, and at last
he gives him a wound on the shoulder. Then the green knight sees that
if he is ever to do anything in this fight he must do it now, and he
uses all his strength and all his skill too, and he brings down such a
blow with his sword on the head of the black knight that it cuts
through the helmet, and the edge of the sword is broken, and with
another clash and clatter of arms the black knight falls to the ground.

"The black knight's men run to him and carry him to his ship, and sail
away as quickly as they can toward their island. I can see them all the
way, though it is a little dark out there, in spite of the moon, and I
can see everything they do after they get there; I have to, you know,
or it would spoil the story. They carry him to the King's castle, and
the Queen and her daughter, who know all about medicines, and even some
things that are stronger than medicines, dress his wound and nurse him
and watch him day and night. But it is all of no use; nothing can cure
the black knight's wound, and so he dies; but in dressing the wound the
princess has found in it a little piece of steel that was broken from
the edge of the green knight's sword.

"Now you ought to know, before we go any farther, that this princess is
probably altogether the most beautiful princess that you ever heard a
story about."

"Oh, that's the way they always are," said the little girl; "is she
beautifuller than the one that had the fire all round her?"

"Perhaps not, but she was not a princess, you know; she was a goddess
till her father kissed her, and then she was nothing at all till her
lover came and kissed her, and after that she was a woman, which was
altogether the best thing she could possibly be. But when we first saw
her she was a goddess, and we have a right to expect more of her than
of a princess. So I say again that this is quite the most beautiful
princess that you have ever heard a story about, and you must believe
it, if you please, or I shall not tell you any more about her."

"Oh, I believe anything you say," said the child, "but where is the
green knight?"

"He is still here on the shore, in the King's castle, and his wound is
a very bad one too, and after all the doctors have tried to cure it and
have failed, one of them says that it can never be cured at all except
in the country of the black knight who gave it to him. Now it is not
very safe for the knight to go over to that island, where so many
people would probably be glad to kill him for killing the black knight,
so he disguises himself as much as he can before he goes. And he goes
straight to the King's castle, just as the black knight did, and the
Queen and the princess take care of him just as they took care of the
black knight, only this time they have better luck, and in a little
while he gets well.

"But long before he gets well the princess, who is watching by his
side, sees the sword that he brought lying near by, and having nothing
better to do, she looks first at the jewels in the hilt and then slowly
draws the sword out of its scabbard to let her eye run along the
polished blade, with its smooth, sharp edge. And then her eye quickly
comes to a break in the smooth, sharp edge, and in an instant she
thinks of the splinter of a sword edge that she found in her uncle's
wound. At that she quickly drops the sword. Then she gets the splinter,
which she has kept, and finds that it just fits the broken place in the
sword, so she knows that this knight whom she is nursing and curing of
his wound is the one who killed her uncle when he was fighting for her
father. For a moment she thinks that she will kill him, and she lifts
the sword above him, but when she sees the helpless look in his eyes
she has not the heart to do it, and she lets the sword fall again. If
the truth were told, I think she is already a little in love with him,
and if he were any kind of knight except a green one, he would be in
love with her too.

"If he only would fall in love now it might save a good deal of trouble
afterwards, but because of his habit of wearing green clothes and green
armor, or for some other reason, he does not, and when his wound is
quite cured he sails cheerfully away again, just as if it were an
everyday affair to be nursed by a queen and a princess. He sails back
here to our own shore now, to the King's castle, and the King and
everybody else are as glad as possible to see him. He tells them all
about the Queen and the princess, and how beautiful she is, for it
seems he did notice that, till by and by, when the knights of the court
find that he is talking about her only in the way he would talk about a
picture that pleased him, they whisper to the King that such a
princess, who is so beautiful, and knows so much about curing wounds,
would no doubt make a good queen, and they advise him to send for her
and marry her. The green knight himself hears these whispers, and he
says, 'Yes, by all means; I will go and get her; she will be glad to
come, and her father and mother will be delighted to have her.' Did you
ever hear of such absurd conduct from a young man dressed in green?

"Away he sails again, over to the island, and when he tells his errand
the King and the Queen are delighted indeed. The princess is not so
much delighted as some young women might be at the prospect of being
married to a king, but she pretends to be very well pleased and says
that she will go. This time it is she who makes a sad mistake, for if
she would only say, right out aloud, 'I do not want to be married to
this King; I want to be married to the green knight,' again it might
save a good deal of trouble afterwards. She need not say it to him, but
she might say it to her mother, and if he did not love her the Queen
would know very well how to make him, as you shall see by and by.
Still, if there were no trouble there would be no story, so we might
better not complain, as long as the trouble will not be ours. So the
princess sails away with the knight, and the Queen, before she goes,
like a careful mother, gives her a little box of medicines such as she
uses herself. That is to say, medicines and other things. One of the
other things is a poison that kills anybody who drinks it, in just
about a minute, and it looks and tastes just like wine. Another is a
stranger mixture yet, for when a man and a woman drink it together it
makes them, from that instant, love each other as long as they live,
more than they love life or honor or their country or anything or
anybody else in the world. And this, too, looks and tastes just like
wine. It would not be easy to find two more dangerous drinks than these

"I see the knight and the princess now on board the ship, coming here
to our shore. The knight stands near the helmsman, looking away at the
sea and the sky, and thinking of nothing more sensible than how glad
his King will be when he sees his bride, and how much his King will
thank him for finding for him and bringing to him such a lovely
princess. But the princess, who is sitting far away from him, at the
other end of the ship, is thinking a great deal, and of such bitter
things that she does not look at the beautiful sea and sky at all. The
end of half her thoughts is that in a very little while now she will
have to be the wife of a king whom she has never seen and never wants
to see, because she loves the green knight, and the end of the other
half of her thoughts is that she hates the knight who has brought her
to this, as she could never in the world hate anybody except one whom
she loved.

"And this is how her thoughts come, for you know I can see thoughts
just as plainly as I can see castles and ships and battles: she thinks
of her uncle, whom she loved, who fought for her father and for her
country, who was wounded, and whose life she could not save; she thinks
of the unknown knight who came to her, wounded too, whom she nursed and
did save; she thinks how she began to love him, for the most of us love
better those whom we help than those who help us; she thinks of that
time when she saw his sword and knew that it was he who had killed her
uncle, how her anger rose against him for that and because he had dared
to come to her for help, how she had been about to kill him, and how
she saw that helpless look in his eyes and had not the heart to do it.
It is now that her thoughts grow bitter, for she thinks how he went
away again and never dreamed of loving her for healing his wound and
saving his life, and then sparing his life and loving him, when she
ought to hate him and kill him, because he killed her uncle. She is
beautiful enough to be loved, she thinks. Then comes a maddening
thought of how this man whom she loved not only cared no more for her
than for one of her father's dogs, but himself came back to ask her
hand for another. This seems an insult to her and it makes her whole
soul burn. She wishes she had killed him when she had his sword in her
hands, and the madness fills her mind and burns her soul till she
resolves that she will kill him now.

"She not only thinks all this but says it to her maid, and she orders
her to take the poison out of the box of medicines that her mother gave
her, and put it into a goblet, and she says that the knight shall drink
some of it and that she will drink the rest herself, and so punish her
enemy and be rid of the King who is to be her husband, for she will
gladly die rather than be married to him. Of course this throws the
poor maid into a terrible fright, for she is not a princess, and
poisoning and cutting off heads, and such things seem like serious
matters to her, so she would gladly save the knight and her mistress
too, if she could. If you were in her place I know very well what you
would do. You would give the princess some wine instead of the poison,
and before she could find out what you had done, she and the knight
would be on shore and would be saved. But this poor girl is so
frightened that she can think of nothing to do but to give her mistress
and the knight the love drink instead of the poison.

"The princess calls the knight to her and frowns upon him as dreadfully
as she knows how. Can you think how a bunch of sweet, fresh, red and
white roses would look if it should get terribly angry? Well, that is
about the way the princess frowns. But it is not her fault. She was not
made to frown. She tells the knight that he has been very cruel and
very untrue to her, and that she ought to have killed him for killing
her uncle; but now she says she will forgive him, and to show that they
are friends she asks him to drink this wine with her. And now you may
see how brave this green knight really is, for he sees well enough that
she does not forgive him at all and means to kill him; yet he takes the
goblet from her hand without a tremor of his own and drinks. Then she
snatches the goblet from him and drinks the rest herself, and cries,
'Now we shall both die; I have my revenge upon you, and you shall not
marry me to your King!'

