Anthony R. (Anthony Reubens) Montalba.

Fairy tales from all nations online

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off goes the dunce to the wood, and stays there for whole days,
frightening me out of my wits! What business have you in the wood,
pray? You ought to stay at home and learn your book or help me in my
work. And then you let one have no peace by night either. What's the
use of my telling you ten times over all the stories I know about the
black man and the grim wolf? You godless child you! You care for none
of the things that frighten good pious children almost to death; but
in the dead of the night off you go into the dark forest, through
hedges and brambles, making me fine work to wash and patch your
clothes. This is the last day I'll put up with it. The very next time
I'll turn you out of doors; and then you may go far enough before
you'll find anybody to take pity on you, you lazy foundling, and feed
you, as I have done, out of sheer humanity!"

"I cannot say much for your food," replied the boy shortly and
carelessly, as he sat dreamily in a corner playing with a wild flower.

"What!" shrieked the old woman in a still sharper key; "you ungrateful
viper! Is that the thanks I get for so often cooking something on
purpose, because our nice savoury potatoes and nourishing black bread
are not good enough for you? And so, forsooth, the gentleman must have
milk porridge and honey cakes, - and even these he pecks at as if they
were not delicate enough for him, the beggarly ingrate!"

"One might as well eat mill-stones and wood-choppers as your vile hard
potatoes and sour bread," said Julius in the same tone of

The old woman fell into such a rage that her breath failed her for
further utterance; so her husband, who was making bird-traps at the
table, began in his turn.

"You rascal! do you dare to blaspheme God's good gifts, when, if we
did not feed you out of charity - you must starve! And what return do
you make us, you stray vagabond? When the fellow wants to slip out at
night, truly he can be as sharp and cunning as any fox; but place a
book before him, that he may learn to be pious and wise, and he loses
his senses at once, and stares as stupidly at the letters as a cow at
a new gate. Does he suppose I picked him off the road for love of his
paltry flaxen hair and his blue goggle eyes? Fool that I was for my
pains! Mark my words, and let every one beware of having anything to
do with a child that is not his own flesh and blood! Why was I such a
goose as not to let the child lie where I found him, kicking and
screaming in the forest?"

"Well, why did you not?" said Julius. "I should have fared much better
beneath God's bright sky, than in your nasty smoky hovel."

At this, the old pair - he with a stick, and she snatching up a
broom - rushed furiously on the boy, screaming and scolding as if they
had a wager who should make most noise. But the child, light and
active as a roebuck, bounded away. He fled to the wood; and when at
last the old people had calmed down a little they heard him singing in
the distance -

"You ill-favoured couple, adieu to you now!
I'm off to the forest where waves the green bough.
The bees, they know neither to read nor to write,
Yet they gather sweet honey in sunshine bright;
Though the little birds never were taught how to spell,
Full many a blithe song they warble right well;
The flowers are not fed on potato-roots vile,
Yet through the long summer's day sweetly they smile.
The butterfly, he has no tailor to pay,
Yet he never feels cold, - and who dresses so gay?
The glow-worms at eve show a lovelier light
Than the dim lamps that mortals consume through the night.
So adieu, ye vile pair, whom no more I shall see, -
To the wood! to the wood! there I'm wealthy and free!"

Fearlessly ran Julius about in the forest, and the further he
penetrated into it the lighter grew his heart. The dark night came on;
and many a child would have been frightened, and fancied the tall dark
trees with their strangely contorted branches were giants with long
arms, or black dragons with twisted tails. But Julius was accustomed
to wander by night, and went gaily on. When, however, it began to
rain, and it was so dark that he found difficulty in walking, he sang
in a clear sweet voice: -

"You glow-worms bright,
You leaf-clad trees,
That shine in the night,
And that bend in the breeze;
Hither I came, for I trusted that you
Would lighten my darkness and shelter me too.
Come, glow-worms! light me to my mossy bed, -
Branches! keep off the rain-drops from my head!"

