Hamilton Wright Mabie.

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about the streets, to give notice of a lost child.

So saying, this honest and very kind-hearted man was
xping toward the little white damsel, with the best intentions
in the world. But A^olet and Peony, each seizing their
father by the hand, earnestly besought him not to make
her come in.

"Dear father," cried Violet, putting herself before him,
"it is true what I have been telling youl This is our little
snow-girl, and she cannot live any longer thah while she
breathes the cold west-wind. Do not make her come into
the hot room!"

"Yes, father," shouted Peony, stamping his little foot,
so mightily was he in earnest, "this be nothing but our 'ittle
snow-childl She will not love the hotfirel"

"Nonsense, children, nonsense, nonsense!" cried the
father, half vexed, half laughing at what he considered their
foolish obstinacy. "Run into the house, this moment I It
is too late to play any longer, now. I must take care of
this little girl immediately, or she will catch her death
a-cold!"

"Husband! dear husband! " said his wife, in a low voice —
for she had been looking narrowly at the snow-child, and
was more perplexed than ever — ^there is something very
singular in all this. You will think me foolish — ^but — ^but —
may it not be that some invisible angel has been attracted
by the simplicity and good faith with which our children s^
about their undertaking? May he not have spent an hour of
his immortality in playing with those dear little souls? and
so the result is what we call a miracle. No, no! Do not lau^
at me; I see what a foolish thought it is' "



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The Snow-Image 51

''My dear wife," replied the husband, laughing heartily,
^you are as much a child as Violet and Peony."

And in one sense so she was, for all througn life she had
kept her heart full of childlike simplicity and faith, which
was as pure and clear as crystal; and, looking at all matters
through this transparent medium, she sometimes saw truths
so profound, that other people laughed at them as nonsense
and absurdity.

But now kind Mr. Lindsey had entered the garden,
breaking away from his two children, who still sent their
duiU voices after him, beseeching him to let the snow-child
stay and enjoy herself in the cold west-wind. As he
approached, the snow-birds took to flight. The little white
damsel, also, fled backward, shaking her head, as if to say,
"Pray, do not touch me I" and roguishly, as it appeared,
leading him through the deepest of the snow. Once, the
good man stumbled, and floundered down upon his face, so
that, gathering himself up again, with the snow sticking to his
rough pilot-cloth sack, he looked as white and wintry as a
snow-image of the largest size. Some of the neighbours,
meanwhile, seeing him from their windows, wondered what
could possess poor Mr. Lindsey to be running about his
garden in pursuit of a snow-drift, which the west-wind was
driving hither and thither! At length, after a vast deal of
trouble, he chased the little stranger into a comer, where she
could not possibly escape him. His wife had been looking on,
and, it being nearly twilight, was wonderstruck to observe
how the snow-child gleamed and sparkled, and how she
seemed to shed a glow all round about her; and when driven
into the comer, she positively glistened like a star! It was a
frosty kind of brightness, too like that of an icicle in the moon-
light. The wife thought it strange that good Mr. Lindsey
should see nothingremarkable in the snow-child'sappearance*



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53 Siories Every Child Should Know

''Come, you odd little thing! "cried the honest man,
seizing her by the hand, ''I have caught you at last, and
will make you comfortable in spite of yourseli. We will
put a nice warm pair of worsted stockings on your frozen little
feet, and you shall have a good thick shawl to wrap yoiuself
in. Your poor white nose, I am afraid, is actually frost-
bitten. But we will make it all right. Come abng in."

And so, with a most benevolent smile on his sagacious
visage, all purple as it was with the cold, this very well*
meaning gentleman took the snow-child by the hand and
led her towards the house. She followed him, drooping^y
and reluctant; f«r all the glow and sparkle was gone out of
her figure; and whereas just before she had resembled a
bright, frosty, star-genmied evening, with a crimson ^eam
on the cold horizon, she now looked as dull and languid as a
thaw. As kind Mr. Lindsey led her up the steps of the
door, Violet and Peony looked into his face — their eyes full
of tears, which froze before they could run down their c&edcs
— and again entreated him not to bring their snow-image
into the house.