"But, oh, it is the drink of love, and instead of dying the two stand
and gaze at each other as if they could never gaze enough, then they
stretch their arms toward each other, and so they meet, and now,
whatever happens to either of them, they must always love each other as
long as they live, more than they love life or honor or their country
or anything or anybody else in the world.

"How they ever get on shore I don't know, but I do know that when they
are there they make another great mistake, for they hide from the King
that they love each other, and they let him think still that the
princess means to be married to him, when I am sure she can mean
nothing of the kind. He is a very good sort of King, who wants
everybody to be as happy as possible, and he never has seen this
princess before, so what can he really care for her? If they would only
tell him I am sure he would be glad to help them, instead of standing
in their way, but they are just as foolish as they have both been all
along, and they say nothing about it.

"The princess is in the garden of the castle with her maid and they are
waiting for the knight to come. The King and all his men have ridden a-
hunting. It is night, and a torch burns at the castle door; at last we
can see something in the fire. The knight will not come till they put
out the torch, for that is the signal they have arranged, and they will
not put out the torch till the hunting party is far away. You see they
are still so absurdly secret about it! The maid tells the princess that
she might better not put out the torch at all, for a treacherous friend
of the knight has watched them, suspects their love, and has told the
King; that the hunting party is only a trap, and that the King will
soon come back. If it were a real hunt it would be strange for the
green knight himself not to go, for he is the best huntsman in the
whole country. All this is quite true; for the King, kind and generous
as he is, does not like to be deceived any better than anybody else,
and he wants people to keep the promises that they make to him.

"But the princess is in such haste to see the green knight again that
she will not heed the maid's warning. She sends her up to the tower to
watch, as soon as she thinks the hunters are far enough away, and then
she throws the torch down upon the ground and puts it out. Then the
green knight comes. But they have scarcely sat down on the grassy bank
to tell each other how much they love each other, and to forget all
about the poor King, when the maid cries out from the tower that the
huntsmen are coming back, the knight's old servant comes running with
his sword drawn to his master and begs him to save himself, and in a
minute they all come, the treacherous friend of the green knight
leading the way, and the King next after him. The knight is standing
before the princess, not thinking of himself, and the traitor, who
could never match him for a moment in a fair fight, rushes upon him and
wounds him, but before he can do more the King himself holds him back.
The old servant raises the knight from the ground where he has fallen,
drags him quickly to the shore and puts him in a ship that is there,
and once more they sail away.


"The rock there by the water is no longer the castle of the King. It is
the green knight's castle now, in another country, across the sea. The
old servant has brought the knight here, away from his enemies, to try
to heal his wound. All his care seems useless. The poor knight has all
the time grown worse. But his faithful old servant has remembered who
it was that cured another wound of his before, and he has sent a ship
with secret messengers to bring the princess if they can. That he may
know as soon as he sees the ship whether the princess is on board, he
has told the sailors to hoist white sails if they bring her with them,
and black sails if they do not. He is watching now for the ship to come

"It is the court-yard of the castle that I see, and a sweet, calm,
lovely picture it is. The knight and his servant have been so long away
that the place has been neglected, but it is all the prettier for that.
The grass has grown long, and, as the light winds breathe upon it, it
sways and sinks and rises in waves, as if it tried to be like the sea
down there below it. The gray old walls and ramparts of the castle have
bright green moss upon them, and from the crannies hang little plants
and vines. High up, where a rough stone projects a little from the
tower, a cluster of bluebells swings in the breeze and nods to the
other flowers and the grass and the trees down below. Are the bluebells
trying to say to the grass that up there on their airy lookout they can
see away over the shining water, that the ship is not yet in sight, but
that they know she will come? Beyond and away, clear to the edge of the
sky, just as it is here before us now, lies the sea. Smooth and
peaceful it is, as if it were resting all through this calm day. Over
it all the sun is sending a flood of light, fifty times as bright as
the light of this splendid moon of ours. But now and then it is dimmed
a little, for far away on the sea lies a strip of shade, the shadow of
a cloud; slowly it moves toward the land, as the cloud sails through
the blue sky, and as it comes it is seen plainer and moves faster, till
the shadow reaches the shore and rests for an instant on the castle and
the court-yard, and then it passes away into the land and everything is
sunny again.

"Yet in all this light and peaceful beauty there is something that
seems like sadness. In the court-yard, on his couch, lies the knight,
in the cool shade. He does not know where he is, and he does not know
his servant, who stands beside him, with the tears in his faithful old
eyes, but he must know that he is in a beautiful place. Does everything
in the place know that he is here, too, and feel sad to see him lying
sick and wounded and weak and weary? The sun veils his face oftener
than he does on some of our bright days, and when there is no cloud he
shines with a soft, mellow light, the sea throws shades of purple over
its blue and silver, and its waves break against the shore with only a
soft little sound, and a sort of hushed song that is like a moan and is
like a lullaby too. You can hear it down there among the pebbles around
the rock. The bluebells swing softly, as if they were afraid to ring
out aloud and disturb the sleeping knight. The hard walls look softer
for their coverings of moss; the grass waves slowly and bends toward
the wounded man, seeming to listen to his breathing. A shepherd leans
over the rampart and plays a soft, sad, sleepy little air on his pipe.
'Is the knight awake?' he calls to the servant.

"'No,' the servant answers, 'and unless the princess comes I fear he
will never wake; watch for the ship.'

"'I will watch,' the shepherd says, 'and if I see the ship I will play
a lively tune on my pipe to tell you of it.'

"The knight begins to wake and stir; he asks where he is, and the
servant tells him that he is at his own castle. He has been dreaming of
the princess, and the servant says, 'I have sent the ship for her; she
will come to-day.' But the knight is so weak that he cannot understand
or talk of one thing very long, and he falls half asleep again and
dreams of the princess, and because he has heard of a ship he dreams of
other ships. He has his old wound now and is lying, just as he lies
here, in that ship which bore him the first time toward the princess;
now she is with him and his face grows lighter. She is looking at his
sword; she raises it again, as she did so long ago, to kill him; but
she sees again the helpless look in his eyes and has not the heart to
do it, and she lets the sword fall again. He is on a second ship,
sailing toward the princess to bring her for the King's bride; now the
ship is sailing back and they are together on the deck. She holds out
to him that goblet of strange wine; they both drink, they gaze into
each other's eyes, the dream is too happy to last, and he awakes and
cries, 'Has the ship come? Can you not see her yet?'

"'Not yet,' the servant answers; 'but she must come soon.'

"The knight is in the garden of the castle--the other castle--waiting
for the princess to put out the torch, that he may come to her. The
torch falls upon the ground, he runs toward the place, and they are
together yet again. It is another happy dream that cannot stay. 'Is the
ship nowhere in sight?'

"Before the servant can answer he hears the merry tune from the
shepherd's pipe and knows that the ship is coming now, indeed. He looks
away across the sea and tells his master how swiftly it flies over the
water toward them, with its white sails, for the sails are white and
the princess is on board. The time seems long to the knight and his
servant, yet it is really short, for the wind is fair. The ship comes
nearer and nearer, it passes the dangerous reef, it is so near that the
servant can see the faces of the princess and the helmsman and the
sailors. Now it is at the very shore and the princess is at the gate.
Ah, it was not medicines that the knight needed. With the very
knowledge that the princess is there, he raises himself from his couch
and walks toward the gate. Then his little strength fails again and he
would fall, but the princess herself catches him in her arms and holds
him. This time it is no dream.

"She leads him back to the couch, he sinks upon it, and she bends over
him. But suddenly the shepherd runs to the rampart and cries that
another ship is coming, the King's ship. Are the King's men coming then
to carry back the princess, perhaps to kill the knight? The servant
calls the men of the castle and they try to barricade and guard the
gate. But they are too late; the King's men and the King himself break
through the barriers and are in the courtyard. The very first of them
is the knight's treacherous friend; the old servant instantly cuts him
down with his sword, and there is one good stroke at least. Then the
King calls to all to hold their hands and to strike no more; he has
come only to give the princess to the knight. He has heard of the love
drink, and knows at last that they were not to blame for what they did,
and that they never meant to be false to him.

