This page contains affiliate links. As Amazon Associates we earn from qualifying purchases.
Writer:
Language:
Genre:
Published:
  • 1889
Collection:
Buy it on Amazon FREE Audible 30 days

terrible, Hattie, by insistin’ on knowin’ what you don’t know nothin’ ’bout.”

Leander went to the seckertary ‘nd took down the cyclopeedy ‘nd hunted all through it f’r Apples, but all he could find wuz “Apple–See Pomology.”

“How in thunder kin I see Pomology,” sez Leander, “when there ain’t no Pomology to see? Gol durn a cyclopeedy, anyhow!”

And he put the volyume back onto the shelf ‘nd never sot eyes into it ag’in.

That’s the way the thing run f’r years ‘nd years. Leander would ‘ve gin up the plaguy bargain, but he couldn’t; he had signed a printed paper ‘nd had swore to it afore a justice of the peace. Higgins would have had the law on him if he had throwed up the trade.

The most aggervatin’ feature uv it all wuz that a new one uv them cussid cyclopeedies wuz allus sure to show up at the wrong time,–when Leander wuz hard up or had jest been afflicted some way or other. His barn burnt down two nights afore the volyume containin’ the letter B arrived, and Leander needed all his chink to pay f’r lumber, but Higgins sot back on that affidavit and defied the life out uv him.

“Never mind, Leander,” sez his wife, soothin’ like, “it’s a good book to have in the house, anyhow, now that we’ve got a baby.”

“That’s so,” sez Leander, “babies does begin with B, don’t it?”

You see their fust baby had been born; they named him Peasley,–Peasley Hobart,–after Hattie’s folks. So, seein’ as how it wuz payin’ f’r a book that told about babies, Leander didn’t begredge that five dollars so very much after all.

“Leander,” sez Hattie one forenoon, “that B cyclopeedy ain’t no account. There ain’t nothin’ in it about babies except ‘See Maternity’!”

“Waal, I’ll be gosh durned!” sez Leander. That wuz all he said, and he couldn’t do nothin’ at all, f’r that book-agent, Lemuel Higgins, had the dead wood on him,–the mean, sneakin’ critter!

So the years passed on, one of them cyclopeedies showin’ up now ‘nd then,–sometimes every two years ‘nd sometimes every four, but allus at a time when Leander found it pesky hard to give up a fiver. It warn’t no use cussin’ Higgins; Higgins just laffed when Leander allowed that the cyclopeedy was no good ‘nd that he wuz bein’ robbed. Meantime Leander’s family wuz increasin’ and growin’. Little Sarey had the hoopin’ cough dreadful one winter, but the cyclopeedy didn’t help out at all, ’cause all it said wuz: “Hoopin’ Cough–See Whoopin’ Cough”–and uv course there warn’t no Whoopin’ Cough to see, bein’ as how the W hadn’t come yet!

Oncet when Hiram wanted to dreen the home pasture, he went to the cyclopeedy to find out about it, but all he diskivered wuz:

“Drain–See Tile.” This wuz in 1859, and the cyclopeedy had only got down to G.

The cow wuz sick with lung fever one spell, and Leander laid her dyin’ to that cussid cyclopeedy, ’cause when he went to readin’ ’bout cows it told him to “See Zoology.”