''Not bring her in!" exclaimed the kind-hearted man.
"Why, you are cras^, my little Violet I — quite crazy, my
small Peonyl She b so cold, afaready, that her hand has al-
most frozen mine, hi spite of my thick gloves. Would you
have her freeze to death?"

ffis wife, as he came up the steps, had been taking another
long, earnest, almost awe-stricken gaze at the little white
stranger. She hardly knew whether it was a dream or no;<
but she could not help fancying that she saw the delicate
print of Violet's fingers on the child's neck. It looked just
as if, while Violet was shaping out the image, she had given
it a gentle pat with her hand, and had neglected to smooth
the impression quite away.



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The Snovhifnage 53

''After all, husband/' said the mother, recurring to her
idea that the angels would be as much delighted to play with
Violet and Peony as she herself was — "after all, she does
look strangely like a snow-image I I do believe she is made of
snow!"

A puff of the west-wind blew against the snow-child, and
again she sparkled like a star.

"Snow!" repeated good Mr. Lindsey, drawing the re-
luctant guest over this hospitable threshold. "No wonder
she looks like snow. She is half frozen, poor little thingi
But a good fire will put everything to rights."

Without further talk, and alwa3rs with the same best
intentions, this highly benevolent and common-sensible
individual led the little white damsel — drooping, drooping,
drooping, more and more — out of the frosty air, and into
his comfortable parlour. A Heidenberg stove, filled to the
brim with intensely burning anthracite, was sending a bright
gleam through the isinglass of its iron door, and causing the
vase of water on its top to fume and bubble with excitement.
A warm, sultry smell was diffused throughout the room.
A thermometer on the wall farthest from the stove stood at
dghty degrees. The parlour was hung with red curtains,
and covered with a red carpet, and looked just as warm as
it felt. The difference betwixt the atmosphere here and the
cold, wintry twilight out of doors, was like stq)ping at once
from Nova Zembla to the hottest part of India, or from the
North Pole into an oven. O, this was a fine place for the
Kttle white stranger!

The common-sensible man placed the snow-child on the
hearth-rug, right in front of the hissing and fuming stove.

"Now she will be comfortable!" cried Mr. Xindsey, rub«
bing his hands and looking about him, with the pleasantest
smile you ever saw. "Make yourself at home, my child.'*



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54 Siaries Every Child Should Know

Sad, sad and drooping, looked the little white maiden,
as she stood on the hearth-rug, with the hot blast of the stov«
striking through her like a pestilence. Once, she threw a
glance wistfully toward the windows, and caught a ^impse,
through its red curtains, of the snow-covered roofs, and the
stars glimmering frostily, and all the delicious intensity of
the cold ni^t. The bleak wind rattled the window-panes,
as if it were summoning her to come forth. But there stood
the snow-child, drooping, before the hot stove I

But the common-sensible man saw nothing amiss.

"Come, wife," said he, "let her have a pair of thick
stockings and a woollen shawl or blanket directly; and tell
Dora to give her some warm supper as soon as the milk
boib. You, Violet and Peony, amuse your litde friend.
She is out of spirits, you see, at finding herself in a strange
place. For my part, I will go aroimd among the neighbours,
and find out where she belongs."

The mother, meanwhile, had gone in search of the shawl
and stockings; for her own view of the matter, however
subtle and delicate, had given way, as it always did, to the
stubborn materialism of her husband, l^thout heeding the
remonstrances of his two children, who still kept murmuring
that theu: little snow-sister did not love the warmth, good
Mr. Lindsey took his departure, shutting the parlour-door
carefully behind him. Turning up the collar of his sack
over his ears, he emerged from the house, and had barely
reached the street-gate when he was recalled by the screams
of Violet and Peony, and the rapping of a thimbled fing^
against the parlour ^/nndow.

" Husband! husband! " cried his wife, showing her horror-
stricken face through the window-panes. "There is no
need of going for the child's parents!"

"We told you so, father!" screamed Violet and Peonv* as



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Tfie Sfuruhlmage 55

he re-entered the parlour. ''You would bring her in;
and now our poor — dear — ^beau-ti-fiil little snow-sister is
thawed!"

And their own sweet little faces were already dissolved
in tears; so that their father, seeing what strange things
occasionally happen in this every-day world, felt not a little
anxious lest his children might be going to thaw tool In the
utmost perplexity, he demanded an explanation of his wife.
She could only reply, that, being sunmioned to the pariour
by the cries of Violet and Peony, she f oimd no trace of the
little white maiden, unless it were the remains of a heap of
snow, which, while she was gazing at it, melted quite away
upon the hearth-rug.

