- chapter: THE LOST SYLPHID.
|<< chapter THE WATER-KELPIE||< chapter Introduction||chapter THE CASTLE OF GEMS >||chapter GOLDILOCKS >>|
THE LOST SYLPHID."I tell the tale as 'twas told to me."
I HAVE heard that one night, on a distant shore, a band of water-nixies were dancing to gentle music, their golden sandals twinkling like stars.
A lord and lady were walking on the same shore. The lord's eyes were bent on the ground; but his wife paused, and said,--
"Listen, my lord, to that enchanting music!"
"I hear no music," he replied, laughing. "You must wake up, dear wife.
Falling asleep in a half-dream.'"
"But, my lord, those exquisite beings in gossamer robes! surely you see them!"
"I see the play of the moonbeams, my love and nothing more."
But the wife stood transfixed. One beautiful, taller and fairer than her companions had wings, and floated through the dance, scarcely touching the earth.
"Was ever such a vision of lovliness?" cried the enraptured lady: " she must be my own little daughter,--eat of my bread, and sleep upon my bosom."
Then, kneeling, she sang,--
Give me the winged one to be my own daughter."
The dance ceased. The nixies, bewildered, looked north and south, and knew not which way to flee; but the winged fairy, attracted by the human love in the lady's | | 76 eyes, glided slowly forward. Then the nixies stormed in fierce wrath, their willowy figures swaying to and fro as if blown by the wind.
"They shall not harm you, little one. Come with me, be my own daughter, and I will carry you home."
"Home!" echoed the lovely child; "my home is in the Summer-land. Oh, will you indeed carry me there?"
Then she folded her white wings, and nestled in the lady's bosom like a gentle dove, and was borne to a beautiful castle that overlooked the sea. The water-nixies soon forgot her, for they could not hold her memory in their little humming-bird hearts.
She was not of their race. Her wings were soft and transparent, like those of a white butterfly; and she ever declared that she had once alighted from a cloud, and been | | 77 caught in a nixie's net spread upon the grass
But, in time, her wings dwindled and disappeared; and then the lord, who was now her father, could not remember that she had ever been other than an earthly child.
"You fancy you were once a sylphid," Said he; "but there are no sylphids, my sweet one, and there is no Summer-land."
The child became as dear to the lord and lady as their very heart's blood; and they forgot her foreign birth, and almost believed, as all the world did, that she was their own daughter. But the child did not forget. She longed for the true home she had left; but whither should she go to seek it?
"Dear papa," said she, one day, "I beg you will not say again there are no sylphids; for I remember so well how I spread my | | 78 wings and flew. It was glorious to see the clouds float under my feet"
Very well," said the lord; "if you like, I will say there are sylphids in the air, and trolls inside the earth; and, once on a time, I was myself a great white butterfly: do you remember chasing me over a bed of roses?
"0 papa, now you laugh! I love the twinkle in your eye; and I am so glad it is you, and no one else, who is my papa; but just the same, and forevermore, I shall keep saying, I was a sylphid!"
Sometimes, when she set her white teeth into some delicious fruit, she said with dreamy eyes,--
"These grapes of Samarcand came across the seas; but they are not so sweet as the fruit in my own garden, mamma."
"And where is your garden, my child?"
"Oh, in the Summer-land. I always forget | | 79 that you have never seen it. When I go there again, mamma, I will certainly take you too; for I love you with all my heart. I can never go without you."
When she heard the evening-bells from the minster, she said, "Oh, they are like the joy-bells at home, only not so sweet. Nothing, here, is so sweet. Even my dear mamma is not so lovely as the lady who comes when I am asleep."
Little One--they called her Little One for the want of a name--loved to prattle about the wonders of that mysterious fairy-land, which no one but herself had ever seen. Her mother would not check her, but let her tell her pretty visions of remembered rainbows, and palaces, and precious gems. She said,--
"The child has such a vivid fancy! It is not all of us who can see pictures when our eyes are shut."| | 80
But the lord was not so well pleased; and once, when his daughter looked at a frozen stream and murmured, "We have the happiest rivers at home; they sing all day long, all the year, without freezing! Can I find that Summer-land again! Oh, I would creep all over the world to seek it," he replied,--
"Little One, it is some cloud-city you are thinking of, some dream-land, or isle of Long Ago, which you will never see again. I beg you to forget these wild fancies."