But what’s the use uv harrowin’ up one’s feelin’s talkin’ ‘nd thinkin’ about these things? Leander got so after a while that the cyclopeedy didn’t worry him at all: he grew to look at it ez one uv the crosses that human critters has to bear without complainin’ through this vale uv tears. The only thing that bothered him wuz the fear that mebbe he wouldn’t live to see the last volyume,–to tell the truth, this kind uv got to be his hobby, and I’ve heern him talk ’bout it many a time settin’ round the stove at the tarvern ‘nd squirtin’ tobacco juice at the sawdust box. His wife, Hattie, passed away with the yaller janders the winter W come, and all that seemed to reconcile Leander to survivin’ her wuz the prospect uv seein’ the last volyume of that cyclopeedy. Lemuel Higgins, the book-agent, had gone to his everlastin’ punishment; but his son, Hiram, had succeeded to his father’s business ‘nd continued to visit the folks his old man had roped in. By this time Leander’s children had growed up; all on ’em wuz marr’d, and there wuz numeris grandchildren to amuse the ol’ gentleman. But Leander wuzn’t to be satisfied with the common things uv airth; he didn’t seem to take no pleasure in his grandchildren like most men do; his mind wuz allers sot on somethin’ else,–for hours ‘nd hours, yes, all day long, he’d set out on the front stoop lookin’ wistfully up the road for that book-agent to come along with a cyclopeedy. He didn’t want to die till he’d got all the cyclopeedies his contract called for; he wanted to have everything straightened out before he passed away. When–oh, how well I recollect it–when Y come along he wuz so overcome that he fell over in a fit uv paralysis, ‘nd the old gentleman never got over it. For the next three years he drooped ‘nd pined, and seemed like he couldn’t hold out much longer. Finally he had to take to his bed,–he was so old ‘nd feeble,–but he made ’em move the bed up ag’inst the winder so he could watch for that last volyume of the cyclopeedy.

The end come one balmy day in the spring uv ’87. His life wuz a-ebbin’ powerful fast; the minister wuz there, ‘nd me, ‘nd Dock Wilson, ‘nd Jedge Baker, ‘nd most uv the fam’ly. Lovin’ hands smoothed the wrinkled forehead ‘nd breshed back the long, scant, white hair, but the eyes of the dyin’ man wuz sot upon that piece uv road down which the cyclopeedy man allus come.

All to oncet a bright ‘nd joyful look come into them eyes, ‘nd ol’ Leander riz up in bed ‘nd sez, “It’s come!”

“What is it, Father?” asked his daughter Sarey, sobbin’ like.

“Hush,” says the minister, solemnly; “he sees the shinin’ gates uv the Noo Jerusalum.”

“No, no,” cried the aged man; “it is the cyclopeedy–the letter Z–it’s comin’!”

And, sure enough! the door opened, and in walked Higgins. He tottered rather than walked, f’r he had growed old ‘nd feeble in his wicked perfession.

“Here’s the Z cyclopeedy, Mr. Hobart,” sez Higgins.

Leander clutched it; he hugged it to his pantin’ bosom; then stealin’ one pale hand under the piller he drew out a faded banknote ‘nd gave it to Higgins.

“I thank Thee for this boon,” sez Leander, rollin’ his eyes up devoutly; then he gave a deep sigh.

“Hold on,” cried Higgins, excitedly, “you’ve made a mistake–it isn’t the last–“

But Leander didn’t hear him–his soul hed fled from its mortal tenement ‘nd hed soared rejoicin’ to realms uv everlastin’ bliss.

“He is no more,” sez Dock Wilson, metaphorically.

“Then who are his heirs?” asked that mean critter Higgins.

“We be,” sez the family.

“Do you conjointly and severally acknowledge and assume the obligation of deceased to me?” he asked ’em.

“What obligation?” asked Peasley Hobart, stern like.

“Deceased died owin’ me f’r a cyclopeedy!” sez Higgins.

“That’s a lie!” sez Peasley. “We all seen him pay you for the Z!”

“But there’s another one to come,” sez Higgins.

“Another?” they all asked.

“Yes, the index!” sez he.

So there wuz, and I’ll be eternally gol durned if he ain’t a-suin’ the estate in the probate court now f’r the price uv it!

1889

+DOCK STEBBINS+

DOCK STEBBINS

Most everybody liked Dock Stebbins, fur all he wuz the durnedest critter that ever lived to play jokes on folks! Seems like he wuz born jokin’ ‘nd kep’ it up all his life. Ol’ Mrs. Stebbins used to tell how when the Dock wuz a baby he used to wake her up haff a dozen times uv a night cryin’ like he wuz hungry, ‘nd when she turnt over in bed to him he w’u’d laff ‘nd coo like he wuz sayin’, “No, thank ye–I wuz only foolin’!”

