W. B Duncan.

The snow-drop : a birthday story for Jessie Percy Butler Duncan, February 9th, 1865 online

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T 1 1 K





FEBRUARY 9iii, 1865.

I? K I A r A. r _T K L Y F R I N r J?



according to Act of Onsnvs*. in ttit- v.-ur I>IM. l>v

In tJic Clerk's Office of the Di>tnct Court for the Southern DiMrirt of New Voik.

A L \ OK 1). I 1 R I N 1 E 1'..


story may be dull, but at least it is not long.

If it be little, the person for whom it is written and
printed is not very large ; and if it be bad, the author
of it does not assume to be very good himself.

FEBRUARY 1st, 1865.




T was a dark, chill Christmas Eve, oh! ever and
ever so many years ago, away up in the moun-
tain-tops, where rock was piled upon rock, and
every thing was drear, and desolate, and cold.
What little of sunshine there had been through


the day was long spent and gone, and the sun itself
had sunk behind the bank of thick gray clouds whicli
was gradually overspreading the whole horizon. The
heavens looked frowningly down, and the winds sighed
mournfully over the bare granite peaks. Then, as the
evening gloom grew deeper, their notes were changed
for wild gusty wailings, and then the snow-storm com-
menced. First, a few large flakes fell scatteringly hnv
and there, as feathers might have fallen from the flight


of a flock of wild swans overhead ; but after a little
they came down thicker and thicker, foster and more fast,
until all the atmosphere was filled with the blinding
snow-drops, which the howling winds whirled hither and
thither in wild eddying columns. Keener and keener
blew the nipping blast. It cut through the blackness of
the night like a sharpened sword. The very crags, firm-
rooted as they were in the heart of the mountain, seemed
to quail before the storm's mad rage, and shrank and
shuddered at the convulsion of the elements, as though


the horrors of a universal death had enveloped the world.
Far down, miles and miles away below, on the broad
plains that stretched out from the last descending slope
of the mountains, there were on this Christmas Eve no
trouble and no storm. For them the day had been pleas-
ant and the evening calm. The sun had set serenely and
in quiet ; the stars came brightly forth to greet the night,
and from the blue depths above the moon shone placidly
down as she travelled a course unstained by mist or
cloud. Only, as the waning day was drawing to its end,
the old men of the village, looking from their half-opened
doors towards the distant summit of the loftiest mountain
that their eyes could reach, and the while gossiping with


Til E SN \V I) KOI'.

each other, marked the signs of the tar-awn v skies, and
would say, - " All! the old fellow is going to sleep in a
white nightcap to-night! God pity all poor ><>uU ilml
wander astray in the hills between this and tin- Me cd
morrow! 1 ' Within doors fires gleamed bright I v on tin-
hearth of every house, lights danced through tin- case-

\l O

ments, flowers and evergreens festooned the walls, and
sweet music and merry laughter told how on I'hrNimas
Eve young and old, high and low, rich and poor, shared
alike in the joyful union of a common nurture and a com-
mon faith. And from door to door, and from window to
window, went the singers, celebrating with rustic voice
the holy cause of all this rejoicing. Thus it was tliev

SUllff. -



WHEN the Holy Child was at Bethlehem horn,
The nio-ht was bright as a summer's morn ;

The stars shone nearer,

And larger and clearer,


Than ever before they were seen to lurn ;
And the marvellous li^lit of their lustrous tlame
To the far Chaldean sa^v^ came.




That night peace governed everywhere ;
With the lamb the lion parted his lair.

The pets of the shepherd

And spotted leopard
Fearless together one conch did share ;
The tender kid with the panther played,
And the sheep and the tiger together strayed.


Where shepherds kept night watch, bright angels came singing,
A radiance of noontide o'er all the land flinging*;
"Fear not," was the sono-


Through the heavens that rung

"Fear not, for great tidings of joy we are bringing!
To God in the Highest let glory be then,
And peace upon earth and good-will to all men !"*

So happily passed the night with these dwellers on the
plain ; but how was it on the mountain ? When the
morrow came, and the clouds had been swept far away by
the breeze of the morning, the sun shone down clear and

* From a Neapolitan street-song

' Quanno nascette Niimo a Bettelemme.
Era notte e parea mmiezo juorno!"


