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she took up her sheet of music and began to sing. Never had the carols
and anthems seemed so sweet to her, and her voice rose clear and pure as
a bird's. The organist paused to listen, and her companions turned
satisfied glances upon her; but she went on unconsciously, as a bird
does until the burden of its theme is finished, and its exultant strains
are lost in silence. They went over the whole Church service, the
glorious _Te Deum_, the _Benedictus_, and the anthem for the day, "Unto
us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given," and every delicate chord
and fugue had to be repeated until the desired perfection of harmony was
attained. It was really a very long and arduous study; but of all days
Christmas demands good music, and they were willing to do their best. At
last all were satisfied, and somewhat tired; but the organist turned to
Mrs. Morton, and asked her if she would sing one hymn for him alone, as
he especially desired to hear her voice in this one tune. Of course she
could not refuse, and to an exquisitely harmonious air she began,

"Calm on the listening ear of night
Come heaven's melodious strains,
Where wild Judæa stretches far
Her silver-mantled plains.

"Light on thy hills, Jerusalem!
The Saviour now is born!
And bright on Bethlehem's joyous plains
Breaks the first Christmas morn."

Only the first and last verses of that exquisite hymn; but like "angels
with their sparkling lyres," her voice seemed to have lost its
earthliness, and soared, as if it were winged, up to the very gate of
heaven. When she ceased singing, there was a hush upon all, as if they
had been carried near to the celestial portals.

One by one they pressed her hand in quiet congratulation, and with a
"Merry Christmas" bade her good-night. Mrs. Morton was a little excited
with her unusual efforts, and while the old organist was locking up,
thought she would run down and warm herself in the church. As she
hastened toward the great heater, she tripped over something, which, to
her great surprise and alarm, she perceived what appeared to be a great
bundle was in reality a sleeping child.

Yes, a child, and a little one - a boy of not more than seven years, with
elfish brown locks, and eyelashes which swept the olive tint of his
cheek. All curled up in a heap, in clothes which a man might have worn,
so big and shapeless were they, with one arm under his head for a
pillow, and the other tightly grasping a violin. Far had he wandered in
the cold wintry air, until, attracted by the light and warmth of the
great church, he had stolen in for shelter, and then as his little ears
drank in the melody of the rehearsing choir, and the warmth comforted
him, he fell fast asleep. He was dreaming now of the warm sunny land of
his birth: olive-trees and orchards, purple clusters of the vineyards,
donkeys laden with oranges, and the blue sky of Naples shining over the
blue bay. Then, in his dream, an angel came floating down out of the
pure ether, wafting sweet perfumes on its white wings, and singing - oh!
what heavenly strains! - till his little soul was filled with joy; for
the angel seemed to be his mother who had died, and her kind voice again
saluted him, and he answered, softly, "Madre mia!"

"Poor child!" said Mrs. Morton, softly, "it seems a pity to waken him,
but we must do it; he can not stay here all night." The old organist
touched him; but his sleep was too sound for a touch to arouse him, and
Mrs. Morton had to again and again lift his head and stroke his little
brown hand, before, with amazed and widely fearful looks, he answered
them.

"Who are you, child, and what are you doing here?" asked the organist.

"I'm Toni, Toni," was the answer, and he began to cry. "Oh, please let
me go: the Padrone will kill me."

"Why will he kill you, and why are you here?"

"He will kill me because I have no money. I have lost, also, my way."

"Have you no home, no mother?" asked Mrs. Morton, gently.

"No, signora, no, madame, no mother. We all live, Baptiste and Vincenzo
and I, with the Padrone. We play the harp and the violin; but I was
tired, and I could not keep with the others, and they scolded me, oh, so
sharply! and I was weary and cold, and crept in here where the angels
sing, and it was so beautiful I could not go away."

The organist muttered, "Police," at which the child again sobbed
violently. "Yes, to the station-house, of course, he must go."

But Mrs. Morton remembered the three faces asleep on their pillows at
home, and as she looked at this tear-stained, dirty little gypsy, she
said to the organist, "I will take care of him to-night." So, under the
stars, the Christmas stars, gleaming so brightly, she led the little
wanderer home.

