- chapter: THE WATER-KELPIE.
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ONCE there lived under the earth a race of fairies called gnomes. They were strange little beings, with dull eyes and harsh voices; but they did no harm, and lived in peace.
They never saw the sun; but they had lamps much brighter than our gaslight, which burned night and day, year after year.
They had music; but it was the tinkling of silver bells and golden harps,--not half so sweet as the singing of birds and the babbling of brooks.
Flowers they had none, but plenty of gems,--"the stars of earth." There were green trees in the kingdom: but the leaves | | 60 were hard emeralds; and the fruit, apples of gold or cherries of ruby; and these precious gems the gnomes ground to powder, and swallowed with much satisfaction.
They heaped up piles of gold and diamonds as high as your head; and never was there a gnome so poor as to build a house of any thing a whit coarser than jasper or onyx. You would have believed yourself dreaming, if you could have walked through the streets of their cities. They were paved with rosy almandine and snowy alabaster; and the palaces glittered in the gay lamplight like a million stars.
These gnomes led, for the most part, rather dull lives. Like their cousins, the water-sprites, or undines, they were roguish and shrewd, but had no higher views of life than our katydids and crickets. Indeed, they hardly cared for any thing but frisking | | 61 about, eating and sleeping. But, after all, what can be expected of creatures without souls? One sees, now and seen, stupid human beings, whose eyes have no thoughts in them, and whose souls seem to be sound asleep. Such lumps of dulness might almost as well be gnomes, and slip into the earth and have done with it.
These underground folk had a great horror of our world. They knew all about it; for one of them had peeped out and taken a bird's-eye view. He went up very bravely, but hurried back with such strange accounts, that his friends considered him a little insane.
"Listen!" said the gnome, whose name was Clod. "The earth has a soft carpet, of a new kind of emerald; overhead is a blue roof, made of turquoise; but I am told that there is a crack in it, and sometimes water comes pouring down in torrents. But the worst | | 62 plague of all is a great glaring eyeball of fire, which mortals call the sun."
When Clod told his stories of the earth, he always ended by saying,--
"Believe me, it is bad luck to have the sun shine on you. It nearly put my eyes out; and I have had the headache ever since."
Now, there was a young girl, named Moneta, who listened very eagerly to the old gnome's stories of the earth, and thought she would like to see it for herself. She was a kind little maiden, as playful as a kitten; and her friends were not willing she should go. But Moneta had somewhere heard that fairies who marry mortals receive the gift of a human soul: so, in spite of all objections, she was resolved to take the journey; for she had in her dark mind some vague aspirations after a higher state of being.| | 63
Then the gnome-family declared, that, if she once went away, they would never allow her to return; for they highly disapproved of running backward and forward between the two worlds, gossiping.
"Have you no love of country," cried they, "that you would willingly cast your lot among silly creatures who look down upon your race?"
The old gnome, who had travelled, took the romantic maiden one side, and said,--
"My dear Moneta, since you will go, I must tell you a secret; for you remember I have seen the world, and know all about it. Mortals are a higher race than ourselves, it is true; but that is only because they live atop o' the earth, while we are under their feet. They make a great parade about their little ticking jewel they call Conscience; but, after all, they will any of them sell it for one of | | 64 our ear-rings! I assure you they love money better than their own souls; and I would advise you, as a friend that has seen the world, to load yourself with as much gold as you can carry."
So Moneta donned a heavy dress of spun gold, which was woven in such a manner, that, at every motion she made, it let fall a shower of gold-dust. She filled the sleeves with sardonyx, almandine, and amethyst; and hid in her bosom diamonds and sapphires enough to purchase a kingdom.
Then she went up a steep ladder, and knocked on the alabaster ceiling, using the charm which the gnome had given her:--
"Mother Earth, Mother Earth, set me free!"
At her words there was a sound as of an earthquake, and a little space was made, just large enough for her to crawl through. | | 65 When she had reached the top, the earth closed again, and she was left seated upon a rock; and the light of the sun was so dazzling, that she hid her face in her hands.
Thus she sat for a long time, not knowing whither to go, till a young man chanced to come that way, who said, "What do you here ?"
She raised her face at his words, and could not speak, so great was her surprise at the beauty of the strange youth. He, for his part, could not help smiling; for she was as yellow as an orange; and an uglier little creature he had never beheld: but he said in a kind voice,--
"Come with me to my mother's house, and you shall be refreshed with cake and wine."
She arose to follow him; and, as she walked, a bright shower of gold-dust sprinkled the earth at every step.| | 66
The young man held out his hands eagerly to catch the shining spray, thinking he would like such a rarely-gifted damsel for his wife; and, in truth, he smiled so sweetly, and dropped such winning words, that in time he won her heart and she became his bride.
