The Prince of Prophecy Vol. I: Destined – Chapter 1

ebook cover finished

Given that the third book in this series The Prince of Prophecy Vol. III: Changing Tides will be making its publishing debut this fall, I decided to put up the first chapter of the first book again. This chapter will be available to read from now (I’m not taking it down from this blog like I did last time). So please feel free to read the first chapter, and, if you like it, the FIRST and SECOND books are available now at Amazon.com.

 

Chapter 1

Der Kleine Prinz

The Little Prince

 It is quite common for stories to begin with ‘once upon a time’, especially those involving chivalrous princes, beautiful maidens, and daring feats of bravery. Most are drawn to these stories because they know it will end with ‘and they lived happily ever after’ or something similar. However, in case one did not already know, princes are not always gallant, maidens are not always sweet, and good does not always prevail—despite its best efforts.

This story does not begin with ‘once upon a time’, so it is best that one eliminate all preconceived notions of how stories should commence and conclude immediately. This story begins with a very tardy crown prince, and running.

Destan Gustav Von Diederich streamed down the hallway, past befuddled guards, advisors, and servants alike, clutching his text books tightly to his heaving chest. He was late for his lessons again, and he knew from previous experience that his tutor, Herr Christof, would be anything but pleased. But it really hadn’t been his fault this time! It was such a lovely day outside that he’d fallen asleep in the garden, beneath the shade of a tree, whilst reading a Greek mythology book. If anything was to blame, it was the warmth of the sun and the softness of the grass. Besides, he was a twelve-year-old boy—people could not expect him to be mindful of his schedule all the time, could they?

At the very least, he did not bother with toys, or games, or reading silly fairy tales as other children his age did. He was trying to mature quickly, but apparently that was not good enough for some. The circumstances were not at all ideal, especially since the current king—his grandfather—was so old, and Destan was so young. The prince would never admit it aloud, but he was just as frightened as everyone else at the prospect of him becoming king. But what could he do? It wasn’t his fault that his parents—the former successors to the throne—had died of a mysterious disease nearly six years earlier. It wasn’t his fault that he was the last descendant of the Von Diederich family bloodline. It wasn’t his fault that, despite his best efforts, he was still only twelve.

Destan raced up the stairs to the third floor, and skidded to a stop outside the door that led into the library. He stood there for a moment, trying to catch his breath, and wiped the sweat from his brow. He brushed back his wavy, golden blonde hair, and tightened the ribbon that secured it at the base of his neck. Though told that long hair was a sign of nobility, sometimes he did wish he could just cut it all off. The prince straightened out his satin court clothes and pushed back his shoulders. Taking one last deep breath, he opened the library door, and marched into the room.

“You’re late,” said the tight faced, bespectacled, young man who stood in front of a library desk, holding his pocket watch. “That’s the third time this week, Prince Destan. If this tardiness persists, I’ll be forced to alert the king of your negligence.”

The prince sighed, his shoulders slumping forward once more. “I’m sorry, Herr Christof. I lost track of the time.”

Christof Loewe was a tall, slender man who always wore a disapproving expression—at least, he did whenever Destan saw him. Now, Christof’s dark blue eyes narrowed behind his round spectacles, his eyebrows drew downward, and his lips pressed into a tight, white line. The prince knew that look. That meant that Christof did not want to hear any of Destan’s feeble excuses.

“You lost track of the time, did you?” Christof asked, lifting his chin a little higher. “You must be the most absentminded boy I’ve ever heard of. You carry a pocket watch, does it ever cross your mind to check it every once in a while?”

“It does, just not at the times that I should be checking it,” Destan said with a sheepish smile.

Christof rolled his eyes before motioning to the seat beside him. “Never mind. Just have a seat so we can begin today’s lesson.”

Destan sat down at the desk, and set his books upon the table as Christof began his rather dull geography lesson. All of Christof’s lessons were rather dull, in fact. As usual, Destan’s attention began to drift away. He found himself thinking about subjects that were infinitely more interesting; for instance, the nearing spring season, or why Roman Gods were so much more popular in Europe than their Grecian counterparts, or why Christof always parted his tidy, chestnut-brown hair on the left side—what was wrong with the right?