His mother allus thought a heap uv the Dock, ‘nd she allus put up with his jokes ‘nd things without grumblin’; said it warn’t his fault that he wuz so full uv tricks ‘nd funny business; kind uv took the responsibility uv it onto herself, because, as she allowed, she’d been to a circus jest afore he wuz born.

Nothin’ tickled the Dock more ‘n to worry folks,–not in a mean way, but jest to sort uv bother ’em. Used to hang round the post-office ‘nd pertend to have fits,–sakes alive! but how that scared the wimmin folks. One day who should come along but ol’ Sue Perkins; Sue wuz suspicioned uv takin’ a nip uv likker on the quiet now ‘nd then, but nobody had ever ketched her at it. Wall, the Dock he had one uv his fits jest as Sue hove in sight, ‘nd Lem Thompson (who stood in with Dock in all his deviltry) leant over Dock while he wuz wallerin’ ‘nd pertendin’ to foam at the mouth, and Lem cried out: “Nothink will fetch him out’n this turn but a drink uv brandy.” Sue, who wuz as kind-hearted a’ old maid as ever super’ntended a strawbeiry festival, whipped a bottle out’n her bag ‘nd says: “Here you be, Lem, but don’t let him swaller the bottle.” Folks bothered Sue a heap ’bout this joke till she moved down into Texas to teach school.

Dock had a piece uv wood ’bout two inches long,–maybe three: it wuz black ‘nd stubby ‘nd looked jest like the butt uv a cigar. Nobody but Dock w’u’d ever hev thought uv sech a fool thing, but Dock used to go round with that thing in his mouth like it wuz a cigar, and when he ‘d meet a man who wuz smokin’ he’d say: “Excuse me, but will you please to gimme a light?” Then the man w’u’d hand over his cigar, and Dock w’u’d plough that wood stub uv his’n around in the lighted cigar and would pertend to puff away till he had put the real cigar out, ‘nd then Dock w’u’d hand the cigar back, sayin’, kind uv regretful like: “You don’t seem to have much uv a light there; I reckon I’ll wait till I kin git a match.” You kin imagine how that other feller’s cigar tasted when he lighted it ag’in. Dock tried it on me oncet, ‘nd when I lighted up ag’in seemed like I wuz smokin’ a piece uv rope or a liver-pad.

One time Dock ‘nd Lem Thompson went over to Peory on the railroad, ‘nd while they wuz settm’ in the car in come two wimmin ‘nd set in the seat ahead uv ’em. All uv a suddint Dock nudged Lem ‘nd says, jest loud enuff fur the wimmin to hear: “I didn’t git round till after it wuz over, but I never see sech a sight as that baby’s ear wuz.”

Lem wuz onto Dock’s methods, ‘nd he knew there wuz sumthin’ ahead. So he says: “Tough-lookin’ ear, wuz it?”

“Wall, I should remark,” says Dock. “You see it wuz like this: the mother had gone out into the back yard to hang some clo’es onto the line, ‘nd she laid the baby down in the crib. Baby wa’n’t more ‘n six weeks old,–helpless little critter as ever you seen. Wall, all to oncet the mother heerd the baby cryin’, but bein’ busy with them clo’es she didn’t mind much. The baby kep’ cryin’ ‘nd cryin’, ‘nd at last the mother come back into the house, ‘nd there she found a big rat gnawin’ at one uv the baby’s ears,–had e’t it nearly off! There lay that helpless little innocent, cryin’ ‘nd writhin’, ‘nd there sat that rat with his long tail, nippin’ ‘nd chewin’ at one uv them tiny coral ears–oh, it wuz offul!”

“Jest imagine the feelinks uv the mother!” says Lem, sad like.