'' And there you see all that is left of it I " added she, point
ing to a pool of water, in front of the stove.

''Yes, father," said A^olet, looking reproachfully at him,
through her tears, "there is all that is left of our dear little
snow-sister!"

"Naughty father!" cried Peony, stamping his foot, and —
I shudder to say — shaking his little fiist at the common-
sensible man. "We told you how it would bel What for
did you bring her in?"

And the Heidenberg stove, through the isinglass of its
door, seemed to glare at good Mr. Lindsey, like a red-eyed
demon, triiunphing in the mischief which it had done!

This, you will observe, was one of those rare cases, which
yet will occasionally happen, where common-sense finds
itself at fault. The remarkable story of the snow-image,
though to that sagacious class of people to whom good Mr.
Lindsey belongs it may seem but a childish affair, is, never-
theless, capable of being moralised in various methods,
greatly for their edification. One of its lessons, for instance,
might be that it behooves men, and especially men of



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56 Stories Every Child Should Know

benevolence, to consider well what they are about, audi
before acting on their philanthropic purposes, to be quite
sure that they comprehend the nature and all the relations
of the business in hand. What has been established as an
element of good to one being may prove absolute mischief
to another; even as the warmth of the parlour was proper
enough for children of flesh and blood, like ^olet and Peony
— though by no means very wholesome, even for them —
involved nothing short of annihilation to the unfortunate
snow-image.

But, after all, there is no teaching anything to wise men of
good Mr. Lindsey's stamp. They know everything — O, to
be sure! — everything that has been, and everything that is,
and ever3rthing that, by any future possibility, can be. And,
should some phenomenon of natiure or providence transcend
their S)rstem, they will not recognise it, even if it come to pass
under their very noses.

"Wife," said Mr. Lindsey, after a fit of silence, "see
what a quantity of snow the children have brought in on
then: feet! It has made quite a puddle here before the stove.
Pray tell Dora to bring some towels and sop it up! "



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IV

UNDINE

I. — ^HOW THE KNIGHT CAME TO THE FTSHKKMAN'S CX>TTAGE

ONCE — it may be some hundreds of years ago — ^there lived
a good old Fisherman, who, on a fine summer's evening,
vf3S sitting before the door mending his nets. He dwelt in a land
of exceeding beauty. The green slope, upon which he had
built his hut, stretched far out into ^ great lake; and it seemed
Mther that the cape, enamoured of the glassy blue waters, had
pressed forward into their bosom, or that the lake had lovingly
folded in its arms the blooming promontory, with her waving
grass and flowers, and the refreshing shade of her tall trees.
Each bade the other welcome, and increased its own beauty
by so doing. This lovely nook was scarcely ever visited
by mankind, except by the Fisherman and his family. For
behind the promonotory lay a very wild forest, which, beside
being gloomy and pathless, had too bad a name as the resort
of wondrous spirits and goblins, to be crossed by anyone who
could help it Yet the pious old Fisherman went through it
without being molested, whenever he walked to a large city
beyond the forest, to dispose of the costly fish that he caught
in the lake. For him, indeed, there was little danger, even in
that forest; for his thoughts were almost all thoughts of
devotion, and his custom was to carol forth to Heaven a loud
and heartfelt hynm, on first setting foot vnthin the treacherous
shades.
As he sat this evening most peacefully ov«: his nets, he waa

57



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58 Sknies Every Child Should Know

startled in an unwonted manner by a rustling sound in the
fdrest, like that of a man and horse; and the noise came nearer
and nearer. The dreams he had had in many a stormy night
of the spirits of the forest started up before his mind, particu-
larly the image of a gigantic long snow-white man, who kept
nodding his head mysteriously. Nay, as he raised his eyes
and looked into the forest, he could fancy he saw, through
the thick screen of leaves, the nodding creature advance
toward him. But he soon composed himself, recollecting
that even in the heart of the woods nothing had ever be&illen
him; much less here, in the open air, could the bad spirits
have power to touch him. He moreover repeated a text from
the Bible aloud and eame'^V, which quite restored his courage,
and he almost laughed to see how his fancy had misled him.
The white nodding man suddenly resolved himself into a little
brook he knew of old, which gushed bubbling out of the wood,
and emptied itself into the lake. And the rustling had been
caused by a horseman in gorgeous attire, who now came
forward toward the hut from beneath the trees.