The prince’s gaze drifted toward the window as his tutor droned on and on about the continent of Asia. He wished he was back outside, beneath the shade of that tree, reading his Greek mythology book. He shut his eyes, imagining the breeze tousling his hair, and the smell of the flowers intermingled with the scent of pine. Now, he could almost feel the warmth of the sun upon his skin, and hear the gentle gurgling sound of the fountains that were scattered around the palace gardens. That was the most perfect scene he could bring himself to fantasize about. That was attainable.

However, what he truly longed to do was venture outside the palace gates, and into the forest beyond. He and his mother used to go out all the time when she was alive. They would explore the woods, and visit the nearby village of Gründorf nearly every other day. He remembered walking with her hand in hand down the forest path—her clear, bright blue eyes shimmering in the rays of sunlight that managed to filter through the thick tree canopy above. He remembered lying beside a stream as she stroked his hair, and told him fairy tales. He remembered how the soothing sound of her voice would lull him to sleep, and make him feel safe.

He could almost hear her voice now … “Sleep well, my darling, and if your dreams should turn into nightmares, remember how much I love you, and use my love as a weapon against the awful things that plague your sleep. Love conquers all, little one.” He’d believed in her words before he discovered that fairy tales, and ‘the power of love’, was just a bunch of rubbish. He loved his parents with all his heart, and yet, it had not conquered their illness.

Thoughts of traveling out into the woods were lovely and nostalgic, but his Grandfather had long since forbidden him to venture outside the palace gates. It was safe at the palace, and illness seldom plagued its residents. In order to keep the prince safe from the disease that killed his parents, Destan had been confined to the castle for almost six years. At first, he had been content with this ruling, but now his heart had grown restless. The palace gardens were no longer enough to satisfy his craving to experience nature in all of its wild and unpredictable glory.

Destan felt a sharp tug on his pony tail, and he jerked his head up to see Christof glaring down at him. Realizing that he had just dozed off, he smiled tensely. The tutor’s expression did not soften in the slightest.

“You are really trying my patience today, your highness,” Christof snapped.

“Well, that can’t be. In order for me to try someone’s patience, they must have it to begin with,” Destan said, trying his hardest not to smile.

The tutor scowled. “I used to have patience.”

“What happened?”

You happened.”

Destan chuckled as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes. “If you want me to pay attention, why don’t you try making your lessons a little more stimulating?”

“I am not your jester, your highness, I am your tutor. I am not here to entertain you, I am here to teach you,” Christof said. “Now sit up. We’re going to take a break from geography for the meanwhile, since it is obviously too early in the day for you to comprehend a word of my lesson.”

Destan yawned and stood up, giving a great stretch. “That would be much appreciated. So I’ll meet you back here in about an hour—an hour and thirty minutes perhaps?”

“Nice try. You are going to stay right here while I read you a story,” Christof said, as he removed a large book from one of the library’s many shelves.

“Are you trying to trick me into listening to one of your history lectures again?” the prince asked, making his way over to the seat beside the window.

“No, this is an actual story. It’s a fairy tale, in fact,” the tutor said.

Destan made a face. “A fairy tale? You know I despise those. I’d rather the dull history lecture.”

Ignoring the prince’s protest, Christof opened up the book of fairy tales. “Once upon a time,” he began in his usual monotone, “there was a sad, little prince. He did not understand why he had to learn about dull politics all day.” He shot Destan a knowing look. “He did not understand why he could not play with the other children outside the castle walls, who always looked to be having such fun. But most of all, he did not understand why he always felt so dreadfully lonely, whilst constantly being surrounded by people who adored him.

“He felt himself frown every time his advisors told him who he must be and how he must achieve it. ‘Perhaps I would like to be someone else,’ the little prince said sadly.

“His advisor would say, ‘You may wish to be someone else, my prince, but this is the role that was assigned to you by a higher power. We mustn’t question nor want for more. Besides, you are given everything you desire, what more could you possibly long for?’

“‘What more?’ the little prince would mutter to himself. ‘There is so much more that I want.’ He wanted the wild flowers that grew outside the castle walls. He wanted to roll around in the mud with the children of the village. He wanted to play hide and seek in the forest. He wanted to have fun. He wanted a reason to laugh and smile. He wanted the entire world beyond the castle, but alas, it was simply out of his reach.