"But still the knight lies there on his couch and the princess kneels
by his side and bends over him, and neither of them speaks or moves."

"And will the knight get well again?" the little girl asked.

"Let us not try to find out any more now," I said. "The knight and the
princess are both here, and I know that they are happier together than
they have ever been before. That is enough, is it not?"

All at once there were voices behind us, three voices at least.

"Hello, there! who's attending to the fire? You're letting it all go
out, and there's plenty of wood left."

"What are you two doing here all alone? Don't you know you'll catch
your death o' cold sitting here so long?"

"Are there any marshmallows left?"

"No," said the little girl, answering the last question, "we don't care
about marshmallows any way," and I really believe just then she thought
she did not care about them, though usually she likes them almost as
well as anybody.


The little girl stayed at the seashore till the middle of the autumn.
That is the way sensible people do, when they can, and I have worked
much in vain if I have not shown by this time that this little girl is
a sensible little person. The spring is very lovely, to be sure, and of
course we all love it. I should be the last one to say anything against
it. But to me the most beautiful time of the whole beautiful year is
the early autumn. The heat and the work and the worry of the year are
over, and the clear, rich, golden good of it all is left to be enjoyed.
The flowers are not pink and pale blue any more; they are of deep,
splendid yellow and red and purple. The golden-rod and the asters are
lords of flowers, and the cardinal is their high-priest, while if you
will have something that is delicate and modest, there is the fringed
gentian, and that shows, too, how healthy and brave and free it is by
keeping no company with dark shadows, and opening only when the bright
sun shines full upon it.

But of the things that are best in the autumn, the best above all
others is the sea. It has been lying quiet and restful all summer, and
now it awakes and begins to move and to show the strength and the
freedom of its glorious life. As you stand upon the shore and look at
it, it draws itself away from you and away from the land as if it were
done with it forever; then it pauses, and in a moment begins to come
back. Up and up the beach it marches with a majestic will that nothing
else in the world is like; as it comes it lifts itself higher and
higher; then the wave leaps into the air and its crest is turned to
emerald as the sunlight strikes through it for the pause of another
instant, there is a roll, a mad plunge, the spray dashes high above
your head, the foam floats and flies up the beach to your very feet,
the hollow rumble of the water sounds fainter and farther along the
sands, and the ocean draws itself back away from you and away from the
land. Its colors are different, too. Before it had all sorts of
fanciful hues and shades, pale green and blue, silver, violet, almost
rose sometimes, the colors of summer dreams. Now the dreaming time is
over. The green of the wave-crests is luminous, the white and the blue
have the gleam of polished steel, the violet and the rose are turned to
deep, rich purple. The sea is not cold, harsh, and cruel yet, but it is
free, bold, and majestic.

All this I knew because I remembered it, not because I saw it, for I
had been back in the city a long time. The fire was lighted again and I
had sat before it often, thinking of the driftwood fire away down
there, with the little girl sitting before it, seeing pictures in it
for herself, perhaps, and listening to the low sound of the sea, coming
up through the still evening air. But one night she came and sat with
me again, and once more we both looked into the same fire. "I believe I
can almost see pictures myself now," she said.

"Can you? And what do you see in the fire now?"

"Oh, I can see a prince and a princess--and a knight--and a lovely
goddess, like the one that had the apples--and a cave, like the one
where the dragon lived--"

"And don't you see the dragon himself? Where is he?"

"No, there isn't any dragon; that would be too much like the other

"But you must not mind that. There are only a few good stories
altogether, and the most we can do, as I told you once before, is to
tell them over and over again in different ways."

"But I don't want any dragon in this one. Now you tell me what they all
do, the goddess and the knight, and the prince and the princess, and
what the cave is for."

"Very well, I will try. First I see the knight. He is riding along upon
his horse, through the forests, over the hills and across the valleys.
It is a lovely day of summer. When he comes to the top of a hill, he
sees the country lying before him and all around him, deep green with
woods and pastures and paler green where the grain is ripening. Here
and there, too, it is sprinkled with tiny dots of red, where the
poppies grow thick in a field, and there are spots that are almost blue
with cornflowers. A silver ribbon of a river winds through it, and the
sight of it is lost among the blue mountains. As he rides down into a
valley the branches wave above him and break the sunshine that falls
upon the road and the grass beside it. The flecks of light and the
patches of shade tremble and waver and dart across and across the way,
as if they were weaving a robe for the earth, of gold and brown and
green. The air is full of the smell of the flowers, a brook makes a
soft, cheery little noise, and from the pastures comes the sleepy sound
of sheep-bells.

"The knight is riding toward the castle of the prince. He is a
minstrel, as well as a knight, and at the castle he will meet other
minstrels who are his friends, and they are all to sing for a prize
which the prince has offered. There is as much happiness in the heart
of the knight as in everything around him, for he loves the prince's
daughter, and he knows that she loves him. Besides this she is to give
the prize to the one who wins it, and with his mind full of gladness
and thoughts of her, he feels sure that he can win.

"As he rides thus the evening falls. The moon comes up, and from the
hills the country stretches darkly away all around, with the silver
ribbon of the river still winding through it. The shade is so deep in
the valleys that he has to ride through them slowly. The robe of the
earth now is all of deep gray and silver. The smell of the flowers is
stronger and sweeter than before, the brooks sound louder, and the
sheep bells are silent. The knight's thoughts just now are wandering
away from the princess, and he is thinking of the fame that he hopes to
win as a minstrel, how he will gain this prize and many other prizes,
how kings will send for him to come to their courts, that they may hear
his songs, how he will grow great and rich, and how his name will live
on after he is dead.

"As he thinks of these things, suddenly he sees a strange form before
him in the valley. It is like a woman, wonderfully beautiful,
marvellously, magically beautiful. Something more than the moonlight
seems to rest upon her and to show him her face with its deep eyes and
soft cheeks, her movements, so graceful and gentle that it seems as if
she did not move herself at all, but were just stirred and swayed by
the little breezes. A rosy light shines from her face and around her
dark hair. All about her are nymphs, or fairies, dancing and gliding
and scattering roses for her to walk upon. It seems really quite
needless to do that, for she appears rather to float and move in the
air and to rest on the flower-perfumed wind than to stand or walk upon
the ground. Now a knight who was also a minstrel could not possibly
make any mistake about such a person as this, and he knows at once that
she is the very Goddess of Love and Beauty."

"Is she the one that had the apples?" the little girl asked.

"No, not quite the same. She is one something like her, yet a good deal

"Is she Venus then?"

"Yes, you have guessed just right, and so at last somebody in our story
has a name. But she is not altogether like the Venus that you have
heard about so many times before. Some people used to believe that
after the old gods whom you know so well had lost their rule on Mount
Olympus, they went to live inside the mountains and under the ground,
and that they were not kind to men any more, but always did harm,
whenever they were able to do anything. Now, for myself, I don't quite
see how this could be, because you know we have felt so sure that we
saw some of them up in the sky sometimes. Yet now that I see Venus
here, it does seem to me as if there were something in the story after
all, and I believe it would be better for the knight if he had never
seen her at all. If he were thinking of the princess at the time I do
not believe he would look twice at Venus. No, I am sure he would not
even see her once.

"But since he is not thinking of the princess, but only of what a great
man he would be if he could make his songs seem as wonderful to
everybody else as they seem to himself, it is not surprising that he is
delighted by such a vision, and it is not surprising, either, when the
goddess and her nymphs beckon to him and then glide away as if they
wanted him to follow them, that he gets off his horse and does follow
them. They move along so fast that he cannot keep up with them, and
soon he cannot even see them, but it is still easy for him to follow.
For everywhere they go the strangest flowers spring up under their feet
and make a pathway to lead him. They are huge, bright flowers, cup-
shaped and star-shaped and sun-shaped. Flowers of such wonderful form
and size, and such gorgeous colors the knight never saw before. Some of
them seem to be made of hammered gold, and some of silver; some have
stamens of precious stones, and some look like clear crystal, blood-
red, deep purple, or orange, as if they were cut from solid gems; some
of them have petals like flames, that shimmer and glow and are
reflected by the others; the leaves are all glistening emerald and they
are sprinkled with pearls like drops of evening dew. The stems twine
about like serpents, and they seem to the knight to move and turn about
to show him all their magic splendor. Some of them, with coiling
tendrils, like gold wire, sway toward him as if they would catch him
and hold him, others dance and wave about on their stems and twinkle as
the other stars do, up above the trees, as if they were laughing and
mocking at him, and still others bow and bend away from him and beckon
him on. The whole of the fire is scarcely enough to show me this
strange garden. A pale, ghostly light rises from all the flowers and
hovers over the path. The knight would stop to pick some of them, but
those before him seem always more beautiful than those close at hand,
and, besides, he is eager to follow the goddess. So on he hurries till
he sees before him a way straight into the side of the mountain and
within a great glare of light. If he would only think of the princess
now, for one instant! But he goes straight on into the mountain, and
the way shuts behind him, and outside the magic flowers are gone, and
there is nothing but the soft grass, the whispering trees, the dark
sky, with the stars, and the calm night.