But still the child dreamed on. Once she heard the glad song of the Hyperboreans:--
Where golden gardens glow;
Where the winds of the North, becalmed in sleep,
Their conch-shells never blow."
She clapped her hands, murmuring to herself,--| | 81
"Thereis my home! I think I remember now it was 'a land in the sun-bright deep!'"
So, when she journeyed, with her parents to distant countries, she always hoped that some ship would bear her away to the Happy Isles; and when they once touched a bright shore, and some one cried, "The isles of Greece! the isles of Greece!" she thought she was home at last, and hardly dared look at the remembered shore. But, alas, she had not yet reached the Summer-land: this was not her home.
Ten she heard her father say that the jewels she wore had been brought up from deep places under the earth.
I wonder I had not thought of that," she said to herself. "Since there are such beautiful gems in my lost home, it must lie under the earth. No doubt if I could only find the | | 82 right cave, and walk in it far enough' I should come to the Summer-land."
So she set out, one day, in wild haste, but only lost herself in a deep cavern; and, when she found daylight again, she was all alone upon the face of the earth. Her father and mother were nowhere to be seen. She shouted their names, and ran to and fro seeking them till her strength was all spent. It was growing dark; and Little One could only creep under a shelter, and weep herself asleep.
Next morning it was no better, but far worse. Her wretched parents had gone home, believing her drowned in the sea. Poor Little One was now all alone in the world, and her heart ached with the cold. Kind friends gave her food and shelter, and her clothing was warm as warm could be; still her heart ached with the cold. People | | 83 praised her beauty so much that she dared not look up to let them see how lovely she was; but she had lost both her father and mother, and her heart ached and ached. She thought winter was coming on; and the world was growing so chilly, that now she must certainly set out for the Summer-land. Then she said,--
"If I am a sylphid, perhaps my home is over the hills, and far away. Yes: I think it must be in the country where the music goes."
For she thought, when she heard music, that it seemed to hover and float over the earth and lose itself in the sky; so she began to set her face toward the country where the music goes. But, though she gazed till her eyes ached, she never saw her long-lost home, nor so much as a glimpse of one of its spires.| | 84
One night, after gazing and weeping till she could scarcely see, and had no tears left, the bright being who visited her dreams came and whispered,--
O'er the mountain shining,
You will never enter there
By looking up and pining."
"Dear me! then what shall I do?" said Little One, clasping her hands. "I am tired of the dropping rain, and the bleak winds; I have lost my father and mother; I long to go home to the Summer-land."
"There are hills to climb, and streams to cross," said the fairy.
"But I have stout shoes," laughed Little One.
"There are thorns and briers all along the road."| | 85
"But I can bear to be pricked."
"Then I will guide you," said the fairy.
"How can that be?" cried the child. "You come to me in dreams; but by daylight I cannot see so much as the tips of your wings."
"Listen, and you will hear my voice," replied the fairy. "Set out toward the East, at dawn, tomorrow, and I will be with you."
When Little One awoke, the sun was rising, and she said,--
"Oh that golden gate! The sun has left it open: do you see it, beautiful lady?"
"I see it," whispered the fairy: "I am close beside you."
"Then," said Little One, fastening her dress, and putting on all the jewels she could possibly carry, "I think I will set out at once; for, if I make all speed, I may reach the Summer-land before that golden gate is closed."| | 86
She pressed on, as the fairy directed, up a steep hill, her eyes fixed on the glowing eastern sky. But, as the sun strode up higher, the morning clouds melted away.
"Where is my golden gate?" cried the child.
"Weeping so soon?" whispered the fairy.
"Do not scold me, dear Whisper," moaned the child; "you know I have lost my kind father and mother; and the thorns prick me; and then this is such a lonely road; there is nobody to be seen."