“The little prince agonized over his impossible dilemma, until finally he gained the courage to sneak out of the castle. However, when he reached the other side of the gates, where the village should have been, there was only a dense, dark forest. He wandered into the forest, figuring that the village must be just up ahead. He walked for days in search of the village, but to no avail. For what the little prince did not know was that the images he had seen beyond the palace gates were only illusions. Aimlessly, he wandered the endless forest, searching for the village until the day he died, never knowing that the inside of the castle had been the entire world.” After he was finished, Christof shut the book, and called to his charge, “Prince Destan.”

Destan continued to gaze dreamily out the window, once more lost in his own thoughts.

Prince Destan,” Christof called more insistently this time. “Did you enjoy the story?”

Finally, the prince glanced back at him. “It was alright, I guess. Couldn’t you read a tale with a happy ending, Herr Christof?”

The tutor narrowed his deep-set eyes, his lips tightening into a tight white line once more. Christof really could not stand Destan’s cheeky remarks, and Destan knew it. Despite this, the prince enjoyed pushing his tutor’s buttons.

Sighing heavily, Christof brushed a few stray hairs out of his face. “I read what I deemed appropriate.”

“But I know there’s a village beyond the castle walls. I’ve been there! You can’t tell me there is no world outside of the castle,” Destan replied with smirk.

Christof scoffed and got to his feet, moving toward one of the many bookcases that lined the large library. “That wasn’t the moral of the story, your highness.”

“Then what was the moral?”

“The moral was that discontented, little princes should not bother themselves with things they cannot change,” the tutor said curtly. “They should be happy with the lot they were given.”

Destan turned his gaze back towards the window, where he could just make out the village market place far off in the distance. “That isn’t a very good moral.”

With another tired sigh, Christof set the book of fairy tales back on the shelf, and returned to the desk to open the geography text. “What sort of moral would you have preferred?”

“Hm … something more positive,” Destan paused to search his thoughts. “You know, like ‘Love conquers all’ or something.”

“It doesn’t,” Christof retorted as he set the new book down, and flipped to a page in the middle.

The prince pouted, his eyes trailing to his mother’s rose garden. “Then ‘you won’t know unless you try’?”

“You can know without trying if you take note of other’s mistakes, and avoid making them yourself.”

“I wasn’t exactly talking about mistakes. Have you no spirit of adventure?”

“What is an adventure, but accidents and mistakes? I prefer to make neither. You should adopt my way of thinking, your highness,” Christof said, although he was sounding less interested in the topic with each passing moment.

“You sound so arrogant,” Destan said, his smirk widening. “Besides, if I were to adopt your way of thinking, I’d be so boring I wouldn’t be able to stand myself.”

“Perhaps, but at least I would be able to stand you.” Christof then peered over the top of his glasses, and said, “Now come away from the window so we can continue with your geography lesson.”

Destan grudgingly left his seat beside the window to join his mentor at the desk. Christof turned the book around so he could see the maps. The prince instantly frowned. “We’ve already gone over this part of the world. You’ve tested me on it.”

“This is Rosenstaat, your kingdom,” Christof explained as he tapped the page. “It is imperative that you know your kingdom as well as you know the back of your hand.”

Destan blinked, lifting his right hand close to his face to examine it. “I don’t know the back of my hand all that well. Surely, I know my kingdom better than I know the back of my hand,” he said, laughing.

“Can’t you take anything seriously?” the tutor asked with a scowl. “Honestly, you’re exhausting.”

“If I exhaust you so, perhaps we can take a break from my lessons?” Destan asked in a tone that was much too sweet to be genuine.

“You just had a break.”

“I don’t consider you forcing me to listen to that terribly depressing story, ‘a break’.”

Christof breathed in deeply through his nose as he considered the idea. “Well, since you insist on being so trying, I suppose we can continue your lessons tomorrow. But, you must work twice as hard, do you understand me?”

Destan nodded. “I understand, Herr Christof!” He then jumped up from his seat, and quickly left the study.