"Do you see how very wrong it is for the knight to go away after the
goddess into the mountain? When people let themselves be led away like
that by fairies and goddesses it is usually a long time before they get
back. A knight like this one, who is a minstrel as well, ought to know
all about such things, and I dare say he does. He must have heard of
men who went to such places and saw beautiful and wonderful sights, and
feasted and danced till they thought that they had been away from their
homes for a day, or a week, and then, when they went back to them,
found that they had really been gone for years, perhaps for hundreds of
years, and that all their friends were dead. He ought to think of his
friends, the other knights and minstrels, who will be grieved when they
meet and he is not with them. For his own sake he ought to know better
than to run into strange and dangerous places just because they look
pleasant. More than all, he ought to think of the princess. If he does
not care for the prize of his song any more for itself he should care
for her who is to give it. He should remember how much she loves him,
little as he deserves it. She will not forget him as he does her. When
she waits and waits for him and he does not come she will believe that
he is dead, and she will cry her pretty eyes out. She will never think
that he has gone away from her to visit a goddess of love and beauty
who lives in a cave.

"Now I see the cave of the goddess, deep in the mountain. It seems dim
and misty and confused at first, but gradually I can see it clearer.
All around the sides and the top are great pendants of gems, like
icicles, of all sorts of colors, as if the precious stones had once
been liquid and had run down into the cave and then had frozen into
crystal. Here and there are diamonds and rubies and opals and emeralds
as big as your head, set in the roof, and they have some magical way of
shining all by themselves and light up the whole cave like lamps. The
ground is covered with flowers like those that made the path to lead
the knight to the place. A stream of water runs from the cave and is
fed by fountains in the middle. These fountains are wonderful affairs
too. Sometimes they throw jets of liquid silver almost to the roof;
then they fall down and spread out wide in sheets, of the color and the
brightness of melted gold; again the water rises in little streams that
twine and weave themselves together like basket-work, and all of deep,
shining crimson; then the fountains take other fantastic forms and
other colors, purple or green or orange, but always glowing with light,
and so they pass to silver and to gold again.

"This is the cave of Venus. It is filled with the nymphs who attend
her, and they are singing choruses in her praise, and dancing
wonderful, mazy, mad, delirious dances. They whirl about and around
alone, in couples, in lines, in circles, and in crowds, their arms
waving and their hair streaming in the air. Sometimes while they dance
every one is plainly to be seen, and again their garments surround them
like clouds, and they are all one waving, streaming, fluttering mass.
These mists of light robes then are like the fountains, for now they
are shining white, now red or yellow or green or purple, now all the
colors together, mixed and blended like broken and tangled rainbows.

"If you could see all that I see here in the fire I think you would be
delighted with it, for a little while. But how do you suppose the
minstrel knight likes it? He sits beside the goddess and looks at it
wearily. He has seen them all so much that walls of gems and streams of
gold and whirling rainbows do not please him any more. He has been here
in the cave for a whole year. He sees now how wrong it was for him to
come, and he is so tired of it all that he is beginning to feel that he
would rather die than be among these mad pleasures any longer. But he
cannot do that because nobody ever dies here. When he sees these walls
of cold crystal, gleaming with the colored light from the great gems,
he thinks of the broad, lovely country that he once saw, that stretched
away and ended only at the blue mountains, and of the silver river that
never changed to blood, or to green fire, with the clear sunlight
brightening them all.

"If he tries to rest his eyes upon the great, glowing, magic flowers
that cover the ground, they only make him think of the red poppies that
shone out from the fields of ripening grain, and of the blue of the
corn-flowers, and then he tries to think of the perfume from the
flowers that filled the air after it grew still at evening. There are
odors here, too, but they are so heavy and sweet that after a time it
is almost a pain to smell them. He hears the rush and the dash of the
fountains, and he longs for the low, merry little sound of the brook
that ran along beside his road. The air here is full of music, the rich
harmonies of many instruments and the voices of the nymphs who sing
their choruses to Venus, but his ears are tired of the sounds, and he
wishes that he might hear only the sleepy tinkle of the sheep-bells,
chiming with the voice of the brook. But more than everything else he
thinks of the princess. He remembers now how kind and true she was, and
how much truer he ought to have been in return than he really was. He
wonders if she still remembers him, if she thinks him dead, and then
his heart stops, as he wonders if she herself is dead. Oh, it is a fine
time now to think of these things! If he had only remembered the
princess once before, instead of thinking what a great minstrel he was,
he would never have followed Venus into her cave. Now he can only think
of that great wrong he did and long for the fresh fields and woods, for
the air, the sunlight--and the princess.

"Venus, sitting by his side, sees that he is troubled and asks him why.
He tells her how much he wishes that he might see again the world he
used to know, and live the life he used to live, and he begs her to let
him go. She is angry at first. Has she not brought him to live here
among such delights as no man before ever knew, and is he tired of them
now, and does he want to escape from them? He can only say that he will
never forget her or the beautiful things he has seen here, but he can
never be happy here again, and if she will only let him he must go. At
last she tells him that he may go. 'But you will not be happy,' she
says; 'your old friends will scorn you when they know where you have
been. They will never forgive you for coming here. You will find no
rest, no help, no hope. Then, when you learn that you can have peace
nowhere else, come back to me and stay with me forever.'

"All at once the cave, with everything in it, is gone. The knight knows
how or where it went no more than I. As for him, he does not know that
he has moved from his place, and as for me, the fire is burning just as
it did before. Yet now I see him lying on the soft grass of a beautiful
valley. Above him are the sky and the nodding branches of the trees;
around are the hills. He sees and he smells the flowers that were lost
to him so long. The low tinkle of the sheep-bells comes again drowsily
to his ears. A little way up the hill a shepherd is playing softly on
his pipe. He picks a flower and smells it, to be sure that it is all
real. Then the tears come to his eyes as he thinks of all the beauty
and sweetness of the life that he lost and has found again.

"But now a band of pious pilgrims passes, on the way to Rome. They are
going to ask the Pope to forgive their sins. The sight of them brings a
new thought to the knight. It is the thought of his own sin. Now that
he sees again the sweet loveliness of the world, he feels at last fully
how wicked it was for him to leave it and all his own duties and his
friends in it. He is in despair when he thinks that he is no longer
worthy of the princess, if indeed he ever were. He dares not see her
again; he dares not ask his friends to be his friends longer; he throws
himself upon the ground and feels that he has no more a place in this
happy world.

"At this very moment comes a company of huntsmen riding past. Their
leader is the prince himself and the rest are the friends of the
minstrel knight, the very ones with whom he should have sung for the
prize a year ago. Very glad they are to find him, after thinking him
dead so long, and they insist that he must come with them and be one of
them again. He will not go with them. He feels that he is not like them
any more. His wrong has been so great that he dares not be with brave,
good men. They urge him, but it is useless. But there is one among
them, a knight and a minstrel too, who also loves the princess. She
does not love him, but his own love is so deep and true that he will do
anything to make her happy. When he finds that nothing else can move
the stubborn knight he tells him that the princess still loves him,
that she has grieved for him all the time that he has been lost, and
that he must come back to them for her sake. He is touched at last. He
had not dared to ask of her, and now he knows that he may see her
again, that she could never forget like him, that she will love him and
forgive him. He cannot resist. He will go.