TILE SN ()\V-I) R<> I.

cold upon a still white sea. Rock and crair were alike
wrapped in one soft white mantle, and not a si^n, save
perhaps the billowy outline of some projecting peak, told
of the hard, Hinty earth which lay hidden beneath its

Of all the myriads of snow-drops which had fallen from
heaven that night, there was one poor tiny little Hake
which came down arnoiiff the others undistinguished and

o o

obscure, and unconsciously reposed upon the very vemv
of the descent of the mountain-side. Suddenly congealed
in the clouds above from a drop of rain into a flake of
snow, all animation and sensibility had been lost in the
transition. Of the wild whirl and tumult of the elements
which had attended its passage from heaven to earth it
had felt nothing it knew nothing. There it lay, tran-
quil and motionless more dead apparently than even
sleeping. The sunbeams, to be sure, sometimes played
upon its fail' coldness ; but they came themselves not less
coldly through the wintry depths and emptiness of frozen
air. The pale moon shone brightly by night, and the
snowfields glistened in her rays like a vast lake of molten
silver ; but she brought no sense of life or warmth to the
poor torpid snow-drop. So days and nights and weeks


and months rolled ly, till Winter was ended arid gone,
and Spring liad come and nearly passed away. But when
the warm breath of May spread over the land, even these
frosty domains of upper air began to feel the mysterious
influence, and to quicken at her approach. Some faint
sparks of reviving animation commenced to exhibit them-
selves in the icy heart of the snowfield, and our little
snow-drop also shared in the prevailing sway. But it was
not until the hot sun of summer sent forth its most pierc-
ing rays that the result was perfected. Then, after a
while lingering half-snow, half-water, suddenly the trans-
formation was complete, and once again it was a drop of
water, clear and pellucid as ever trembled in morning
dew on the bosom of a newly-opened rose, or rose and
sparkled in the g-littering fountain. One moment it re-


niained stationary, yet quivering the while with hope and
agitation, and then, slipping softly away from the scene
of its long-enforced repose, rolled down the declivity of
the mountain-side.

This transformation of the snow-drop was such, that
while it felt the change which it had undergone, the
manner in which it had been effected was far beyond its
perception. For Nature always works her minister ings




so: slowly but surely, with long labor and far-provident

hands, she lays the foundation of all her works. Tin-
frozen shackles that "bind the earth through the lonir

o o

winter months are not suddenly loosened. Gently and
gradually their heavy grasp is relaxed, that the life of
spring may come forth with equal pace from its slow-
opening dungeon. The rose-tree must swell with sap,
and put forth opening leaf and folded bud, before its
energies may expand into the full-blown blossom. The
parent-bird must with suffering care warm the egg before
it yields a new existence. By long and secret process is
the domain of ocean extended into provinces that were
once dry land, or new kingdoms for the earth wrested
from the bosom of the deep. Deep beneath the surface
of the sea the coral insect begins its task. The blue


waters flow evenly above ; no present sign of what the
future shall display presents itself to the careful eye of
the mariner ; when lo ! as by a wizard's spell, the reef,
whose foundations are laid in the bottom of the great
deep, whose strength is such that neither wind nor wave
may prevail against it, lifts its forehead to the sun, and in
due time a smiling island blooms where was once but a
waterv waste.




Small idea had the little snow-drop (or rather, as in its
new condition it should be called, the little drop of water)
of whence it had come or whither it was going. It had
but too recently emerged from its transition state to
remember any thing of the past : the future was a matter
that it comprehended not of: the present was its only
knowledge. So it went on its path obedient to the laws
of nature, yet all unconscious of its obedience, and rejoiced
in the pleasantness of its new birth.

As the little drop slowly trickled down the rock, it
was joined by several others; and when at length it
reached the bottom of the narrow mountain glen, and
rested awhile beside a large, flat black stone, in a tiny
basin not greater than the hollow of your hand, more
drops still came and mingled themselves with it. Never-
theless, it was as yet but in the day of small things.
Large as its body now seemed to itself to be, in compari-
son with what it was when it was first changed from
snow into water, it was positively and really insignificant
enough. A bird might have perched on the brink of
the basin and drunk it all away. Any wild wandering
creature of the mountain might have quaffed it up at a
single draught. But none of these mischances happened.