“Jest imagine the feelinks uv the _baby_,” says Dock. “How’d you like to be lyin’ helpless in a crib with a big rat gnawin’ your ear?”

Wall, all this conversation wuz fur from pleasant to those two wimmin in the front seat, fur wimmin love babies ‘nd hate rats, you know. It wuz nuts fur Dock ‘nd Lem to see the two wimmin squirm, ‘nd all the way to Peory they didn’t talk about nuthink but snakes ‘nd spiders ‘nd mice ‘nd caterpillers. When the train got to Peory a gentleman met the two wimmin ‘nd says to one uv ’em: “I’m ‘feered the trip hain’t done you much good, Lizzie,” says he. “Sakes alive, John,” says she, “it’s a wonder we hain’t dead, for we’ve been travellin’ forty miles with a real live Beadle dime novvell!”

‘Nuther trick Dock had wuz to walk ‘long the street behind wimmin ‘nd tell about how his sister had jest lost one uv her diamond earrings while out walkin’. Jest as soon as the wimmin heerd this they’d clap their han’s up to their ears to see if their earrings wuz all right. Dock never laffed nor let on like he wuz jokin’, but jest the same this sort uv thing tickled him nearly to de’th.

Dock went up to Chicago with Jedge Craig oncet, ‘nd when they come back the jedge said he’d never had such an offul time in all his born days. Said that Dock bought a fool Mother Goose book to read in the hoss-cars jest to queer folks; would set in a hoss-car lookin’ at the pictur’s ‘nd readin’ the verses ‘nd laffin’ like it wuz all new to him ‘nd like he wuz a child. Everybody sized him up for a’ eject, ‘nd the wimmin folks shook their heads ‘nd said it was orful fur so fine a lookin’ feller to be such a torn fool. ‘Nuther thing Dock did wuz to git hold uv a bad quarter ‘nd give it to a beggar, ‘nd then foller the beggar into a saloon ‘nd git him arrested for tryin’ to pass counterf’it money. I reckon that if Dock had stayed in Chicago a week he’d have had everybody crazy.

No, I don’t know how he come to be a medikil man. He told me oncet that when he found out that he wuzn’t good for anythink he concluded he’d be a doctor; but I reckon that wuz one uv his jokes. He didn’t have much uv a practice: he wuz too yumorous to suit most invalids ‘nd sick folks. We had him tend our boy Sam jest oncet when Sam wuz comin’ down with the measles. He looked at Sam’s tongue ‘nd felt his pulse ‘nd said he’d leave a pill for Sam to take afore goin’ to bed.

“How shell we administer the pill?” asked my wife.

“Wall,” says Dock, “the best way to do is to git the boy down on the floor ‘nd hold his mouth open ‘nd gag him till he swallers the pill. After the pill gits into his system it will explode in about ten minnits, ‘nd then the boy will feel better.”

This wuz cheerful news for the boy. No human power c’u’d ha’ got that pill into Sam. We never solicited Dock’s perfeshional services ag’in.

One time Dock ‘nd Lem Thompson drove over to Knoxville to help Dock Parsons cut a man’s leg off. About four miles out uv town ‘nd right in the middle uv the hot peraroor they met Moses Baker’s oldest boy trudgin’ along with a basket uv eggs. The Dock whoaed his hoss ‘nd called to the boy,–

“Where be you goin’ with them eggs?” says he.

“Goin’ to town to sell ’em,” says the boy.

“How much a dozen?” asked the Dock.

“‘Bout ten cents, I reckon,” says the boy.

“Putty likely-lookin’ eggs,” says the Dock; ‘nd he handed the lines over to Lem, ‘nd got out’n the buggy.

“How many hev you got?” he asked.

“Ten dozen,” says the boy.

“Git out!” says Dock. “There hain’t no ten dozen eggs in that basket!”

“Yes, there is,” says the boy, “fur I counted ’em myself.”