"They are all in the hall of the prince's castle now. They are to sing
again for a prize and again the princess is to give it. The prince
tells them that they must all sing of love. The knight who loves the
princess hopelessly begins. He sings of his own love, how it is fixed
upon one who does not love him in return, and how still his love for
her is all the joy he has, and he would gladly lose the last blood of
his heart for her. They all cry out that he has sung nobly, except the
knight from the cave of Venus. He thinks this is a very weak, silly
kind of love; he sings in a very different way, and he tells them that
if they want to know what love really is they must go and learn of the
Goddess of Love.

"They are all filled with horror. They know now where he has been. He
has left the princess for Venus; he has learned to scorn their knightly
love; worse than all, it seems to them, he, a Christian man, has passed
a whole year in the home of a heathen goddess. They declare that he has
betrayed them in daring to come among them like an honest knight. They
forget that he refused to come, that he told them he was unworthy of
them and was too wicked to be one of them, and they almost compelled
him. So their swords are out to kill him. But the princess, whom he has
injured a thousand times as much as all of them put together, commands
them to spare him. He may yet be forgiven, she says, and it is not for
them to judge. She will pray for him as long as she lives, and God may
pardon him. At her word they draw back and put up their swords, yet
they think his guilt too great ever to be forgiven. There can be but
one only hope for him, says the prince; some of the pilgrims on their
way to Rome are still in the valley; he must go with them and pray for
pardon from the Pope.

"Never another pilgrim toiled along the road to Rome feeling such a
heavy weight of sin to be forgiven as the minstrel knight. He does not
talk with the others or lighten the way as they do with holy songs. He
knows not how to suffer enough for his guilt, and to seek out
punishments for himself is his only content. Some of the pilgrims walk
where the grass is soft and cool; he chooses the paths that are full of
stones and thorns. They drink at the springs of cold water; he thirsts
more than they, but he turns away and lets the noon sun blaze down upon
his bare head. They find shelter and rest for the night; he lies upon
the snow of the mountain and sleeps there, if he sleeps at all. When he
comes near to Italy he fears that the sight of that lovely land will be
pleasing to his eyes, and so he has himself led blindfold on to Rome.

"The Pope sits upon his throne, and before him come all who seek for
pardon. He forgives them, blesses them, and sends them away. At last
comes the minstrel knight. He throws himself on the stones before the
feet of the Pope and tells the story of all the wrong that he has done.
The Pope listens and is filled with horror, as the prince and the
knights were before, and there is no princess here to say one word of
love or mercy. 'There is no hope for you,' he answers, 'no pardon, no
hope. Your guilt is too deep and black. As soon shall this naked staff
I hold bear flowers and leaves as one like you find forgiveness or

"And so the minstrel knight shrinks away. He knows not where to turn.
All places are alike to him, alike full of darkness and despair. The
pilgrims are returning home. He follows them, as a dog that had been
struck and wounded might crawl after men who had been his friends.

"I see the beautiful valley again. The princess is kneeling before a
little cross. She is praying that the knight whom she loves may be
forgiven. Back in the rising shadows of the evening stands the knight
who loves her hopelessly, watching her as she prays. The pilgrims are
coming from Rome. They are singing songs of mercy and peace. The
princess looks eagerly among them. The minstrel knight is not there.
'He will never come back,' she sighs, and she turns away and slowly
climbs the hill toward her father's castle, where she may pray for him

"And now a dark figure comes slowly, fearfully on, by the way that the
pilgrims have passed. He sees his friend, standing where he stood while
the princess prayed. He calls to him to stand back; he is too guilty
for any good man to touch or come near him. He tells him how he went to
Rome and what the Pope said. Then he tells the awful thought that is
now in his mind. The Goddess of Love and Beauty bade him when all hope
should be lost to come to her again and stay with her forever. He is
seeking her mountain now. He calls to her to guide him. Now at the very
back of the fire I see a rising red glow. The goddess is there and she
calls to him to hasten to her. 'You are mad,' cries his friend; 'stay;
be brave; bear it all, and you may yet be forgiven.'

"Suddenly there comes to the knight another thought--the best thought
he has ever had--the princess. Instantly the red glow is gone and the
goddess is hidden from him forever. His friend knows his thought. 'She
is up there,' he says, 'praying for you still.'

"At last the knight is humbled, overcome, subdued. He falls upon his
face and prays for pardon, as the princess is praying for him up there
in the castle. And now all at once there is a glad shout, a song of
happiness and peace. Another band of pilgrims has come from Rome. They
are bringing the staff of the Pope, and all in a night it has borne
flowers and leaves. The smell of lilies fills the air. They are
carrying the staff through the land to tell the knight and all other
men like him, if, indeed, there are others, that they are forgiven. The
minstrel knight has found pardon and he may rest."

"And what became of the princess?" the little girl asked.

"The fire is too low," I said; "I cannot see any more. What do you
think became of her?"

"I don't know," she answered, "but I think she must be very happy that
the knight is forgiven."

"I think they are both very happy," I said.


It was the last evening of the year. In honor of the occasion the
little girl was allowed to sit up rather later than usual--not till
midnight, of course, so that she could see how different the whole
world would look after the clock had struck, but long enough to make
her feel that she was doing something very pleasant, because something
that it was not good for her to do very often. Our friends down by the
sea had sent us a strange Christmas present, but they knew what we
wanted. It was a big box of driftwood, almost a wagon-load. We resolved
that it should not be used except on great occasions, and of course New
Year's eve was a great occasion. Here in the city we could not listen
in the evening stillness and catch the low murmur of the restless
water, but the fire burned with the same strange and lovely colors as
if it had been kindled on the beach. Tonight it was not likely that we
should see any storms or any ghostly ships, yet the little girl knew
well enough that there were wonderful things to be seen in that fire.

"What can you see in it?" I asked her.

"I don't want to see things myself," she said. "I want you to see them.
Just think; this is the last time we can have any stories about the
fire this year."

"But the new year will begin to-morrow," I said, "and it will be just
as good as the old one, will it not?"

"Oh, yes, I suppose so," she said, "but this has been such a nice year
that I don't like to have it go. But now tell me what is in the fire."

"There are so many strange things in it that I scarcely know how to
begin to tell you about them. I am very much afraid that I shall not
make you understand all that I see in the fire to-night, and I am the
more afraid of it because I am not at all sure that I can quite
understand it all myself. But first the reddest and brightest spot in
the whole fire begins to grow redder and brighter and to take a new
shape. It is the shape of a goblet. It is of clear crystal and its
sharp angles and edges sparkle with many colors, but within it that
strange, deep red glows and shines and grows brighter still, till it
beats and throbs as if it were alive. And all around it, too, there is
a circle of soft rays of light, like a halo.

"Perhaps you know what this is, but I am afraid you don't Do you
remember what I told you once about the Holy Grail? This is the Holy
Grail--the cup from which the Saviour drank at the Last Supper, and in
which afterwards His blood was caught as He hung upon the cross. It is
that blood in the cup which is still alive and glows and beats and
throbs. This Holy Grail, as I told you before, is guarded by a band of
knights in a beautiful temple, which nobody can find except those whom
the Grail itself has chosen and allowed to come. I can see the temple
now. It has a high, light, graceful dome, which rests on tall pillars
of marble that is like snow. The whole temple may be of something like
snow, too, for it melts away so that I cannot see it and comes again,
then half of it is gone and then the other half, so that I scarcely
know whether I see it at all. Perhaps it is the smoke of the fire that
makes it seem so. But I can see that the dome is all covered with
figures and traceries of gold, which bloom out bright like flowers
whenever the whole dome looks plainest, and then fade again. But when
the smoke comes across the whole picture and darkens it for a moment,
then the lines upon the dome show through it like fire, and they change
and waver, and then the whole temple is gone again.

"You remember something about the Grail's knights. The Knight of the
Swan was one of them. They live here in the temple, except when they
are sent away on some journey, to help some one who is in trouble, to
do some act of justice, to fight for the right, or to punish the wrong.
And whether they stay here or go as far away as they can, they never
need any food except what the Grail gives them. The Grail chooses them
at first, feeds them afterwards, and gives them their commands, for
sometimes, in that halo that shines around it, there appear letters and
words to tell the knights what they should know. And once a year, on
Good Friday, a white dove flies into the temple and rests upon the Holy
Grail, to give it more of these powers for the coming year.