Then, a light shone suddenly through the thick tangled bushes and wild
plants; and a multitude of glow-worms came clustering round his
footsteps like little torch-bearers, and guided him along a smooth and
pleasant path to a retired spot, where the bushes and trees were
entwined so as to form a little airy cave, the ground of which was
covered with soft moss. Julius, being very tired, stretched himself on
the moss; and the branches closed over his head, making such a thick
covering with their leaves that not the smallest rain-drop could
penetrate it. Then, he sang: -

"Now, glow-worms, let your tiny torches gleam
To light my chamber with their emerald beam;
In mazy dances round and round me sweep,
Shedding your radiance o'er me whilst I sleep,
That I may gaze in slumber's vision fair
On heaven's bright stars and breathe earth's perfumed air!"

At these words, a thousand glow-worms at the very least came from all
sides. Some hung themselves on the leaves like little coronets of
lamps. Others lay like scattered gems on the moss; whilst others again
circled round him executing the most intricate figures. A great number
fixed themselves in the boy's fair hair, - so that he seemed to wear a
starry crown. So, in the gold green twilight, sat Julius on the soft
green moss, amongst flitting lamps, and concealed by arches and
columns from which streamed forth a green radiance, whilst the mild
and perfumed air played around him, and he heard the rain drip and the
wind murmur mysteriously - but neither could approach him. He gazed
smilingly around; when he suddenly heard a murmuring sound that soon
formed itself into whispered words. It proceeded from a glow-worm that
had perched on the rim of his ear, and spoke to him thus: -

"If thy thoughts are pure and mild,
Such as beseem a holy child,
A wondrous tale will please thee well, -
And such a tale I now can tell."

To this Julius replied: -

"I seem to myself like some legend strange,
So thy tale I shall gladly hear:
So it be but one of wild chance and change,
Come whisper it in mine ear."

Then, the glow-worm began her story: -

"As glow-worms bright we now appear, but little nimble elves we were;
in form and in figure much like unto thee, but many hundred times less
were we. In India was our dwelling-place, far - oh how far! - away;
where midst green leaves and blossoms bright we sported all the day.
We scaled the petals of the flowers, within their cups to lie: and
rocked by zephyrs, passed the hours in dreamy phantasy. Our food was
the Aroma sweet exhaled by blossoms fair; and to and fro we darted
fleet, light as the ambient air. 'Twas thus in careless mood we lived,
nor good nor ill did we; when lo! an earnest man arrived, and a holy
tale told he.

"He told us how Creation's Lord had with His own made peace; because
His son His blood had poured, to make His anger cease. For that
life-blood, He willing gave, had slaked the flames of hell; and His
hard-wrung victory o'er the grave had broken its fierce spell. And not
the human race alone, - all things that breathe and move, and e'en the
insensate-seeming stone, were rescued by such love. Hence, through
all nature's vast domain a universal tremor ran; a thrill like that of
death's fierce pain shot through the ransomed race of man.

"'Twas thus the old man daily urged, in high and holy speech, and
gently led us to accept the creed he came to teach: - till at length we
let him sprinkle us with pearly drops of dew; and he hailed us then a
Christian race, and blessed us all anew. And in token of that
blessing, as we bent before him low, he gently laid his finger light
upon each fairy brow; and as the consecrating sign his finger
traced, - lo! there up sprang on each a brilliant star like that which
now I bear. Then did the old man in the ground a cross of pure white
place, - and calling us around him, spake in words of truth and grace.

"'Revere this holy symbol; and as ye have lived for pleasure and ease,
without a creed, - by some good deed henceforward strive your Lord to
appease. There are men living in this land who still in sin and
blindness stand; they lay their dead in the forest's shade, and
scatter o'er them flowers fair, but seek not their poor souls to aid
by holy song or prayer. Wherefore, in night's still secresy, for the
service of the dead, be ready aye to watch and pray and your little
light to shed. That ye this pious work may do, lo! this fair star is
given you!' - And many more high words he spake ere his departure he
did take. Thenceforth we led a holy life, as he command had given; and
often in the silent night, we prayed that through our song and light,
the cleansed soul might win its way to heaven."

"How could you do that? You cannot sing, surely," interrupted Julius.
To which the glow-worm answered:

"Thou canst no other voices hear but such as thundering reach thy ear.
Thou little dull-eared earth-bound wight, thou canst not e'en perceive
by night the stars' majestic music sounding, through the azure vaults
rebounding, with such a full and mighty voice, that though we listen
and rejoice, our delicate nerves shrink tremblingly beneath that storm
of harmony. Think'st thou 'tis without sense and feeling, that in our
spark-twined dances wheeling, some of us darting radiance throw,
whilst others burn with steady glow? But thou knows't not how closely
bound by mystic tie are light and sound.