The truth was, there were children gathering strawberries on the hill, and old women digging herbs; but Little One did not see them, for she was all the while watching the sky. But she was soon obliged to pause, and take breath.
"Look about you," said the Whisper, you may see some one as unhappy as yourself."| | 87
The child looked, and saw a little girl driving a goat; while large tears trickled down her cheeks, and moistened her tattered dress. For a moment, Little One's heart ceased aching with its own troubles.
"What is your name, little girl?" said she: "and why do you weep?"
"My name is Poor Dorel," replied the child; "my father and mother are long since dead; and I have nothing to eat but goat's milk and strawberries:" and, as she spoke, the large tears started afresh.
"Poor Dorel! you are the first one I ever saw who had as much trouble as I. I, too, have lost a father and mother."
"Were they a king and queen?" asked Dorel, wiping her eyes, and gazing at Little One's beautiful dress and glittering ornaments.
"They loved me dearly," replied Little | | 88 .One sadly; "yet I never heard that they were king and queen. Come with me, darling Dorel!" I never before saw any one who was hungry. Come with me! I live in a country where there is food enough for everybody."
"Where is that?" said Dorel, eagerly.
"I do not quite know, little girl; but it is not in the bosom of the earth, and it is not in the sun-bright deep: so I suppose it is over the hills, and far away."
"Now I know who you are," said Dorel. "You are the lost sylphid; and people say you have travelled all over the world. But, if you do not know the way home, pray how can you tell which road to take ?"
"Oh! I have a guide,--a beautiful fairy, called Whisper: she shows me every step of the way. I wish you would go too, little Dorel!"| | 89
"I think I will not, little Sylphid; for, if you have only a Whisper for a guide, I do not believe you will ever get there; but, oh, you are very, very beautiful!"
"If you will not go," said Little One, "let me, at least, give you a few of my jewels: you can sell them for bread."
So saying, she took from her girdle some turquoise ornaments, and placed them in Dorel's hand with a kiss which had her whole heart in it.
"Now I love you," said Dorel; "but more for the kiss than any thing else; and I am going before you to cut down the thorns that shoot out by the wayside. I am a little mountain-girl, and know how to use the pruning-knife."
Little One danced for joy. She found she could now walk with wonderful ease; for not only were there no more sharp thorns to | | 90 prick her, but her heart was also full of a new love, which made the whole world look beautiful.
"You see the way is growing easier," said the Whisper.
Wasting its waters forever and ever."
"So I will," said Little One. "Is there any one else to love?"
By and by she met an old woman, bent nearly double, and picking up dry sticks with trembling hands.
"Poor woman!" said Little One: "I am going to love you."
"Dear me!" said the old crone, dropping her sticks, and looking up with surprise in every wrinkle: "you don't mean me? Why, my heart is all dried up."
"Then you need to be loved all the more," cried Little One heartily.
The poor woman laughed; but, at the same time, brushed a tear from her eye with the corner of her apron.
"I thought," said Little One, "I was the only unhappy one in the world: it seemed a pity my heart should ache so much; but, I would rather have it ache than be dried up!"
"I suppose you never were beaten," said the old woman; "you were never pelted with whizzing stones?"
"Indeed I never, never was!" replied Little One, greatly shocked by the question.
"By your costly dress, I know you never were so poor as to be always longing for food. Let me tell you, my good child, when one is beaten and scolded, and feels cold all winter, and hungry all summer, it is no wonder one's heart dries up!"
Little One threw her arms about the old | | 92 woman's neck. "Let me help you pick sticks!" said she; "you are too old for hard work; your hands tremble too much."
Swiftly gathering up a load of fagots, she put them together in a bundle.
"Now, how many jewels shall I give her?" thought the child. "She must never want for food again."
"How many?" echoed the Whisper.
Give as the free air and sunshine are given."
"Then she shall have half," said Little One in great glee. "Here, poor woman, take these sapphires and rubies and diamonds, and never be hungry again!"
"Heavenly child!" said the stranger, laying her wasted hand on the sylphid's bright head, and blessing her, "it is little except thanks that an old creature like me can give; | | 93 Yet may be you will not scorn this pair of little shoes: they are strong, and, when you have to step on the sharp mountain-rocks, they will serve you well."