 

It was a warm day for February, but Destan was glad for it. The gentle warmth of the sun had compelled flowers to bloom again, and made the castle grounds the lush green that the prince loved so much. Destan would often stop to look at the many beautiful flowers that caught his eye.

Spring was now fast approaching, and soon the palace gardens would be flooded with many vibrant colours. The prince always looked forward to this time of year—it was one of the few times he could relish in freely. He could remember all the warm spring days when he and his mother used to sneak off into the forest with a picnic basket, and lie in the cool grass beneath the shade of the trees. His mother would teach him about all the varieties of plants that grew wild outside the confines of the castle, while they ate their simple lunch of wild berries and bread. Those were good memories that he would revisit when he found himself missing her.

The months after his parents’ deaths were the most painful for him to recall. There was one memory from that dark time that stood out the most: one particularly cold winter’s day. It was the day after his parents had been laid to rest in two marble caskets in the Von Diederich family mausoleum. On that day, the little prince went outside, for no reason in particular, and looked up towards the sky. He could still remember the feeling of the snowflakes kissing his cold cheeks. He could remember thinking that he should cry, but his stubborn mind had refused to relinquish its hold on the possibility that his parents would return. Thus, he stood there in silence, with his head tilted up towards the sky as the snow continued to fall. He had been unable to cry, and unable to face the reality of the matter.

On that cold December’s day, Destan had not wanted to believe that his parents were dead, and would be gone forevermore. Thus, he chose not to believe it. That was how he had kept his sadness at bay.

Later, he would come to hate the snow for taking his parents from him, but, just then, he didn’t mind it so much. Then, it had reminded him of happier times—times when he and his parents would joyfully laugh, and play in the snow until their fingers became so numb from the cold that they were forced to go inside.

On that rather bleak day, the skies had been grey, and flurries of snow swirled about him. He stared up at the sky, trying as best he could to convince himself that his mother and father would soon return to him. His mind was so far away from the place where he stood, that he almost didn’t notice her.

He remembered that she was a tall, slender, and graceful woman, though she looked to be chiseled from ice. She was dressed in a long cloak and hat made of soft, white fur and delicate snowflakes. Her long, snow-white hair danced effortlessly in the cold wind that surrounded them. He could remember her face so clearly. He could never forget such a beautiful, wise face in all of his life. And her eyes! Her cold, blue eyes burned so brightly. Destan swore that they must have been stars plucked from the heavens. However, there was no peace in those lovely eyes of hers. All he saw was loneliness. Perhaps she saw the same in his eyes.

Destan recalled the woman kneeling down, placing her hand softly upon his cheek, and staring deeply into his eyes. She did not speak a word and neither did he. He knew what she wanted. She wanted to banish her loneliness and he wanted the same. She told him without saying a single word that she wanted him to come with her. They would have each other, and they would be lonely no more.

But they’ll be back, he had thought to himself. Mummy and Daddy will be back, and they’ll worry about me if I’m gone.

Slowly shaking his head, Destan backed away and the lovely woman stood up once more. He knew she would not force him. Not today. Thus, she gave him one nod of understanding before turning her back to him, and disappearing into a flurry of snow.

That woman, Destan had convinced himself, had purely been a product of his overactive imagination—a figment or a cold induced phantom at best. Yet still, he had kept the memory fresh in his mind, and he revisited it often, though he did not know why.

Now, as Destan strolled along the sunlit path in the garden, it was clear to see that winter was disappearing swiftly, making way for spring. It was not the time to be thinking of the snow. Soon, the land would be warm, the flowers would all bloom, and he would not have to revisit those winter memories for a long time.

While busy thinking of the past, his feet absentmindedly took him down a garden path he had wandered so many times before. His mother’s rose garden was thriving, even without the care of the gardeners. King Gregory, his grandfather, had ordered that the rose garden be left unattended after his daughter died. Destan supposed his grandfather just wanted his daughter’s memory to finally be put to rest, and that would be altogether impossible as long as the rose garden still survived.