"Now hear my story on. -

"Not all of us became Christians; and one of our orders in particular,
which had learnt from a Greek the philosophy of Epicurus, still held
to its doctrines. This was the butterfly-tribes, - who like ourselves
were also elves. A light and godless race they were, thinking nothing
worth their care but how to appear in colours gay; and to their
sensual maxims true, they would drink deep of ambrosial dew, and then
for hours would sleep; whilst we, the star-adorned nation, sucked of
the flowers' sweet exhalation just so much from the humid air as for
our nourishment we needed. But those light creatures far exceeded. The
fragrance-breathing rose they courted, and with the young field-lilies
sported, till at length of their strength and their perfume bereft,
the poor wasted flowers to perish were left. By their uncertain
zig-zag flight, dear child, thou well may'st see, that they have drunk
more than is right and their senses clouded be.

"We wore a garb of simple green; but they were ever to be seen in
jackets with ribbons all gay bedight, and in every idle fashion
light, - so that we sometimes laughed to see their folly and their

"That is evident enough if you only look at their patch-work clothing
put together without the slightest taste. The foolish fellow with the
swallow-tails thought he had done a vastly clever thing when he
appended to each wing a tail like that the swallows have; and after
all, this monstrous affectation is but a trumpery imitation of that
which nature to the swallows gave. Then, that insufferable ass, the
Peacock's Eye, must copy him in his folly, and wear great spectacles
of coloured glass, which are so far from helping him to see that his
own clear eyes look dim, owing to that fantastic whim. Thou thinkest,
perhaps, the one who wears a mantle grave like a funeral pall is far
above such senseless airs, - but he's the greatest fool of all! That
garb of sorrow is but worn wonder and pity to excite, to seem as if
condemned to mourn - a sorrow-stricken wight. Others there are who on
their jackets gay, cause numbers to be traced; no doubt, you'll say,
to mind them that the years unheeded go and teach them how to value
time. But no! Those youths are your Don Juans, and the numbers show in
pride how many flowers by them brought low have pined and died.

"The king who then did o'er us reign thought of a method somewhat
strange, by which their licence to restrain and work a beneficial
change. He caused to be enforced throughout the nation, a most
peculiar kind of education. He shut the youthful butterflies within a
narrow case of skin, wherein they were so tightly bound they could not
turn their bodies round - and there close prisoners they remained
till they a certain age attained. I must confess, the principle to me
seemed very wrong, - and so it proved to be; for so far from the matter
being mended, we had just the reverse of what the king intended. The
closer they were mewed in prison, the more they longed for
liberty, - and only waited to be free, to plunge in deepest revelry.

"But angry thoughts are leading me astray, - I've wandered from my
theme too far away. To speak of many things I am beguiled which must
be meaningless to such a child.

"Thou now shalt hear the sequel of my tale. There was one set amongst
the butterflies more worthless than all the rest. These were the
confirmed old topers, who had imbibed so much of the ambrosial dew
that their bodies had grown fat and unwieldy, and had very large
stomachs. Such clumsy butterflies as these had little chance the
flowers to please; and so whenever one approached, each bent aside its
calyx bright in mockery of the uncouth wight. Or if by chance one
clambered up to reach the blossom's nectar-cup, its stem would bend
beneath his weight, and down the awkward creature straight would go,
and all its members dislocate. So then their evil deeds they did under
the cover of the night. When every flower was soundly sleeping, they
came like midnight robbers creeping, - then drew them softly to the
ground, and sucked from their lips their nectar breath; so that many a
flower at morn was found, lying pale in death and sinfully robbed of
all its wealth, that had closed its leaves in rosy health.

"Now, my child, thou may'st be sure, full little could those elves
endure that we, on our holy mission bound, the silence and darkness
should chase away by our song, and our prayer, and our emerald
ray, - hoping by that solemn sound to give the dead repose.