"I see now a strange-looking man with a dark face and deep, bright eyes
which seem never to rest, but always to look and search for something
that they never find. Yet now and then a cruel light comes into them
and makes them blaze for an instant, and his hard lips smile a little,
and then his face grows stern and gloomy again. He is a wicked
magician. Once he wanted to join the Knights of the Grail. He could
even be their king, he thought. But the Grail chose its own knights and
it did not choose him. Then he swore that he would be avenged upon the
Grail knights; he would tempt them away from the temple, he would
overthrow them, he would find a way to steal the Grail itself. It was
for this that he learned his magic. He built an enchanted castle not
far from the Temple of the Grail and filled it with every kind of
pleasure that he could devise. Then he tried to entice good knights to
come to his castle, and if any knight came, if any stayed in the
enchanted halls to eat or drink or dance or play, that knight was lost
forever. He could go back to his old friends and his old life no more,
and his use in the world was ended.

"Again I see a woman--a woman yet more strange than this man. You will
think so when I tell you who she is. You remember the wife of the King,
whose daughter danced before the King and pleased him so much that he
promised her any gift she should ask; how the Queen told her to ask for
the head of the great prophet, who was in prison, and how the head was
cut off and brought to her. This woman whom I see was that Queen. The
old stories say that she saw the Saviour as He passed, bearing His
cross upon His back, and that she laughed at Him. He only looked at her
sorrowfully and spoke no word. But always from that time she was forced
to wander through the world, and laugh at everything that was true and
good. Can you think of anything more horrible? After a long, weary time
she wished that she might die, but still through all lands she
journeyed, laughing at everything she saw that was sweet and pure and
holy. The wish to die grew and grew till it was her only longing. But
she could not die. For hundreds of years she has lived unchanged. Some
say that she can never die or grow old till the best knight of all the
world shall come and pardon her great sins. Others say that she must
live till one comes whom she cannot tempt away by her beauty from the
path he follows.

"For she is very beautiful. It is not the beauty of a common woman that
she has, but something far beyond it. She can be tender, sweet, gentle,
enticing, and then in an instant proud, defiant, radiant. Perhaps the
wicked magician has given her some of this wonderful beauty by his
magic, for she is in his power and helps him to entrap knights into his
castle, where they lose all hope of returning to the life of the world
and of doing good in it. She does not wish to do this, but the magician
compels her. So always she must tempt and entice at his command the
knights who come near his castle, and always she must long for one to
come whom she cannot tempt, for then she will be free. The knights of
the Grail are not the men for whom she waits. To tempt them is only too
easy. Even their King cannot resist her.

"I see the King of the Grail now. He holds a spear in his hand that is
almost as great and wonderful a thing as the Grail itself. From the
point of the spear flows a little stream of blood. It trickles down the
shaft of the spear to the King's hand that holds it, but the blood does
not stain the hand; it flows over it and leaves it clean and white. It
is the very spear with which the Roman soldier wounded the side of the
Saviour, and ever since that time the blood has run from its point. But
the King has wandered too far away from the Temple of the Grail and too
near the magician's enchanted castle. The magician sees him and sends
the woman to try to bring him within his power. Such wonderful beauty
as hers the King has never seen before. For one instant in looking at
her he forgets to guard the spear; he lets it go from his hand, the
magician seizes it and strikes the King with it in the side. He is
borne back to the temple with just such a wound as that other which
this same spear made so many years ago. And the magician has the spear.
As he holds it the blood flows from its point and trickles down the
shaft, and as it flows over his hand it stains it a deep, ugly red. He
carries the spear to his castle. He has stolen this, and now he will
wait on and watch for a chance to steal the Grail.

"And the wound in the King's side will not heal. All that can be done
with medicines and balsams and ointments is done, but they are of no
use. Many years pass--yes, just while we are looking into the fire--and
still the wound is the same, still it burns and stings, and still it
bleeds again whenever the King uncovers the Grail so that it may feed
the knights who are in the temple and help those who are far away. Some
wounds, some sicknesses, the Grail itself can cure, but it cannot cure
this, or it will not. Yet once, while the King knelt before it, he saw
words that shone like fire in the halo around it, and they said: 'Wait
for the simple Fool, taught by pity, for him I have chosen.' Perhaps
you do not see quite what that means. Well, I don't think the King
quite knows what it means either, but he knows that he has something to
wait for, and that is better than knowing nothing at all about it. That
was years ago, and still the wound burns and stings, and still it
bleeds when the King uncovers the Grail.

"When we look into the fire we can go back through the years just as
well as forward. So now, going back for a little while and far away
from the Temple of the Grail, I see something very different from what
we have seen before. I see a boy who lives with his mother in a forest.
His father was a knight and was killed in battle. His mother feared
that when he grew up he would want to be a knight too, and would be
killed in the same way, so she brought him here to the forest and kept
him away from the great world where men live and work and fight, and
never let him know anything about knights or battles or tournaments or
the courts of kings. She lets him learn to shoot with a bow as he grows
up, and to hunt the beasts of the woods. He can hit any bird that flies
with his arrows, and he runs so fast that he can catch the deer by the

"Yet he does not know that men wear armor and fight with spears and
swords, and he has never heard of an army or a battle. Perhaps he may
be almost enough of a simple fool about these things to help the King
of the Grail."

"I don't think he was a fool at all," said the little girl, "if his
mother wouldn't let him hear anything about such things."

"I think," I answered, "that the letters around the Grail could not
have meant quite what we mean by a fool. The Grail would not choose any
such person, I am sure. They must have meant some one who was good and
simple and had not learned the ways of the world. And then you know the
letters said, 'taught by pity,' so I suppose he is to be a fool at all
only till he is 'taught by pity.' Well, the mother might have known
that she could not keep her boy in this ignorance forever, and so one
day he meets three knights riding through the forest. He is filled with
wonder and delight at their polished armor, their waving plumes, and
their long spears, with their glittering points. He asks them who they
are and what all these wonderful things are for. They tell him that
they are knights, and everything else that he wants to know, and then
he runs home to his mother and tells her that he wants to go away and
see the world and be a knight too.

"She tries to tell him that knights are wicked men, but he will not
believe it, and he begs her to let him go. She sees that she cannot
keep him, that all her care has been lost, and at last she says that he
may go. He has no armor, but perhaps he may get that some time. He
takes his bow and his arrows and wanders away through the forest, and
his mother looks after him till she can see no more through her tears.

"We are back near the Temple of the Grail now. I see a beautiful, deep
forest. An old knight and two young squires are lying on a green bank
and are just awaking at the sound of trumpets from the temple. They are
scarcely awake when a strange creature is seen coming toward them. It
is a woman upon a galloping horse. And the horse is strange enough too.
Its mane is so long that it drags upon the ground, and then the wind
catches it and blows it about till the horse looks like a hurrying
black cloud, and its eyes show through the cloud like flashes of
lightning. The woman's eyes sometimes are deep and full of fire, and
sometimes they look dull and cold, almost dead. She is not beautiful.
She has a dark face, burned as if she had travelled much under hot
suns. Her long black hair is in disorder and flies all about her in the
wind. Her dress is in disorder too, and it is fastened around the waist
by a girdle of snake skin, with long ends that hang down to the ground.
Everything about her looks wild and terrible. She is a woman whom you
would not care to meet on a lonely road after dark and on a horse like
this. Yet if you looked at her face more closely you would not find
anything cruel in it, but you would find a great deal of sorrow and

"You can never guess who this woman is, so I must tell you. She is the
very same who helps the wicked magician to entice knights into his
castle. She looks very different now, to be sure, but it is a strange
life that she leads altogether. It is only when she is asleep that the
magician has power over her. When she is awake she tries to atone a
little for her great sins by serving the Holy Grail. She rides all over
the world and brings news of battles or messages from knights of the
Grail who are in distant countries, or she stays here and finds work to
do at home. But always, because of her curse, she laughs, even at the
good that she herself tries to do. And at last the longing for rest
comes upon her again till she cannot resist it. She sinks to sleep, and
then the magician calls her. She is forced to obey him, he gives her
back that wonderful beauty, and she helps him in his wicked work.