Til E SN ()W-I)TiOP.

No bird or beast drew near to molest its infancy: other
drops came in to swell its bulk ; and presently, overflow-
ing the narrow walls that had cradled it, it stole away
like a little silver thread trickling down the glen-side;
bending hither and thither with the turnings of the
descending level ; now passing about to one side to get
by an intruding stone, now sliding merrily down a smooth
and unimpeded channel ; chafing and whimpering at the
interruption, or gurgling with infantile laughter as it
slipped over the pebbles. And still other little currents
like itself came to join it, as children come out to join
each other at play ; and so it went on and on from day to
day, ever becoming larger and stronger, and more and
more confident in its own strength. All day long it
sported and played with every thing that came in its
way. If a straggling leaf was cast by the wind upon its
breast, it would dance and frolic with it by the hour, and
pitch and toss it about, and whirl it gleefully along ; now
ducking its head under the water, and now bringing it
half strangled and frightened to death back again to the
surface, and then tossing it, out of breath, upon some
shelving beach to dry. It would play the truant too at
times, and wander a little out of its course ; but it always



returned soon to its proper channel, and went on as
T>efore. Or it would linger under some mossy bank, to
whisper nonsense to the tall spears of grass that bent over
to listen to its idle words; and when the grass would
stoop lower and lower to catch what it might say, it
would splash them all over with water, and then run
mischievously away, giggling at its frolic. And when it
found the water-beetles skimming; through its tide, how

o o

it would delight to snatch them away into a circling
eddy, and sweep them around and around, until the little
bewildered things did not know what on earth to make


of it all, and almost wore out their tiny paddles in the
endeavor to extricate themselves from the turmoil ; till,
tired of the toy, it would surge them out, dizzy and spent,
into calm water again, and leave them to rest, and to
marvel on their wonderful adventures and escapes, while
it sped once more on its way.

And now the feeble had grown strong, and instead of
a precarious rill, the little drop of water flowed along
over its stony bed in a bright full brook. Soft banks of
sand or shining gravel alternated its course. Little fishes

o o

began to appear in its tide- -minnows at first, and such

small fry



THE SNOW -1)11 OP.

And here and there a lusty trout,
And here and there a grayling.

as it hurried onward and onward, ever descending a
little more from day to day, the mountains which had
shut in the valley and confined its channel seemed to be
growing less and less rugged and stern. The bold sharp
peaks and inhospitable crags were giving way to less
lofty but more rounded hills, with sheep feeding upon
their sides, and shepherds watching their flocks. And as
it thus went farther and farther through the world, and


grew T larger and larger in size, the little drop began to
increase also in other ways. " What am I ?" -it would say
to itself; " whence have I come, and whither am I going ?"
And so pondering, a sort of dim, hazy recollection of what
it once had been would sometimes half flash across its
memory, a kind of undeveloped faith in an unknown
future that should restore the forgotten past would rise
upon its imagination. It was just in that state when the
soul is disturbed by all manner of vague doubts and un-
certain longings,- -when it walks like a child in the dark-
ness, groping with outstretched hands to avert danger, or
to grasp at a guide and support. The shepherds would



take their seats by its side, and praise its clear coldness ;
their herds would come down and drink from it as it
glided by ; and by one chance or another some solitary
circumstance of its ancient life would be suggested to the
memory of the little drop, without its perceiving the why
or the wherefore.

Upon the whole, it was a good thing for it to go
through these scenes ; and many a wise saying it caught
up to do it service in after years. The shepherds, when
at night they had folded their flocks, would often talk of
matters that were all new and strange to the brook : of
the winds and clouds; of eclipses of the sun, and the
courses of the stars. And one night this is what passed
between an old shepherd and a little boy, who was very
curious to know what was the meaning of the falling
stars that every now and then shot across the sky :

THE SX OW-I) K i) P.



SHEPHERD, our star (so runs the tale)

Governs our life while it lio-hts the skies !


-My child, 'tis true ; but Night's dark veil

Conceals its course from common eyes.
-Shepherd, men say to thee is given

Yon azure mysteries to explore
What is that star that falls from heaven,
Falls, falls, and is seen no more ?