"Those who had drunk deep by day, roused by it could not sleep away
the ill effects of their carouse, so they with aches and fevers rose.
But those deceitful spoilers of the flowers, who trusted by night's
shade protected to work their purpose undetected, had now to
fast, - for as we passed, the flowers who loved to hear our song saw by
our light, that pierced the night, their foes come creeping stealthily
along. This with the jealousy within their hearts that glowed, because
the star had not on them, too, been bestowed, between our tribes
raised feud and jar, - whence bitter grief has grown. They had a king,
to whom was known full many a spell of gramarye; 'twas said, that he
a league had made with spirits lost, and by their aid could read the
scroll of destiny. And there he found this dread decree, which told
our coming misery: -

"'When the star-adorned race, shall fall from innocence and
grace, - when their first murder shall be done, - when their monarch's
first-born son by the waves of the sea shall swallowed be; - then vain
shall be rendered their song and their prayer, - from amongst them the
white cross shall disappear, - and to insects transformed they shall
flutter and creep, doomed far from their own land to wander and weep.
The fatal spell may be undone only by their king's lost son; but ere
even he can set them free, he must their chosen sovereign be.'

"The king of the butterflies, when he heard this, began to consider
how he might contrive to bring us to endless wretchedness; and as by
magic he could appear in any form he chose to wear, an angel's guise
he took one day, and neared the spot where our king lay deep sleeping
in a tulip's cup. He by the rustling wakened up, was struck with
wonder and pious awe, when he the angel near him saw; who thus in
wicked words began: -

"'Thy loving wife shall bear a son to thee, of whom 'tis written in
the Book of Fate, that if he be not whelmed beneath the sea, the elfin
nation shall be desolate, and from their native country driven: - such
is the mysterious will of Heaven. Therefore must thou this offering
make for the elfin nation's sake; else thy people's love for thee,
will turn to hatred when they see thou wilt not save them from their
misery; and thou thyself a shameful death shalt die.'

"This said, the guilty wretch departed. No longer slept the king; but
heavy hearted, he musing lay, till break of day. And lo! just as the
sun his radiance bright o'er earth began to shed, the queen gave birth
unto a child, lovely and innocent and mild, and small as a pin's head!

"The king looked on it, but no pleasure glowed in his heart at this
new treasure; and as he gazed, an icy chill through all his members
seemed to thrill; for love of his people, and desire to save his own
life, did inspire his thoughts with a ferocious plan.

"He had a faithful serving-man, to whom his secret he confided; and to
him command he gave to plunge the child beneath the wave, there to
find a watery grave. The boy, however, did not perish: - how he escaped
I shall tell thee hereafter.

"Thus no murder yet had stained the nation; and the white cross still
remained amongst us, and we dwelt unchanged in our accustomed spot.
But the servant, by remorse urged on, revealed the murder he had done.
Then, loyal as was hitherto the nation, the crime so raised our
indignation, that our duty we forgot.

"In the first tumult of their ire some of our fiercest spirits did
conspire their monarch's blood to spill. They tore the thorns from the
stem of the rose, and the strongest and longest and sharpest they
chose to work their wicked will. Beneath their mantles green they hid
the spears; and sought their king, the curse-beladen one, who again in
the tulip lay alone in sorrow and in tears. Wildly they the stem
ascended, and in their rage they struck the deadly blow; they pierced
him till his heart's blood forth did flow, - and with his life, his
sorrow ended.

"Now the sinful deed was done, - now our innocence was gone! Heaven
withdrew its sheltering hand. The white cross the old man had given,
the token of our bond with heaven, - vanished from the land! And as we
flocked together trembling, we heard a rushing through the air, as if
fierce winds in conflict were. Devouring grief our hearts distracted;
our delicate limbs all suddenly contracted, and into ugly worms we

[Illustration: THE PRINCE OF THE GLOW WORMS. P. 56.]

"Yet as we were not guilty all of the vile crime that caused our fall,
the fair light still upon our foreheads burned. And as we sat in fear
and gloom, a shrill voice thus pronounced our doom.

"Henceforth as homeless worms, away, away! - wander and stray, here and
there, and up and down, until at length ye place the crown on the brow
of the child who by your king's decree was sunk amid the waves of the
foaming sea. Far, far from hence is his dwelling-place, and he seems
like a child of the human race, - but him ye shall know by the star on
his brow.

"'Your lost cross, too, ye must find once more, which he is destined
to restore; when your king and your cross shall again be found, your
penance shall end and the spell be unbound.'

"The gay-dressed elves who had their king deceived by treachery and
lies, were, like ourselves, transformed, and became butterflies.