All was still and safe in the little house. "Not a creature was
stirring, not even a mouse." The fire still gleamed in the kitchen and
the sitting-room, and it was the work of only a few moments to divest
the little musician of his uncouth garments, to pop him into the tub of
hot suds, to scrub him well, until his lean little body shone like
bronze, to slip him into a night-gown, to give him a slice of bread and
butter, and then to tuck him up on the cozy lounge.

The children slept like tops, and the tired little mother was glad to
say her prayers, and lie down beside them.

The stars were still shining when she awoke; for Christmas-day would be
a busy one, and there were no moments to lose. Already the milkman was
at the door, and the hands of the kitchen clock pointed to six.

Hark! what was that?

A long, low, sweet sound, like a voice calling her. She listened, and
again it came. "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace,
good-will toward men," so it seemed to breathe. Then it rose in a gay
carol, a sweet gushing thanksgiving, and the children came tumbling down
in their night-gowns; they rushed to the door of the sitting-room, and
there beside his improvised bed stood the young musician, playing on his
violin as if all the world were his audience. His brown eyes flashed now
with light, and then grew dark and tender, as he drew the sweet sounds
out. The children gazed in wonderment: where had this child come from?
had he dropped from the stars? had an angel come among them? He played
on and on, until, from sheer fatigue, he put his instrument down. Then
Teddie and Clover and Daisy came about him; they touched his hands, his
curly locks, his violin, to see if all were real. Then they whirled
round the room in a mad dance of delight, for the mother had uncovered
the tree, and it was really Christmas morning.

Ah, what a happy day for poor little Toni! How nice he looked in
Teddie's clothes! how gentle he was with Daisy! how he frolicked with
Clover! and when Mrs. Morton came from church, how softly he played all
his pretty melodies for her! It was a day of feast and gladness; and
when, to her surprise and pleasure, a committee of church people waited
upon Mrs. Morton to give her a purse, through the meshes of which
glittered gold pieces, she said then and there that Toni should never go
to the harsh and cruel Padrone again.

Perhaps some time as you listen to a sweet voice singing to the
accompaniment of a violin you may think of Mrs. Morton and Toni, and be
glad that the world bestows its applause and its gifts upon them, and
that the vision of his mother and her love which came to Toni on that
Christmas-eve has been made to him a reality.




[Begun in No. 5 of HARPER'S YOUNG PEOPLE, December 2.]

THE HISTORY OF PHOTOGEN AND NYCTERIS.

A Day and Night Mährchen.

BY GEORGE MACDONALD.


XIV. - THE SUN.

There Nycteris sat, and there the youth lay, all night long, in the
heart of the great cone-shadow of the earth, like two Pharaohs in one
pyramid. Photogen slept, and slept; and Nycteris sat motionless lest she
should waken him, and so betray him to his fear.

The moon rode high in the blue eternity; it was a very triumph of
glorious Night; the river ran babble-murmuring in deep soft syllables;
the fountain kept rushing moonward, and blossoming momently to a great
silvery flower, whose petals were forever falling like snow, but with a
continuous musical clash, into the bed of its exhaustion beneath; the
wind woke, took a run among the trees, went to sleep, and woke again;
the daisies slept on their feet at hers, but she did not know they
slept; the roses might well seem awake, for their scent filled the air,
but in truth they slept also, and the odor was that of their dreams; the
oranges hung like gold lamps in the trees, and their silvery flowers
were the souls of their yet unembodied children; the scent of the acacia
blooms filled the air like the very odor of the moon herself.

At last, unused to the living air, and weary with sitting so still and
so long, Nycteris grew drowsy. The air began to grow cool. It was
getting near the time when she too was accustomed to sleep. She closed
her eyes just a moment, and nodded - opened them suddenly wide, for she
had promised to watch.

In that moment a change had come. The moon had got round, and was
fronting her from the west, and she saw that her face was altered, that
she had grown pale, as if she too were wan with fear, and from her lofty
place espied a coming terror. The light seemed to be dissolving out of
her; she was dying - she was going out! And yet everything around looked
strangely clear - clearer than ever she had seen anything before: how
could the lamp be shedding more light when she herself had less? Ah,
that was just it! See how faint she looked! It was because the light was
forsaking her, and spreading itself over the room, that she grew so thin
and pale. She was melting away from the roof like a bit of sugar in
water.