The Dock allowed that he wuzn’t goin’ to take nobody’s count on eggs; so he got that fool boy to stan’ there in the middle uv that hot peraroor, claspin’ his two hands together, while he, the Dock, counted them eggs out’n the basket one by one into the boy’s arms. Ten dozen eggs is a heap; you kin imagine, maybe, how that boy looked with his arms full uv eggs! When the Dock had got about nine dozen counted out he stopped all uv a suddint ‘nd said, “Wall, come to think on ‘t, I reckon I don’t want no eggs to-day, but I’m jest as much obleeged to you fur yer trubble.” And so he jumped back into the buggy ‘nd drove off.

Now, maybe that fool boy wuzn’t in a peck uv trubble! There he stood in the middle uv that hot–that all-fired hot–peraroor with his arms full uv eggs. What wuz there fur him to do? He wuz afraid to move, lest he should break them eggs; yet the longer he stood there the less chance there wuz uv the warm weather improvin’ the eggs.

Along in the summer of ’78 the fever broke out down South, ‘nd one day Dock made up his mind that as bizness wuzn’t none too good at home he’d go down South ‘nd see what he could do there. That wuz jest like one of Dock’s fool notions, we all said. But he went. In about six weeks along come a telegraph sayin’ that Dock wuz dead,–he’d died uv the fever. The minister went up to the homestead ‘nd broke the news gentle like to Dock’s mother; but, bless you! she didn’t believe it–she wouldn’t believe it. She said it wuz one uv Dock’s jokes; she didn’t blame him, nuther–it wuz _her_ fault, she allowed, that Dock wuz allus that way about makin’ fun uv life ‘nd death. No, sir; she never believed that Dock wuz dead, but she allus talked like he might come in any minnit; and there wuz allus his old place set fur him at the table ‘nd nuthin’ wuz disturbed in his little room up-stairs. And so five years slipped by ‘nd no Dock come back, ‘nd there wuz no tidin’s uv him. Uv course, the rest uv us knew; but his mother–oh, no, _she_ never would believe it.

At last the old lady fell sick, and the doctor said she couldn’t hold out long, she wuz so old ‘nd feeble. The minister who wuz there said that she seemed to sleep from the evenin’ uv this life into the mornin’ uv the next. Jest afore the last she kind uv raised up in bed and cried out like she saw sumthin’ that she loved, and she held out her arms like there wuz some one standin’ in the doorway. Then they asked her what the matter wuz, and she says, joyful like: “He’s come back, and there he stan’s jest as he used ter: I knew he wuz only jokin’!”

They looked, but they saw nuthin’; ‘nd when they went to her she wuz dead.

1888.

+THE FAIRIES OF PESTH+

THE FAIRIES OF PESTH [1]

An old poet walked alone in a quiet valley. His heart was heavy, and the voices of Nature consoled him. His life had been a lonely and sad one. Many years ago a great grief fell upon him, and it took away all his joy and all his ambition. It was because he brooded over his sorrow, and because he was always faithful to a memory, that the townspeople deemed him a strange old poet; but they loved him and they loved his songs,–in his life and in his songs there was a gentleness, a sweetness, a pathos that touched every heart. “The strange, the dear old poet,” they called him.

Evening was coming on. The birds made no noise; only the whip-poor-will repeated over and over again its melancholy refrain in the marsh beyond the meadow. The brook ran slowly, and its voice was so hushed and tiny that you might have thought that it was saying its prayers before going to bed.

The old poet came to the three lindens. This was a spot he loved, it was so far from the noise of the town. The grass under the lindens was fresh and velvety. The air was full of fragrance, for here amid the grass grew violets and daisies and buttercups and other modest wild-flowers. Under the lindens stood old Leeza, the witchwife.

“Take this,” said the poet to old Leeza, the witchwife; and he gave her a silver piece.

“You are good to me, master poet,” said the witchwife. “You have always been good to me. I do not forget, master poet, I do not forget.”

“Why do you speak so strangely?” asked the old poet. “You mean more than you say. Do not jest with me; my heart is heavy with sorrow.”