"Now she has been all the way to Arabia to find a balsam for the King's
wound. She gives it to the old knight, in a little flask, and then
throws herself upon the ground to rest. At the same time there comes a
train of knights, bearing the King of the Grail in a litter toward the
lake for his morning bath. He thanks the woman for bringing the balsam,
but she only laughs at what she has done and at his thanks. It will do
him no good, she says. Alas, he knows too well that it will do him
none. Nobody can do him good but the simple Fool, taught by pity. And
so they carry him on to his bath.

"The old knight stays behind. 'Why should we try all these things,' he
thinks again, 'when none can help him but the simple Fool?' At this
instant a swan flies up from the lake and then suddenly flutters and
falls upon the ground. There is an arrow through its heart. Everybody
who sees it cries out in horror, for it is one of the laws of this
place that no animal shall be harmed. What man cruel enough to kill
this beautiful, harmless swan can have found his way here, where none
can come who is not chosen by the Grail? In a moment some squires run
in, bringing the murderer of the swan. He is scarcely a man at all,
hardly more than a boy, and he carries a bow and arrow. It is the same
boy whom we saw living in the woods with his mother. The old knight
looks at him sorrowfully. 'Did you kill this poor bird?' he asks.

"'Yes, to be sure,' says the young man,' I can hit anything.'

"The old knight talks with him kindly and tells him how wrong it is to
kill harmless things. His mother never taught him that. She only tried
to keep him from knowing anything about knights. The old man makes him
see how cruel he has been, and at last the boy throws away his arrows
and breaks his bow. Now the knight asks him who he is, whence he comes,
and who was his father, but he can answer nothing. Indeed, he knows
little enough of these things, for his mother never told him. His
mother and the life that he led with her in the forest are all that he
can remember to tell the old knight. Even of his mother and of his old
life the strange woman who lies upon the grass can tell more than he,
for she has seen him and his mother often, though they did not see her,
and she laughs at the poor woman who thought she could keep her son
from ever knowing anything of arms and battles. She tells him, too,
that his mother is dead; she saw her die as she passed, because he had
left her. The boy is moved at last, frightened, bewildered. He never
knew anybody but his mother; she was his only friend; she taught him
all he ever learned; and she is dead because of him. What shall he do

"The King and his train come back again from the lake and pass on
toward the temple. The woman feels the terrible weariness coming upon
her again. She struggles against it, but it is of no use. She sinks
upon the ground behind the low bushes and sleeps. The magician can have
her now if he wants her, and surely he will want her.

"The old knight has been watching the boy. 'Can it be,' he thinks,
'that this is the Fool, taught by pity, for whom we were to wait?' That
he is a fool the old man thinks is clear enough, but how could he kill
the swan? He cannot have been taught very much by pity. But perhaps the
time for that has not come yet, and surely he could not get here at all
if the Grail had not chosen him in some way. Perhaps if he sees the
King, so pale and sick with his wound, and knows how he has suffered
with it these many years, he may be moved to pity and may learn some
needful things. So the old knight leads him gently away toward the
Temple of the Grail.

"They walk through the forest and among the rocks, and as they go there
comes to them a sound of chimes. It grows clearer as they go on, till
they reach the temple, and then it is over their heads. They are in a
grand, beautiful hall that is something like a church, but not quite.
There are tall pillars and arches, and high above everything is the
dome, so high that, as one looks up into it, its loftiest curves seem
dim and misty and the eye loses itself in trying to see how high it is.
Yet all the light of the great hall streams down from there, and down
from there too comes the sound of the bells.

"The knights of the Grail are coming into the hall and sitting at two
tables, long and curved, so that they make a great circle just under
the dome. On the tables before them are cups, but nothing else. As the
knights come they sing in chorus, and voices up in the dome and others
still higher answer their song, while from the height far above them
all still rings the soft voice of the chimes. And now the King of the
Grail is borne in upon his couch and is brought to the highest place in
the hall. Before him something is carried covered with purple cloth. It
is the Holy Grail itself, and the time has come when it must be
uncovered, that it may feed and strengthen its knights.

"But the King fears. It is when the Grail is uncovered and when it does
so much good to all the others, that his wound always bleeds again and
the pain of it is most terrible. Perhaps you think he is not very brave
to delay what he knows he must do, but only think of that dreadful
wound that can never be cured but by the one who is so long in coming;
yes, think of the slow, weary years that he has waited for the simple
Fool, and you will not wonder that it is a terrible thing to him to
uncover the Grail again. But the voices up in the dome still sing the
promise: 'Wait for the simple Fool, taught by pity, for him I have
chosen.' The knights gently bid their King do his duty. He makes a sign
to the boys who have brought the Grail. They uncover it and place it in
his hand. Everything else in the hall grows dim, while one clear ray of
light falls from the dome straight upon the Grail, and the red blood
that is in it shines through the crystal of the goblet as if it were a
light itself.

"A feeling of peace and gladness comes upon all, even upon the King.
But now the Grail grows dimmer. The boys cover it again and the old
light comes slowly back into the hall. All the cups on the tables are
filled with wine, and beside each one is a piece of bread. It is thus
that the Holy Grail feeds its knights. But the King does not eat, and
suddenly he grows paler and presses his hand to his side. His wound is
bleeding again and his squires quickly carry him away. The knights
leave the hall too. The old knight is still watching the boy. If he is
the Fool that was promised, if he is to be taught by pity, surely he
must pity the poor King and he will ask something about him, why he
suffers so, or what is his wound. But the old knight waits and the boy
says nothing. 'Do you know what you have seen?' the knight asks. The
boy only shakes his head. Then he has not been moved at all; he does
not pity. 'Begone,' says the knight, 'you are good for nothing,' and he
sends him away and is alone. And still from the dome, far up and out of
sight, comes the chiming of the bells. If the old man could hear it
right, surely it would say to him again: 'Wait for the simple Fool,
taught by pity, for him I have chosen.'

"The Temple of the Grail is gone now. We are in the castle of the
wicked magician. He has been thinking too of the young man--the boy--
the Fool, who was at the Temple of the Grail, and he knows more about
him than the poor old knight. He knows that if he is ever to steal the
Holy Grail, as he so long has hoped to do, he must get this Fool into
his power, of all people in the world. He has a magic mirror in which
he can see him. He sees that he has left the Temple of the Grail and is
coming nearer his own castle.

"Now he needs the help of the woman, the woman who is sleeping and
cannot resist him. He lights a magic fire, right there where you see
that blue flame in our own fire, he speaks magic words, and the woman
rises out of the very blue flame itself, and stands before him. But how
different she is from that woman we saw among the Grail knights! She
had no beauty then. Now it is radiant, burning, blinding. All that
might make the beauty of a hundred women--the pride, the tenderness,
the stateliness, the modesty, the fierceness, the gentleness, the
rounded form, the glowing color, the waves of hair, the deep eyes, now
flashing and fiery, and now soft and dewy--are hers. The magician
smiles as he sees her. With her to help him, what can he not do? He
tells her whom she is to entice into his power. She will not do it, she
says. He reminds her that if she cannot entice the Fool she will
herself be saved from all her wanderings and her weary life. He need
not remind her of anything. She cannot resist him any more than she
could resist the sleep that came upon her. What he commands she must

"Still the magician sees the boy approaching. He calls to the knights
of the castle to defend it against him. They run out in a crowd to meet
the Fool. He snatches weapons from the foremost of them and fights them
all at once. Some he wounds and all he drives before him, for the
knights that are in the magician's power quickly grow to be cowards.
Not all of them together can keep him back.

"And now I see the garden of the castle. It is full of big, gay-colored,
gorgeous flowers. They trail along the ground, they cluster upon the
terraces, they climb upon the walls of the castle and of the garden, and
they clutch at the ramparts and twine and twist about them. I suppose I
must say that they are beautiful flowers, but they are not of the sort
that I like. Anybody can see that there is magic about them. The earth
and the water, the air and the sunshine, never would make such flowers.
It might not be easy to say why, but just a single look at them is
enough to make one feel sure that they are all poisonous. On the wall of
the garden, with a sword in his hand, stands the Fool, looking down into
it and wondering at the flowers. There were none in the least like these
in the forest where he lived with his mother, and none about the Temple
of the Grail.