Nycteris was fast growing afraid, and sought refuge with the face upon
her lap. How beautiful the creature was! - what to call it she could not
think, for it had been angry when she called it what Watho called her.
And, wonder upon wonder! now, even in the cold change that was passing
upon the great room, the color as of a red rose was rising in the wan
cheek. What beautiful yellow hair it was that spread over her lap! What
great huge breaths the creature took! And what were those curious things
it carried? She had seen them on her walls, she was sure.

Thus she talked to herself while the lamp grew paler and paler, and
everything kept growing yet clearer. What could it mean? The lamp was
dying - going out into the other place of which the creature in her lap
had spoken, to be a sun! But why were the things growing clearer before
it was yet a sun? That was the point. Was it her growing into a sun that
did it? Yes! yes! it was coming death! She knew it, for it was coming
upon her also! She felt it coming! What was she about to grow into?
Something beautiful, like the creature in her lap? It might be! Anyhow,
it must be death; for all her strength was going out of her, while all
around her was growing so light she could not bear it!

Photogen woke, lifted his head from her lap, and sprang to his feet. His
face was one radiant smile. His heart was full of daring. Nycteris gave
a cry, covered her face with her hands, and pressed her eyelids close.
Then blindly she stretched out her arms to Photogen, crying, "Oh, I am
so frightened! What is this? It must be death! I don't wish to die yet.
I love this room and the old lamp. I do not want the other place! This
is terrible!"

"What is the matter with you, girl?" said Photogen. "There is no fear of
anything now, child. It is day. The sun is all but up. Good-by. Thank
you for my night's lodging. I'm off. Don't be a goose. If ever I can do
anything for you - and all that, you know - "

"Don't leave me; oh, don't leave me!" cried Nycteris. "I am dying! I can
not move. The light sucks all the strength out of me. And oh, I am _so_
frightened!"

But already Photogen had splashed through the river, holding high his
bow that it might not get wet. He rushed across the level, and strained
up the opposing hill. Hearing no answer, Nycteris removed her hands.
Photogen had reached the top, and the same moment the sun-rays alighted
upon him: the glory of the king of day crowded blazing upon the
golden-haired youth. Radiant as Apollo, he stood in mighty strength, a
flashing shape in the midst of flame. He fitted a glowing arrow to a
gleaming bow. The arrow parted with a keen musical twang of the
bowstring, and Photogen darting after it, vanished with a shout. Up shot
Apollo himself, and from his quiver scattered astonishment and
exultation. But the brain of poor Nycteris was pierced through and
through. She fell down in utter darkness. All around her was a flaming
furnace. In despair and feebleness and agony she crept back, feeling her
way with doubt and difficulty and enforced persistence to her cell. When
at last the friendly darkness of her chamber folded her about with its
cooling and consoling arms, she threw herself on her bed and fell fast
asleep. And there she slept on, one alive in a tomb, while Photogen,
above in the sun-glory, pursued the buffaloes on the lofty plain,
thinking not once of her where she lay dark and forsaken, whose
presence had been his refuge, her eyes and her hands his guardians
through the night. He was in his glory and his pride; and the darkness
and its disgrace had vanished for a time.


XV. - THE COWARD HERO.

But no sooner had the sun reached the noonstead than Photogen began to
remember the past night in the shadow of that which was at hand, and to
remember it with shame. He had proved himself - and not to himself only,
but to a girl as well - a coward! - one bold in the daylight, while there
was nothing to fear, but trembling like any slave when the night
arrived. There was, there must be, something unfair in it! A spell had
been cast upon him! He had eaten, he had drunk, something that did not
agree with courage. In any case he had been taken unprepared. How was he
to know what the going down of the sun would be like? It was no wonder
he should have been surprised into terror, seeing it was what it was - in
its very nature so terrible! Also, one could not see where danger might
be coming from! You might be torn in pieces, carried off, or swallowed
up, without even seeing where to strike a blow! Every possible excuse he
caught at, eager as a self-lover to lighten his self-contempt. That day
he astonished the huntsmen - terrified them with his reckless daring - all
to prove to himself he was no coward.

But nothing eased his shame. One thing only had hope in it - the resolve
to encounter the dark in solemn earnest, now that he knew something of
what it was. It was nobler to meet and recognize danger than to rush
contemptuously into what seemed nothing - nobler still, to encounter a
nameless horror. He could conquer fear and wipe out disgrace together.
For a marksman and swordsman like him, he said, one with his strength
and courage, there was but danger. Defeat there was not. He knew the
darkness now, and when it came he would meet it as fearless and cool as
now he felt himself. And again he said, "We shall see!"