"Soon as we heard our melancholy doom, we fled, and traversed many a
distant land, - ever peering through the gloom, into each little
sleeping-room; peeping about us all the night, in hope to see the
twinkling light on the brow of some fair boy. And we looked on many a
blessed child, who in his sleep so sweetly smiled, that we would have
chosen him with joy, - but the star was wanting still."

"Poor worms!" said Julius; "and thus you still are seeking now, the
boy with the star upon his brow?"

"Oh! no my child! by Heaven led, we have found the child with the
light on his head; and now I will tell what him befel.

"In his death-struggle with the waves, unto a leaflet green he clung
which floated on the tide, and with a lightsome bound he sprang upon
its upturned side. Contented thus he lay at rest, swayed by the
billows here and there, safely housed and free from care, in the
leaflets' soft green breast. His only food was the radiance bright
which the stars shed down on him by night, and by that delicate food
sustained he made a voyage long.

"But why dost thou stare so fixedly? - why dreamily gaze before thee

Then Julius said: -

"A dreamy sense is o'er me stealing, of moments long gone by: - when I
in a green leaf thus was laid, gazing upwards on the sky, whilst the
dancing waves around me played. I was rocked by the sea as it rippled
lightly, - fed by the stars which shone o'er me brightly; and on I
sailed right merrily! And feeding thus on the delicate light by the
bright stars downward shed, my nature grew unfit to live by the
grosser human bread."


"Now that the light is o'er thee breaking, now that thy memory is
awaking, - hear me further," said the glow-worm. - "For four long months
the billows bore the child, until he reached the shore of a far and
distant land, where they left him on the strand. A stork came proudly
stalking by, - well pleased when he such prize did spy; for by the
garment green deceived, a tree-frog he the child believed. And he
resolved the morsel rare to carry home unto his wife, who loved almost
as her life, such choice and tender fare. He took him in his fine long
beak, and with him mounted in the air; but had not travelled far nor
long, when he beheld an eagle strong flying towards him in might; and
being somewhat of a coward, surprised at this event untoward, his bill
he opened in a fright, - and down the elfin child from high fell to the
earth again.

"Why dost thou start as if some pain shot through thee? Why on thy
breast are thy small hands pressed?"

The boy replied: -

"I feel an icy chill through all my members thrill. It must have been
a dream, but unto me doth seem that I had such a fall one day, - and
such a piercing blast right through my breast then passed, its very
memory takes my breath away."

Then the glow-worm said: -

"Oft we mistake some vision vain for life's reality, - and view the
wild creations of our brain as things long past but true. But listen,
now, while I conclude my tale. Thou think'st perhaps the child, in
falling, his limbs would break or dislocate; but as a feather would
descend, light fell that child on the foliage green, and not a tender
leaf was seen beneath his weight to bend. Giddy with spinning through
the air, and breathless for awhile he lay; but soon to sense he did
awaken, and found that he no harm had taken. Above his head, full,
bright, and red, a strawberry hung, green leaves among, and its
fragrance o'er him shed. Whether the child was of wit bereft, or that,
deprived of the starry spark, he had fasted so long in the stork's
bill dark, that hunger did his sense betray, is more than I can think
or say; but the berry to him seemed ruddy and bright, as if woven with
a web of light. This when the foolish elf-child saw, he strove with
all his might to draw the unwholesome earth-fruit to the ground, which
he no easy labour found; then round his little arms he threw, and to
his lips the fruit he drew and sucked its ruby juice. A weary task the
boy did find, to penetrate the tough hard rind; then for a second's
space he drained the nectar which the fruit contained, - one hundredth
part at least he drank, - and mastered by its potency, upon the earth
he sank.

"But alas! all was now lost, that earthly food was unto him fell
poison. Soon each little limb unseemly swelled and spread. His
floating golden locks, as fine as the slight thread that spiders
twine, became as coarse as hay; and every nerve and sinew grew thick
and unsightly to the view. The berry's power had changed him into a
child of man; and he now began to scream and cry and make such direful
noises, as would have drowned the united sound of a thousand elfin

"Ah woe is me!" exclaimed Julius, sobbing; "if I had not so madly

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Online LibraryAnthony R. (Anthony Reubens) MontalbaFairy tales from all nations → online text (page 3 of 19)