"But what is this more wonderful sight still that he sees? Are the
flowers alive, and are they running about and playing together? It is a
crowd of girls, with queer, bright colored gowns that make them look
for all the world like the huge flowers of the garden. They have just
run out of the castle and they are all in confusion, and are crying and
complaining because the knights, who were their play-fellows, have been
beaten and wounded. Who is he that has done it? Where is he? If they
could find him they would tear him all to little bits, you would think.
And then they do find him. There he stands on the wall, looking down at
them and wondering. And when he says that he will play with them
instead of the knights, they forget all about everybody but him in a
moment, and instead of quarrelling with him or trying to punish him for
wounding their knights, they only quarrel with one another, because
every one of them wants him all for herself.

"He has come down from the wall and they all gather around him,
chattering and struggling for him. He does not seem to care half so
much for them as they do for him, and when he sees that they will do
nothing but quarrel about him he turns to go away again, but a voice
calls him and tells him to stay. He turns again and stops, and all the
living flowers run away, chattering and laughing at him. The voice that
called him was the woman's, He is bewildered when he sees her. He has
never seen such beauty before, any more than you or I ever have. For an
instant he thinks that she is another of the strange flowers of this
strange garden. Yet her beauty does not seem to move him very much.
Perhaps that is because he is a Fool.

"But she speaks to him not at all as the other living flowers did. At
first she makes him remember the old years when he was with his mother,
how she cared for him in everything, and how she tried to keep him from
knowing those things which she dreaded that he should learn. Then she
tells him again how she died when he had left her. This, she thinks,
with what she is to say next, may move him, and indeed it does, but not
as she meant that it should. The great sorrow for his mother comes upon
him again, and stronger than when he heard first that she was dead. He
weeps now and throws himself upon the ground, and nothing can comfort

"The woman tries to console him now. She tells him that if he will but
stay he may have all the pleasures of the magician's castle, and she
will love him, she, the most beautiful woman in the whole world. But he
does not heed her, the Fool--he is thinking of other things. He
remembers the King and his wound. So much he remembers that he almost
feels the wound in himself. And as the woman bends above him there
comes another thought. Nobody has ever told him, yet somehow now he
knows, that it was she who tempted the King when he got that wound,
just as she tries to tempt him now. I think that it is his own great
sorrow that has made him know something of what another's sorrow must
be, and when he has remembered the King and has felt the wound himself,
all this has helped him to see and to know much more. Perhaps this is
the way that he is 'taught by pity.'

"The woman cannot move him more, cannot tempt him, but now the magician
himself stands on the wall of the castle with the spear in his hand.
The blood still flows from the point and trickles down the shaft to his
hand and stains it that deep, ugly red. He poises the spear a moment
and then hurls it at the Fool. But it will not strike him. It stops
above his head and hangs in the air. The Fool lifts his hand and grasps
the spear. The blood from its point runs down the shaft and over his
hand, and leaves it clean and white. He only shakes the spear in his
hand, and the castle and the garden tremble and fall, as the fire here
falls together, and they are gone.

"Once more we are near the Temple of the Grail. The place is at the
edge of woods which reach away in one direction, while in the other are
fields and meadows. It is spring, and the green of the trees is fresh
and light, and the fields are covered with flowers. They are not like
the flowers of that magic garden. Their bright little cups hold cool
drops of dew, and the air is full of their perfume. The old knight is
here. He has heard a sound like a groan from the little thicket of low
bushes and brambles at the border of the wood. He searches, and brings
out a woman--the same woman. She is still asleep, but in a moment she
slowly awakes. She is no longer beautiful. She is out of the magician's
power now, even if he is not buried under his ruined castle. She is
ready to serve the Grail.

"The Grail! Alas! nobody serves the Grail now. The poor King, since
that last time when the Fool saw him uncover the Grail, will touch it
no more. He fears too much the pain of his wound. It cannot feed or
help its knights now, and they cannot go any more to carry help into
far-off lands. But to-day the King has promised that he will uncover it
for one last time, for this is Good Friday, when the dove comes to
renew the power of the Grail.

"While the old knight and the woman stand here, another comes toward
them. He is a knight in black armor, with his helmet closed, and
carrying a spear. 'Do you not know,' the old knight asks him, 'what
holy day this is, and that none now should come here bearing arms?' The
black knight only shakes his head. He sets his spear in the ground and
kneels before it, taking off his helmet and gazing up at the point,
from which the blood flows. The old knight looks at him and at the
spear in wonder. Then he sees the blood, and by that he knows what
spear it is. He looks again at the knight, with his helmet off, and now
he knows him too. He is filled with a joy that he has not known these
many years. Yes, the sorrows of the King and of the knights of the
Grail are over now. This is indeed 'the simple Fool, taught by pity,'
this is he whom the Grail has chosen.

"And now there comes the soft sound of the chimes to tell them that it
is time for them to go to the temple to see the Grail uncovered. The
old knight leads the way and the others follow. Through the woods and
along the rocky pathways they walk, the sound of the bells grows
plainer, and so they come to the temple. The hall is filled with the
knights of the Grail. The King is borne in as he was before, and is
brought to the highest place. The Holy Grail is carried before him with
its purple cover. They all look at the King and wait for him. For a
moment he wavers, then he springs from his couch--no, no, he will not
uncover the Grail again; let him die rather; let them kill him, and
then the Grail shall feed them and bless them, and shall torture him no

[Illustration: "THE KING OF THE GRAIL."]

"They all draw back from him in dread at his look and his words--all
but one. For the Fool goes straight to him and touches the wound with
the spear. Instantly the wound is healed. 'You shall uncover the Grail
no more,' he says, 'for I am chosen to be its King instead of you.' He
makes a sign to the boys who have brought it, and they uncover it and
place it in his hand. He holds it above his head and again the red
blood in it glows and throbs. Down from the dome flies a white dove and
rests above it. Before it, and before him who holds it, kneel the old
King, no longer king now, the old knight, and the woman, for her too
this new King has saved, for he has come, the best knight of the world
and one whom she could not tempt. The simple Fool is the King of the
Grail. The sound of the singing voices comes down from the dome, and
from far above them come still the voices of the bells. Surely to any
who could know how to hear it their chiming must say again: 'Taught by
pity--him I have chosen,'"


After the little girl had gone, I still sat for a long time looking
into the fire. I was seeing pictures for myself, not now of the days so
long gone by, but of days not yet come, pictures with the little girl
in them. There, in the flames where we had seen so much together, I
could see pretty clearly, as I thought, what she would be and all that
she would be some time. But when I tried to see what she would do and
how her lot should fall, the fire would tell me no more. Yet wherever
and however it shall fall, may she not be a little better, a little
wiser, a little happier perhaps, for knowing these old stories that
have helped so many women and so many men before her to live their
lives? Will it not be good for her to remember Brünnhilde's fearless
truth, Senta's sacrifice, Elizabeth's constancy? And if to the thoughts
of these she add Parsifal's lesson of compassion, surely then even a
little of Eva's coquetry can do no harm.

And then I tried to see something of her knight. But the fire had all
died down now, and was only a heap of ashes. I could question as much
as I would, but there was no reply. Would he seek her out and come to
her like Siegfried, through struggles and through fire? Would he find
and help her in her greatest need, like Lohengrin? Would he only love
her and sing a song for her, like Walter? Or would it be for her to
help and to save him, like Vanderdecken?--Surely not like Tannhäuser.
No, no answer. I stirred the ashes. Underneath there was still a
bright, ruddy, friendly glow, but nothing more.

A clock somewhere in the house, with a low, musical note, struck
midnight. But what was this other music that followed it? Was it again
the bells of Monsalvat, this soft chime that came on the still air? No,
no, only church bells far off, ringing in the New Year, Many times I
had heard them and well I knew their sound. And all around those bells,
I knew too, at this moment, there were noise and uproar and confusion,
so much that those who stood nearest to them in the street could not
tell whether they were ringing, just as many other sweet and pleasant
things are made to seem lost among the coarse and the commonplace. But
to me here, away from the vulgar crowd and forgetting it, the music
came, faint indeed, yet clear and pure. I opened the window and the
chime came plainer with the keen winter air, and the bells--I am sure
of it--answered all my questions and rang a promise for the New Year
and for all the years.

End of the Project Gutenberg EBook of The Wagner Story Book, by Henry Frost


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