He stood under the boughs of a great beech as the sun was going down,
far away over the jagged hills: before it was half down, he was
trembling like one of the leaves behind him in the first sigh of the
night wind. The moment the last of the glowing disk vanished, he bounded
away in terror to gain the valley, and his fear grew as he ran. Down the
side of the hill, an abject creature, he went bounding and rolling and
running; fell rather than plunged into the river, and came to himself,
as before, lying on the grassy bank in the garden.

But when he opened his eyes, there were no girl-eyes looking down into
his; there were only the stars in the waste of the sunless Night - the
awful all-enemy he had again dared, but could not encounter. Perhaps the
girl was not yet come out of the water! He would try to sleep, for he
dared not move, and perhaps when he woke he would find his head on her
lap, and the beautiful dark face, with its deep blue eyes, bending over
him. But when he woke he found his head on the grass, and although he
sprang up with all his courage, such as it was, restored, he did not set
out for the chase with such an _élan_ as the day before; and despite the
sun-glory in his heart and veins, his hunting was this day less eager;
he ate little, and from the first was thoughtful even to sadness. A
second time he was defeated and disgraced! Was his courage nothing more
than the play of the sunlight on his brain? Was he a mere ball tossed
between the light and the dark? Then what a poor contemptible creature
he was! But a third chance lay before him. If he failed the third time,
he dared not foreshadow what he must then think of himself! It was bad
enough now - but then!

Alas! it went no better. The moment the sun was down, he fled as if from
a legion of devils.

Seven times in all he tried to face the coming night in the strength of
the past day, and seven times he failed - failed with such increase of
failure, with such a growing sense of ignominy, overwhelming at length
all the sunny hours and joining night to night, that, what with misery,
self-accusation, and loss of confidence, his daylight courage too began
to fade, and at length, from exhaustion, from getting wet, and then
lying out-of-doors all night, and night after night - worst of all, from
the consuming of the deathly fear, and the shame of shame, his sleep
forsook him, and on the seventh morning, instead of going to the hunt,
he crawled into the castle, and went to bed. The grand health, over
which the witch had taken such pains, had yielded, and in an hour or two
he was moaning and crying out in delirium.

[TO BE CONTINUED.]




[Illustration: BRINGING CHRISTMAS CHEER.]




[Illustration: LITTLE BO-PEEP FELL FAST ASLEEP, AND DREAMT - ]




THE GIFT OF THE BIRDS.

No sweeter child could ever be
Than fair-haired, blue-eyed Cecily.
She loved all things on earth that grew;
The grass, the flowers, the weeds, she knew;
The butterflies around her flew,
That she might see their rainbowed wings.
The very bees and wasps would come
To greet her with a gentle hum,
And ne'er betray that they had stings.
But, most of all, the birds in throngs,
Where'er she went, with chirps and songs
Gave her glad welcome. Her first words
Had been, "I love the pretty birds;"
And ever since her baby hand
Could scatter seed and crumbs of bread,
Each day a waiting feathered band
The darling little maid had fed.

The loving, winsome Cecily -
No dearer child e'er lived than she -
One Christmas-eve (in crimson hood
And cloak she'd in her garden stood
That morn and fed a hungry brood)
In her white bed lay fast asleep,
The moonlight on her golden hair,
Her hands still clasped as in the prayer,
"I pray thee, Lord, my soul to keep."
She slept, and dreamed of Christmas times,
Of Christmas gifts, and Christmas rhymes;
But in no vision did she see
The host that filled the cedar-tree -
The cedar-tree that, tall and straight,
Rose high above the garden gate,
And though the winds were cold and keen,
Wore berries blue and branches green.

A hundred birds or more were there;
Some - from the sunny Southland, where
The fragrant rose was blooming still,
And green grass covered field and hill,
And, free as ever, flowed the rill -
Had come in answer to the call
Of friends who at the North had staid,
By stern old Winter undismayed,
To see the dainty snow-flakes fall.
These kindly greeted, with small head
Held on one side, a sparrow said,
"To choose a gift for Cecily
We've met to-night. What shall it be?"
A flute-like trill, in graceful pride,
A thrush sang sweetly, then replied,
"What better than the gift of song?"
"None better," answered all the throng.