She shimmered like the sun;
The belt that was about her waist
Was a' with pearles bedone."
So great was her love for him, that she forgot her lost home under the earth; and every day, when she bade her husband "good-morning," she placed in his hand a precious stone; and he kissed her, calling her his "dear Moneta," his "heart's jewel." But at last the diamonds, sapphires, and rubies were all gone; and she was also losing the power of shedding gold-dust. Then her | | 67 husband frowned on her, and no longer called her his "heart's jewel," or his "dear Moneta."
At length she presented him with a little daughter as lovely as a water-sprite, with hair like threads of gold. Now the father watched the babe with a greedy eye; for its mother had wept precious tears of molten gold before she received the gift of human grief, and he hoped her child would do the same; but, when he found it was only a common mortal, he shut his heart against the babe. Moneta was no longer yellow and ugly, but very beautiful; with deep eyes, out of which looked a sweet soul: yet she had lost her fairy gifts, and her husband had ceased to love her. The good woman mourned in secret; and would have wished to die, only her precious child comforted her heart.| | 68
One day, as she was sitting by the shore of the lake, a water-kelpie saw her weeping, and came to her in the form of a white-haired old man, saying,--
"Charming lady! why do you weep? Come with me to my kingdom under the waters. My people are always happy."
Then she looked where he bade her, and saw, afar down under the waters, a beautiful city, whose streets were paved with red and white coral.
The kelpie said, "Will you go down?"
"No," sighed Moneta, thinking of the kind words her husband had sometimes spoken to her: "I cannot go yet."
But the kelpie came every day, repeating the question, "Will you go now?" and she answered, "I cannot go yet."
But at last her husband said,--
"How often the thought comes to me, If | | 69 I had no wife and child, all this gold would be mine!" and he knitted his brows with a frown.
Then Moneta looked in his face, and said,--
"Dear Ivan, I have loved you truly; but you no longer care for Moneta. I will go away with the little child, and all our gold shall be yours. Farewell!"
Then she embraced him with falling tears. His heart was stirred within him; and he would have followed her, only he knew not which way she had gone.
Soon the water-kelpie came to him in the form of a horse; and ran before him, neighing fiercely, and breathing fire from his mouth. This is the way kelpies take to announce the fact that some one has gone under the water.
So the man followed the kelpie. His heart | | 70 was swelling with grief; and all his love for his wife and child had come back to him.
He looked into the lake, and saw the fair city. In a transparent palace Moneta was sitting, crowned with pearls, the child sleeping on her bosom. He shouted,--
"Come back, 0 Moneta!" but she heard him not.
He went every day to the same spot, never leaving it until the water was clear, and he had seen his wife and child. He cared no more for his fine castle and his gold; for the castle was empty, and the gold could not speak.
"Alas," cried he, "if I could listen to the music of Moneta's voice! if I could hold the child in my arms once more!"
Now he cared for nothing but to gaze into the waters at Moneta and her child.
One day, the water-kelpie appeared to him in the form of an old man.| | 71
"Why sit you here, sighing like the north wind?" said the kelpie.
"I have loved gold better than my best friends," replied Ivan; "and now my best friends are taken away from me, and the gold is left; but I love it no longer."
"Ah, ah!" growled the kelpie; "I have heard of such men as you: nothing is dear till it is missed. You should have thought of that before. If your lost ones were to return, you would treat them as badly as ever, no doubt."
"No no," groaned Ivan; "I would love them better than all the wealth in the world! I would love them better than my own life! Ah, the sting it is to think of my own ingratitude!"
"Hold!" said the kelpie: "grumble to yourself if you like, but don't vex my ears with your complaints. Suppose I were to | | 72 bring back Moneta and the child,--would you give me your chests of gold?"
"That I will," cried the man, "right joyfully."
"Not so fast: will you give me your castle as well?"
"Ah, yes, castle and gold; take them, and welcome."
"Not so fast: Moneta and her child are worth more than these. Will you give me the castle and gold, and ten years of your life?"
"With all my heart."
"Then," said the kelpie "go home, and to-morrow you shall see Moneta and her child."
When the morrow came, the husband and wife wept for joy at meeting once more; and Ivan said,--
"Can you forgive me, dearest Moneta?"| | 73
Moneta had already forgiven him; and the three--father, mother, and child-loved one another, and were content to the end of their lives; and Ivan said,--
"Once for all I have found that gold cannot make one happy; but, with the blessing of a clear conscience, warm hearts and loving words are the sweetest things in life."
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