He wore a scarlet mantle over his purple, gold-embroidered
jerkin; a plume of red and purple feathers waved over his gold-
coloured barret-cap; and from his golden belt hung a glittering
jewelled sword. The white courser which carried him was
of lighter make than the generality of chargers, and trod so
airily, that the enamelled turf seemed scarcely to bend under
him. The aged Fisherman could not quite shake off his
uneasiness, although he told himself that so noble a guest
could bring him no harm, and accordingly doffed his hat
courteously, and interrupted his work when he approached.

The Knight reined in his horse, and asked whether thqr
could both obtain one night's shelter.

"As to yoiu: horse, good sir," answered the Fisherman, "1
have no better stable to offer him than the shady meadow, and



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Undine 59

no provender but the grass which grows upon it But you
shall yourself be heartily welcome to my poor house, and to
the best of my supper and night lodging."

The stranger seemed quite content; he dismounted, and
they helped each other to take off the horse's girth and saddle,
after which the Knight let him graze on the flowery pasture,
sa3dng to his host, '^£ven if I had found you less kind and
hospitable, my good old man, you must have borne with me till
to-morrow; for I see we are shut in by a wide lake and Heaven
forbid that I should cross the haunted forest again at ni^tf all ! "

**We will not say much about that," replied the Fisher-
man; and he led his guest into the cottage.

There, close by the hearth, from whence a scanty fire
shed its glimmering light over the clean little room, sat the
Fisherman's old wife. When their noble guest came in,
she rose to give him a kind welcome, but immediately
resumed her place of honour, without offering it to him;
and the Fisherman said with a smile: ''Do not take it amiss,
young sir, if she does not give up to you the most comfort-
able place; it is the custom among us poor people that it
should always belong to the oldest."

"Why, husband!" said his wife, quietly, "what are you
thinking of? Our guest is surely a Christian gentleman,
and how could it come into his kind young heart to turn
old people out of their places? Sit down, my young lord,"
added she, turning to the Knight; "there stands a very
comfortable chair for you; only remember it must not be
too roughly handled, for one leg is not so steady as it has
been." The Knight drew the chair carefully forward,
seated himself sociably, and soon felt quite at home in this
little household, and as if he had just returned to it from a far
journey.

The three friends began to converse openly and f amiliarbr



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ik> Stories Every Child Should Know

together. First the Knight asked a few questions about
the forest, but the old man would not say much of that;
least of all, said he, was it fitting to talk of such things at
ni^tfall; but, on household concerns, and their own way
of life, the old folks talked readily; and were pleased when
the Knight told them of his travels, and that he had a castle
near the soiure of the Danube, and that his name was
Lord Huldbrand of Ringstetten. In the middle of their
discourse, the stranger often observed a noise outside a
small window, as if someone were dashing water against
it. The old man knit his brows and looked grave whenever
this ocoured; at last, when a great splash of water came
full against the panes, and some found its way into the
room, he could bear it no longer, but started up, oying,
"Undine! will you never leave off these childish tricks —
when we have a stranger gentleman in the house too!*'
This produced silence outside, all but a sound of suppressed
^ggling, and the Fisherman said as he came back: "My
honoured guest, you must put up with this, and perhaps
with many another piece of mischief; but she means no
harm. It is our adopted child Undine; there is no breaking
her of her childish ways, though she is eighteen years old
now. But as I told you she is as good a child as ever lived
at bottom."

"Ay, so you may say!" rejoined his wife, shaking her
head. "When you come home from fishing, or from a
joiuney, her playful nonsense may be pleasant enough.
But, to be keeping her out of mischief all day long, as I must
do, and never get a word of sense from her, nor a bit of
help and comfort in my old age, is enough to weary the
patience of a saint."

"Well, well," said the good man, "you feel toward Undine
as I do toward the lake. Though its waves are apt enough



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Undine 6z

to biirst my banks and my nets, yet I love them for all that,
and so do you love our pretty wench, with all her plaguey
tricks. Don't you?"

"Why, one cannot be really angry with her, to be sure,"
said the dame, smiling.