“I do not jest,” answered the witchwife. “I will show you a strange thing. Do as I bid you; tarry here under the lindens, and when the moon rises, the Seven Crickets will chirp thrice; then the Raven will fly into the west, and you will see wonderful things, and beautiful things you will hear.”

Saying this much, old Leeza, the witch-wife, stole away, and the poet marvelled at her words. He had heard the townspeople say that old Leeza was full of dark thoughts and of evil deeds, but he did not heed these stories.

“They say the same of me, perhaps,” he thought. “I will tarry here beneath the three lindens and see what may come of this whereof the witch wife spake.”

The old poet sat amid the grass at the foot of the three lindens, and darkness fell around him. He could see the lights in the town away off; they twinkled like the stars that studded the sky. The whip-poor-will told his story over and over again in the marsh beyond the meadow, and the brook tossed and talked in its sleep, for it had played too hard that day.

“The moon is rising,” said the old poet. “Now we shall see.”

The moon peeped over the tops of the far-off hills. She wondered whether the world was fast asleep. She peeped again. There could be no doubt; the world was fast asleep,–at least so thought the dear old moon. So she stepped boldly up from behind the distant hills. The stars were glad that she came, for she was indeed a merry old moon.

The Seven Crickets lived in the hedge. They were brothers, and they made famous music. When they saw the moon in the sky they sang “chirp-chirp, chirp-chirp, chirp-chirp,” three times, just as old Leeza, the witchwife, said they would.

“Whir-r-r!” It was the Raven flying out of the oak-tree into the west. This, too, was what the old witchwife had foretold. “Whir-r-r” went the two black wings, and then it seemed as if the Raven melted into the night. Now, this was strange enough, but what followed was stranger still.

Hardly had the Raven flown away, when out from their habitations in the moss, the flowers, and the grass trooped a legion of fairies,–yes, right there before the old poet’s eyes appeared, as if by magic, a mighty troop of the dearest little fays in all the world.

Each of these fairies was about the height of a cambric needle. The lady fairies were, of course, not so tall as the gentleman fairies, but all were of quite as comely figure as you could expect to find even among real folk. They were quaintly dressed; the ladies wearing quilted silk gowns and broadbrim hats with tiny feathers in them, and the gentlemen wearing curious little knickerbockers, with silk coats, white hose, ruffled shirts, and dainty cocked hats.

“If the witchwife had not foretold it I should say that I dreamed,” thought the old poet. But he was not frightened. He had never harmed the fairies, therefore he feared no evil from them.

One of the fairies was taller than the rest, and she was much more richly attired. It was not her crown alone that showed her to be the queen. The others made obeisance to her as she passed through the midst of them from her home in the bunch of red clover. Four dainty pages preceded her, carrying a silver web which had been spun by a black-and-yellow garden spider of great renown. This silver web the four pages spread carefully over a violet leaf, and thereupon the queen sat down. And when she was seated the queen sang this little song:

“From the land of murk and mist Fairy folk are coming
To the mead the dew has kissed, And they dance where’er they list To the cricket’s thrumming.

“Circling here and circling there, Light as thought and free as air, Hear them ciy, ‘Oho, oho,’
As they round the rosey go.

“Appleblossom, Summerdew,
Thistleblow, and Ganderfeather! Join the airy fairy crew
Dancing on the swaid together! Till the cock on yonder steeple
Gives all faery lusty warning, Sing and dance, my little people,– Dance and sing ‘Oho’ till morning!”

The four little fairies the queen called to must have been loitering. But now they came scampering up,–Ganderfeather behind the others, for he was a very fat and presumably a very lazy little fairy.

“The elves will be here presently,” said the queen, “and then, little folk, you shall dance to your heart’s content. Dance your prettiest to-night, for the good old poet is watching you.”

“Ah, little queen,” cried the old poet, “you see me, then? I thought to watch your revels unbeknown to you. But I meant you no disrespect,– indeed, I meant you none, for surely no one ever loved the little folk more than I.”