Little One's delicate slippers were already much worn, and she gladly exchanged them for the goat-skin shoes; but, strange to relate, no sooner had she done so than she found herself flitting over rocks and rough places with perfect ease, and at such speed, that, when she looked back, in a moment, she had already left the old woman far behind, and out of sight. They were magical shoes; but, no matter how fast they skimmed over the ground, Dorel, out of pure love, continued to go before, talking and laughing and smoothing the way.
One by one Little One sold her jewels to buy bread, which she shared with all the needy she chanced to meet. After many | | 94 days there remained but one gem; and she wept because she had no more to give. But through her tears, she now, for the first time fancied she could see the spires and turrets of her beautiful home, though, as yet, very far off.
"How fast I have come!" said she, laughing with delight. "But for these magical shoes, and Dorel's pruning-knife, I should have been even now struggling at the foot of the hill."
Then she looked down at her torn dress.
"What a sad plight I am in! no one will know me when I get home!"
"Never fear!" said the fairy: "you are sure to be welcome."
Little One now held up her last jewel in the sunlight, while a starving boy looked at it with eager eyes.
"Take it!" said she, weeping with the ten- | | 95 derest pity. "I only wish it were a diamond instead of a ruby,--a diamond as large as my heart!"
The boy blessed her with a tremulous voice. Little One pressed on, singing softly to herself, till she came to a frightful chasm, full of water.
"How shall I ever cross it!" she cried in alarm.
"May I help you, fair Sylphid?" said the grateful boy to whom she had given her last jewel. "I can make a bridge in the twinkling of an eye."
So saying, he threw across the roaring current a film which looked as frail as any spider's web.
"It will bear you," said the Whisper: "do not be afraid!"
So Little One ventured upon the gossamer bridge, which was to the eye as delicate as | | 96 mist; but to the feet as strong as adament. She hushed her fears, and walked over it with a stout heart.
Now, she was on the borders of the Summer-land. Here were the turrets and spires, the soft white clouds, the green fields, and sunny streams. Instantly her long-lost wings appeared again; and she spread them like a happy bird, and flew home. Oh, it was worth years of longing and pain! She was held in tender embraces, and kissed lovingly by well-remembered friends. To her great surprise and delight, her father and mother were both there they had arrived at the Summer-land while seeking their Little One.
"Now I know," said her father, "that my daughter was not dreaming when she longed for her remembered home."
Little One looked at her soiled dress; but the stains had disappeared; and, most won- | | 97 derful! all the jewels she had worn on her neck and arms, and in her girdle, were there yet, burning with increased brilliancy. Little One gazed again, and counted to see if any were missing. Yes: two she had sold for bread were not there. It was the jewels she had given away which had come back in some mysterious manner and were more resplendent than before.
"Ah!" said she, with a beaming smile, "now I know what it means when they say, 'All you give, you will carry with you.' It was delightful to scatter my gems by the wayside, but I did not think they would all be given back to me when I reached home!"
Then, intwining arms with a bright sylphid, she flew with her over the gardens in a trance of delight.
"Here," said Little One, "is my own dear garden. I remember the border and the | | 98 paths right well; but it never bore such golden fruit, it never glowed with such beautiful flowers."
"Your fairy, the one you call Whisper, has taken care of it for your sake," said the sister sylphid. "Do you know that those flowers, and those trees with fruit like 'bonny beaten gold,' have been watered by your tears, Little One? It is in this way they have attained their matchless beauty and grace."
"My tears, little sister?"
"Yes, your tears. Every one you shed upon earth, your fairy most carefully preserved; and see what wonders have been wrought!"
"If I had known that," said Little One clapping her hands, "I would have been glad of all my troubles! I would have smiled through my tears!"| | 99
Now I know no more than I have told of this story of the Lost Sylphid. I tell the tale as 'twas told to me; and I wish, with all my heart, it were true.
|<< chapter THE WATER-KELPIE||< chapter Introduction||chapter THE CASTLE OF GEMS >||chapter GOLDILOCKS >>|