My child, a mortal has expired,

Just as that star from its sphere did pass.
Seated mid friends, by joy inspired,

Gayly he sang as he drained his glass.
Happily thus from life he's riven,

Sounding the praise of the cup he bore
Again a star falls down from heaven,

Falls, falls, and is seen no more !

* From Beranger: "Les Etoiles qui filent."



Mv child, mv child, what a baleful gleam !

*/ v

'Tis that of a favorite of Court,
Who a great minister did seem,

Because of our woes he made his sport.
Already they from his faith are shriven

Who yesternight would his face adore
Again a star falls down from heaven,

Falls, falls, and is seen no more !


My child, how fair, how pure the view !

The gentlest life did that star command.
A daughter kind, a lover true,

The fondest suitor claimed her hand.
The bridal wreath crowned her forehead even,

The bridal temple oped its door
Again a star falls down from heaven,

Falls, foils, and is seen no more !


My child, it is the speedy star
Of a great noble, newly born.

The empty cradle he leaves afar,
Rich gold and purple did adorn.



His food was poisoned l>y the leaven

Of tongues well Meeprd in flattery's lore-
-Ao-ain a star falls down from heaven,
Fulls, falls, and is seen no more !


My child, what sorrows must we l>ear!

Death shuts for us a rich man's hand;
While Indigence but gleaned elsewhere,

She reaped the harvest on his land.
E'en now, as to a friendly haven,

Throng to his gates the homeless poor-
Ao-ain a star falls down from heaven,

O '

Falls, falls, and is seen no more !


'Tis the star of a mighty and potent king !

Go, my child, be just and true ;
So mav your star its radiance flino-


Clear and serene throuo-h yon fields of blue.


If without love thy life has thriven,


Men will say, when its course is o'er :
'Tis but a star that falls from heaven
Falls, fells, and is seen no more !



This song pleased the drop very much, and set it still
more in the way of thinking about its former life, and
longing for its return. For though it was well enough
here, it could not conquer the craving, which grew
stronger in it every day, for the life that it felt itself
made for. But you must not suppose it was allowed to
pursue its reflections undisturbed. On the contrary, the
very fact that it possessed such notions made it dread-
fully unpopular with almost every thing before whom
they had expression. Thus, one morning, a pretty milk-
white lamb came to the waterside to drink. He saw his
own ima^e reflected in the stream, and marvelled at its


beauty. So, like a vain young being as he was, he must
needs insist upon every thing round about admiring
him as much as he did himself.

" Little drop of water," said he, " did you ever in all
the world see any thing so white and so soft as my coat ?"

Then the drop all at once seemed to remember some-
thing, and it hesitated before answering.

O/ O

" Tell me now," said the lamb, " and tell me the truth. 11
"Your fleece is certainly very white and very soft,"
replied the water-drop, " but I think up among the moun-
tains, where I was born, I once saw such a lovely white



THE SX 0\V- I) UO 1*.

snow-field, oli ! much fairer and softer than any
else !"

"Ah," said the lamb, u that's your opinion, is it ( But
what can there be of fair or beautiful in these bare moun-
tain-tops ? And what are you, an insignificant little drop
of water, to have the insolence to compare any thing you
may have seen there with my excellent whiteness ?"

And so the lamb went away in a sort of huff, but with-
out using any violent words ; for your lamb, you know, is
a sort of four-legged Quaker, and never indulges in bad
language or evil actions- -when it can help it. But it can
be very obstinate at times, and very conceited, as the
little water-drop found now to its cost, for it was very
much put out and hurt by this reproach of being insolent.
So it went away without any reply.

But it did not flow on without new vexations and
annoyances. Sometimes cattle would come down and
wallow in it, and trample in its bed, and trouble and
make turbid all its pure stream ; and once our little drop
really thought it had come to grief at last.