And when next dawn sweet Cecily -
No sweeter child could ever be -
Into the sunlight smiling sprang,
In wondrous notes a hymn she sang.
Exultant on the air it rang,
And waked the echoes all about.
Straightway the morning brighter grew,
The pale sky turned a deeper blue,
The merry Christmas bells pealed out.
And, from that day, whoever hears
The wee maid sing, sheds happy tears
(So potent is her power of song),
Forgetting pain and care and wrong,
Rememb'ring only heaven is nigh,
Where dwells the Christ who came to die
On earth, that we might live alway,
And who was born on Christmas-day.




THE FAIR PERSIAN.

BY JAMES PAYN.


To those young ladies and gentlemen who are acquainted with the _Arabian
Nights_, I foresee that the title of my tale will at once cause to
spring up in their recollection the adventure of Nourhadeen and _his_
fair Persian; that a vision will instantly present itself to their gaze
of singing trees and dancing fountains, of hanging gardens, and groves
of palm, and purses of sequins; and I am sure they will thank me for
having recalled to their minds (though I didn't mean to do it)
remembrances so charming. To other little folks, on the other hand, who
have _not_ read the _Arabian Nights_, my story will have none the less
attraction, since it has no more to do with Nourhadeen than with their
excellent grandmother (if they happen to have one), and the fair Persian
is not a "young person" at all.

How it all happened was thus: It was papa's birthday, you see, and the
children knowing - clever creatures - exactly when it was coming, had
prepared a surprise for him. They knew his tastes to a nicety, and had
put their money together and bought the present that he would be sure to
welcome most. Only he was not to know what it was to be; and yet it
being "such fun" to hear him guess, he was allowed three chances, and if
he guessed right he was to be told. Only you mightn't say, "You're
burning" (which is the same as "you're near it," you know), or anything
more to help him than this, namely, that the present was "half alive and
half not," and that "one part of it was within the other."

Papa said that he would rather not have been helped in this way, as it
did him more harm than good, by putting all probable things - the guesses
he would naturally have made - out of the question. The children gave him
one minute to guess in, and not till fifty-nine seconds had gone by did
he utter a syllable, and _then_ he only said, "I give it up."

They thought it rather stupid of dear papa, but then, you see, they
_knew_, and he didn't, which makes an immense difference in guessing.

Then he asked them to give him "a light" - not a light for his cigar, of
course, for all this took place in the drawing-room - but a hint as to
what the present was. Then they said, which was a pretty broad one, that
it was "a fair Persian;" but even then he couldn't guess. "I have never
heard," he said, twiddling his watch chain, "of any fair Persian, except
in connection with Nourhadeen, and _she_ was not half alive and half
not." "Very good," said Polly, who had given the biggest subscription,
and had therefore the best right to speak; "it is plain to us, dear
papa, that you want more prompting. When I tell you that Nourhadeen, in
this case, is a little basket house, with a lovely red rug in it, that
will let the cat out of the bag;" whereupon dear, clever papa guessed it
was a Persian cat.

But it wasn't, for it was only a kitten.

It didn't look like a kitten, however, being, when rolled up and asleep,
a mere round fluffy black ball, and, when awake, a little black bear,
looked at through the wrong end of a telescope. It would have taken
about ten thousand of it to have made a real bear, and even then it
would have been a small bear, only its tail was by no means small, but a
splendid article. Otherwise it was so very tiny that it lay upon its red
rug like an ink spot on a piece of blotting-paper. It had a fine house
of basket-work, just like what Robinson Crusoe built for himself for a
summer residence, with a sloping roof, and a little door that fastened
with a pin outside, when he wished to be private; and as every house
which has not a number must have a name (so that the postman may know
where to leave the letters), it was called Nourhadeen (because of the
fair Persian), and the tenant of it was called Fluffy.

Of course, since a gift is a gift, it was papa's own Fluffy, but that
did not prevent its being the pet of the whole house, baby included; and
to see these two little creatures together was (almost) as good as a
play. One was so black, and the other so pink and white, and yet both so


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Online LibraryVariousHarper's Young People, December 23, 1879 → online text (page 2 of 4)