Here the door flew open, and a beautiful fair creature
tripped in, and said, playfully: "Well, father, you made
game of me; where is your guest?" The next moment
she perceived the Knight, and stood fixed in mute admi-
ration; while Huldbrand gazed upon her lovely form, and
tried to impress her image on his mind, thinking that he
must avail himself of her amazement to do so, and that in
a moment she would shrink away in a fit of bashfulness.
But it proved otherwise. After looking at him a good
while, she came up to him familiarly, knelt down beside
him, and pla3ring with a golden medal that himg from his
rich chain, she said: "So, thou kind, thou beautiful guest!
hast thou found us out in our poor hut at last? Why
didst thou roam the world so many years without coming
near us? Art come through the wild forest, my handsome
friend?" The old woman allowed him no time to answer.
She desired her to get up instantly, like a modest prl, and
to set about her work. But Undine, without repl3ring,
fetched a footstool and put it close to Huldbrand's chair,
sat down there with her spinning, and said cheerfully— "I
will sit and work here." The old man behaved as parents
are apt to do with spoiled children. He pretended not
to see Undine's wa3rwardness, and was beginning to talk
of something else; but she would not let hin. She said,
"I asked our visitor where he came from, and he has not
answered me yet."

"From the forest I came, you beautiful sprite," answered
Huldbrand; and she continued:



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62 Stories Every Child Should Know

"Then you must tell me how you came there, and what
wonderful adventures you had in it, for I know that nobody
can escape without some."

Huldbrand could not help shuddering on being reminded
of his adventures, and involuntarily glanced at the window,
half expecting to see one of the strange beings he had encoun-
tered in the forest grinning at him through it; but nothing
was to be seen except the deep black night, which had now
closed in. He recollected himself, and was just beginning
his narrative, when the old man interposed: "Not just now.
Sir Knight; this is no time for such tales."

But Undine jumped up passionately, put her beautifu.
arms akimbo, and standing before the Fisherman, exclaimed;
"What! may not he tell his story, father — may not he?
But I will have it; he must. He shall indeed!" And she
stamped angrily with her pretty feet, but it was all done
in so comical and graceful a manner, that Huldbrand
thought her still more bewitching in her wrath, than in her
playful mood.

Not so the old man; his long-restrained anger burst out
uncontrolled. He scolded Undine smartly for her dis-
obedience, and immannerly conduct to the stranger, his
wife chiming in.

Undine then said: "Very well, if you will be quarrel-
some and not let me have my own way, you may sleep
alone in your smoky old hut!" and she shot through the
door like an arrow, and rushed into the dark night.

n. — ^HOV/ UNDINE FIRST CAME TO THE FISHERMAN

Huldbrand and the Fisherman sprang from their seats,
and tried to catch the angry maiden; but before they could
reach the house door. Undine had vanished far into the



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Undine 63

Ihick shades, and not a sound of her light footsteps was to
be heard, by which to track her course. Huldbrand looked
doubtfully at his host; he almost thought that the whole
fair vision which had so suddenly plunged into the night,
must be a continuation of the phantom play which had
whirled around him in his passage through the forest.
But the old man mumbled through his teeth: ''It is not the
first time she has served us so. And here are we, left in
our anxiety with a sleepless night before us; for who can
tell what harm may befall her, all alone out-of-doors till
daybreak?"

"Then let us be after her, good father, for God's sake!"
cried Huldbrand eagerly.

The old man replied, "Where would be the use ? It were
a sin to let you set off alone in pursuit of the foolish girl,
and my old legs would never overtake such a Will-with-the-
wisp — even if we could guess which way she is gone."

"At least let us call her, and beg her to come back," said
Huldbrand; and he began calling after her in most moving
tones: "Undine! O Undine, do retiunl"

The old man shook his head, and said that all the shouting
in the world would do no good with such a wilful little
thing. But yet he could not himself help calling out from
time to time in the darkness: "Undinel ah, sweet Undine!
I entreat thee, come back this once."

The Fisherman's words proved true. Nothing was to
be seen or heard of Undine; and as her foster-father would
by no means suffer Huldbrand to pursue her, they had
nothing for it but to go in again. They found the fire
on the hearth nearly burnt out, and the dame, who did not
take to heart Undine's fight and danger so much as her


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Online LibraryHamilton Wright MabieFamous stories every child should know: a selection of the best stories of ... → online text (page 5 of 22)