You must know that on the bank of the stream lived
a dusty miller, whose mill-wheel was turned by the water
brought down in a mill-race from a point higher up the



brook. This water rejoined the stream at the mill, aft el-
having done its share of the work of grinding corn for all
the neighboring people by turning the great old-fashioned
wheel. Into this mill-race our little drop was borne,
swiftly enough at first, but presently slowly and more
slowly, till at last by the mill-wheel it stopped altogether.
The water had been willing enough to do its work, but

o o

now there was no work to be done. All was at rest and
still, save where two or three ducks, gathered under the
motionless wheel, were flapping and plashing in the little
pools. The reason was that the miller had stopped the

flow, and thrown his mill out of work for the clay. But

the little drop could not of course tell what was the

matter, or whether the tide ever would flow again, so that
it mi^ht be borne awav. It beeran to fear it would never

O i/~

be free again, so long did it seem waiting there in cap-
tivity. Presently its attention was attracted to the con-
versation o-oino: on between the mill-wheel and the ducks.

o o

Now these ducks, you must know, were dreadful toadies ;
mere flatterers, in fact, of the Avheel ; which in turn was as
vain and self-important as it could be. They were specu-
lating on the cause of the mill being stopped, and wonder-
ing what the effect of so prodigious a thing as the wheel



having ceased to turn would be upon surrounding nations.
The ducks were loud in their opinion that the stoppage
was intended as a signal compliment to the illustrious
wheel, and were sure that the countries all around would
be shaken to their foundations by such an event. And
so by and by one of them noticed the drop, and with
great condescension inquired what sentiments it might
entertain upon this important topic. The drop very
modestly answered that it had no opinion to express upon
the matter, being an entire stranger in those parts.

" Ah," said the wheel, " now there is where you and I
differ. I have been here always. I shall remain here
always. Without me I do not think the world could
go on. There is no wear out in me. I am truly the most
important thing in creation. Did you ever see any thing
so large and so round as I am ; and is it not very kind in
me to be talking so considerately to such a small trifle as
you r

In short, the wheel had such a good opinion of itself,
that one might have supposed it was made in Boston ; but
it was not, however. Then the little drop hesitated about
its answer.

" Why don't you speak, stupid !" cried the wheel.



" Of course you never did," quoth the ducks.

" But it isn't of course at all," said the drop. " Is not
the moon a great deal larger and rounder ?"

" The moon !" retorted the wheel. " What do you
mean ? that little red thing I sometimes see overhead of
nights ! Why, it is not a hundredth part as large as I
am !"

"That's because you are so far off from it," said the
drop. " Were you to go up above the earth where I have
been, you would see it to be oh ! ever so much larger
than you are !"

" Now," said the wheel, " do you pretend that you have
ever been nearer the moon than I ( How can you tell
such wicked stories, you bad, naughty little thing !"

So the wheel went on abusing the drop for its false-
hood, and the ducks joined in the chorus, until the poor

ff i

little thing was almost frightened to death, when lo ! in
come the miller and his men upon the scene. The old
wheel, he said, had'become rotten and worthless; he must
tear it away, and put up a new one. So at it the work-
men went with axe and crow; down tumbled the old
water- worn planks, slippery with long years of use, and
shiny and green with duckweed ; and in a few hours this



great old wheel, which had thought itself everlasting, was
a heap of shattered, discolored fragments some destined
for the fire, some to mend the miller's pigsty. Then the
flood-gates were again set free, the current flowed as
before, and in a few minutes the drop was happy again in
its regular channel.


So it went on, unconsciously altering as it went, pass-
ing more and more from youth towards maturity, and
leaving behind the shallows and confining banks of earlier
days, as the newly-fledged bird shakes from its wings the
shattered fragments of the shell that had once enclosed


its incomplete existence. Great thoughts of the stories
of other streams would float through its mind ; and not
hoping ever to rank itself among the mighty rivers of
fame, it would dream nevertheless by the hour of the fates
which had bechanced them. Now it imagined to itself a


tide sweeping along beneath an Egyptian sun, beside the
stern gray pyramids and tufted palms, and a woman steal-
ins: to its shore and hiding amono* the waterflao;s an ark

o o o o

of bulrushes, bedaubed with pitch and slime, in which
rested a tiny babe. And presently the king's daughter
of all the land passed by and perceived the basket, and
brought away and reared the future prophet and law-

4 25



Online LibraryW. B DuncanThe snow-drop : a birthday story for Jessie Percy Butler Duncan, February 9th, 1865 → online text (page 1 of 2)