“We know you love us, good old poet,” said the little fairy queen, “and this night shall give you great joy and bring you into wondrous fame.”

These were words of which the old poet knew not the meaning; but we, who live these many years after he has fallen asleep,–we know the meaning of them.

Then, surely enough, the elves came trooping along. They lived in the further meadow, else they had come sooner. They were somewhat larger than the fairies, yet they were very tiny and very delicate creatures. The elf prince had long flaxen curls, and he was arrayed in a wonderful suit of damask web, at the manufacture of which seventy-seven silkworms had labored for seventy-seven days, receiving in payment therefor as many mulberry leaves as seven blue beetles could carry and stow in seven times seven sunny days. At his side the elf prince wore a sword made of the sting of a yellow-jacket, and the hilt of this sword was studded with the eyes of unhatched dragon-flies, these brighter and more precious than the most costly diamonds.

The elf prince sat beside the fairy queen. The other elves capered around among the fairies. The dancing sward was very light, for a thousand and ten glowworms came from the marsh and hung their beautiful lamps over the spot where the little folk were assembled. If the moon and the stars were jealous of that soft, mellow light, they had good reason to be.

The fairies and elves circled around in lively fashion. Their favorite dance was the ring-round-a-rosey which many children nowadays dance. But they had other measures, too, and they danced them very prettily.

“I wish,” said the old poet, “I wish that I had my violin here, for then I would make merry music for you.”

The fairy queen laughed. “We have music of our own,” she said, “and it is much more beautiful than even you, dear old poet, could make.”

Then, at the queen’s command, each gentleman elf offered his arm to a lady fairy, and each gentleman fairy offered his arm to a lady elf, and so, all being provided with partners, these little people took their places for a waltz. The fairy queen and the elf prince were the only ones that did not dance; they sat side by side on the violet leaf and watched the others. The hoptoad was floor manager; the green burdock badge on his breast showed that.

“Mind where you go–don’t jostle each other,” cried the hoptoad, for he was an exceedingly methodical fellow, despite his habit of jumping at conclusions.

Then, when all was ready, the Seven Crickets went “chirp-chirp, chirp-chirp, chirp-chirp,” three times, and away flew that host of little fairies and little elves in the daintiest waltz imaginable:–

[Illustration: Musical notation]

The old poet was delighted. Never before had he seen such a sight; never before had he heard so sweet music. Round and round whirled the sprite dancers; the thousand and ten glowworms caught the rhythm of the music that floated up to them, and they swung their lamps to and fro in time with the fairy waltz. The plumes in the hats of the cunning little ladies nodded hither and thither, and the tiny swords of the cunning little gentlemen bobbed this way and that as the throng of dancers swept now here, now there. With one tiny foot, upon which she wore a lovely shoe made of a tanned flea’s hide, the fairy queen beat time, yet she heard every word which the gallant elf prince said. So, with the fairy queen blushing, the mellow lamps swaying, the elf prince wooing, and the throng of little folk dancing hither and thither, the fairy music went on and on:–

[Illustration: Musical notation]

“Tell me, my fairy queen,” cried the old poet, “whence comes this fairy music which I hear? The Seven Crickets in the hedge are still, the birds sleep in their nests, the brook dreams of the mountain home it stole away from yester morning. Tell me, therefore, whence comes this wondrous fairy music, and show me the strange musicians that make it.”

[Illustration: Musical notation]

“Look to the grass and the flowers,” said the fairy queen. “In every blade and in every bud lie hidden notes of fairy music. Each violet and daisy and buttercup,–every modest wild-flower (no matter how hidden) gives glad response to the tinkle of fairy feet. Dancing daintily over this quiet sward where flowers dot the green, my little people strike here and there and everywhere the keys which give forth the harmonies you hear.”

Long marvelled the old poet. He forgot his sorrow, for the fairy music stole into his heart and soothed the wound there. The fairy host swept round and round, and the fairy music went on and on.

[Illustration: Musical Notation]

“Why may I not dance?” asked a piping voice. “Please, dear queen, may I not dance, too?”

It was the little hunchback that spake,–the little hunchback fairy who, with wistful eyes, had been watching the merry throng whirl round and round.

“Dear child, thou canst not dance,” said the fairy queen, tenderly; “thy little limbs are weak. Come, sit thou at my feet, and let me smooth thy fair curls and stroke thy pale cheeks.”

“Believe me, dear queen,” persisted the little hunchback, “I can dance, and quite prettily, too. Many a time while the others made merry here I have stolen away by myself to the brookside and danced alone in the moonlight,–alone with my shadow. The violets are thickest there. ‘Let thy halting feet fall upon us, Little Sorrowful,’ they whispered, ‘and we shall make music for thee.’ So there I danced, and the violets sang their songs for me. I could hear the others making merry far away, but I was merry, too; for I, too, danced, and there was none to laugh.”

“If you would like it, Little Sorrowful,” said the elf prince, “I will dance with you.”

“No, brave prince,” answered the little hunchback, “for that would weary you. My crutch is stout, and it has danced with me before. You will say that we dance very prettily,–my crutch and I,–and you will not laugh, I know.”

Then the queen smiled sadly; she loved the little hunchback and she pitied her.

“It shall be as you wish,” said the queen. The little hunchback was overjoyed.

“I have to catch the time, you see,” said she, and she tapped her crutch and swung one little shrunken foot till her body fell into the rhythm of the waltz.

Far daintier than the others did the little hunchback dance; now one tiny foot and now the other tinkled on the flowers, and the point of the little crutch fell here and there like a tear. And as she danced, there crept into the fairy music a tenderer cadence, for (I know not why) the little hunchback danced ever on the violets, and their responses were full of the music of tears. There was a strange pathos in the little creature’s grace; she did not weary of the dance: her cheeks flushed, and her eyes grew fuller, and there was a wondrous light in them. And as the little hunchback danced, the others forgot her limp and felt only the heart-cry in the little hunchback’s merriment and in the music of the voiceful violets.

[Illustration: Musical notation]

Now all this saw the old poet, and all this wondrously beautiful music he heard. And as he heard and saw these things, he thought of the pale face, the weary eyes, and the tired little body that slept forever now. He thought of the voice that had tried to be cheerful for his sake, of the thin, patient little hands that had loved to do his bidding, of the halting little feet that had hastened to his calling.

“Is it thy spirit, O my love?” he wailed, “Is it thy spirit, O dear, dead love?”

A mist came before his eyes, and his heart gave a great cry.

But the fairy dance went on and on. The others swept to and fro and round and round, but the little hunchback danced always on the violets, and through the other music there could be plainly heard, as it crept in and out, the mournful cadence of those tenderer flowers.

And, with the music and the dancing, the night faded into morning. And all at once the music ceased and the little folk could be seen no more. The birds came from their nests, the brook began to bestir himself, and the breath of the new-born day called upon all in that quiet valley to awaken.

So many years have passed since the old poet, sitting under the three lindens half a league the other side of Pesth, saw the fairies dance and heard the fairy music,–so many years have passed since then, that had the old poet not left us an echo of that fairy waltz there would be none now to believe the story I tell.

[Illustration: Musical notation]

Who knows but that this very night the elves and the fairies will dance in the quiet valley; that Little Sorrowful will tinkle her maimed feet upon the singing violets, and that the little folk will illustrate in their revels, through which a tone of sadness steals, the comedy and pathos of our lives? Perhaps no one shall see, perhaps no one else ever did see, these fairy people dance their pretty dances; but we who have heard old Robert Volkmann’s waltz know full well that he at least saw that strange sight and heard that wondrous music.

And you will know so, too, when you have read this true story and heard old Volkmann’s claim to immortality.

1887.