But even without sufficient care, the rose garden flourished. Large white roses bloomed effortlessly year round despite the gardener’s attempts to abolish them. Although Destan loved the garden, he did not blame his grandfather for wanting it destroyed. Deep down, he wished for the destruction of the rose garden too, but as long as it stood, he was going to enjoy its beauty. The prince sat down on a stone bench in the middle of the garden and watched as butterflies fluttered about the roses and greenery.

Since his parents’ demise, Destan’s life had become very restricted and even overwhelming at times. His responsibilities as successor to the Rosenstaat throne weighed so heavily on him that he would have liked nothing better than to just run away from it all. But he never did. In truth, he lacked the courage to run away, or even tell his grandfather that he was unhappy. Of course he wanted to live his life as he wished to, but only he could succeed the king.

Why did his thoughts always drift to his responsibilities? Even here, in this beautiful garden where there were much more pleasant and wonderful things to think about, he could not avoid it. Maybe this was what growing up was about—casting aside fanciful thoughts only to have stress and worry take their place.

Life was not a fairy tale that he could live in forever, unchanging. Life was cruel and ‘happily ever afters’ were scarce. He would remind himself of that painful fact whenever he found himself beginning to entertain even the very slightest of juvenile fantasies.

Thinking of this, Destan’s expression hardened as he stood and left his mother’s rose garden, fragrant white rose petals following in his wake.

 

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Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s “The Vagabonds”

Fairy_Tales_From_The_Brothers_Grimm_Vagabonds_1_By_Walter_Crane

The cock said to the hen, “It is nutting time; let us go together to the mountains and have a good feast for once, before the squirrels come and carry all away.” “Yes,” answered the hen, “come along; we will have a jolly time together.”

Then they set off together to the mountains, and as it was a fine day they stayed there till the evening. Now whether it was that they had eaten so much, or because of their pride and haughtiness, I do not know, but they would not go home on foot; so the cock set to work to make a little carriage out of nutshells. When it was ready, the hen seated herself in it, and said to the cock, “Now you can harness yourself to it.”

“That’s all very fine,” said the cock, “I would sooner go home on foot than do such a thing, and I never agreed to it. I don’t mind being coachman, and sitting on the box; but as to drawing it myself, it’s quite out of the question.”

As they were wrangling, a duck came quacking, “You thieving vagabonds, who told you you might go to my mountain? Look out, or it will be the worse for you!” And she flew at the cock with bill wide open. But the cock was not backward, and he gave the duck a good dig in the body, and hacked at her with his spurs so valiantly that she begged for mercy, and willingly allowed herself to be harnessed to the carriage. Then the cock seated himself on the box and was coachman; so off they went at a great pace, the cock crying out “Run, duck, as fast as you can!”

When they had gone a part of the way they met two foot-passengers- a pin and a needle. They cried “Stop! stop!” and said that it would 2 soon be blindman’s holiday; that they could not go a step farther; that the ways were very muddy; might they just get in for a little? They had been standing at the door of the tailors’ house of call and had been delayed because of beer.

The cock, seeing they were slender folks that would not take up a great deal of room, let them both step in, only they must promise not to tread on his toes nor on the hen’s.

Late in the evening they came to an inn, and there they found that they could not go any farther that night, as the duck’s paces were not good- she waddled so much from side to side- so they turned in. The landlord at first made some difficulty; his house was full already, and he thought they had no very distinguished appearance. At last, however, when they had made many fine speeches, and had promised him the egg that the hen had laid on the way, and that he should keep the duck, who laid one every day, he agreed to let them stay the night; and so they had a very gay time.

Early in the morning, when it was beginning to grow light, and everybody was still asleep, the cock waked up the hen, fetched the egg, and made a hole in it, and they ate it up between them, and put the eggshell on the hearth. Then they went up to the needle, who was still sleeping, picked him up by his head, and stuck him in the landlord’s chair-cushion, and, having also placed the pin in his towel, off they flew over the hills and far away. The duck, who had chosen to sleep in the open air, and had remained in the yard, heard the rustling of their wings, and, waking up, looked about till she found a brook, down which she swam a good deal faster than she had drawn the carriage.

A few hours later the landlord woke, and, leaving his feather-bed, began washing himself; but when he took the towel to dry himself he drew the pin all across his face, and made a red streak from ear to ear. Then he went into the kitchen to light his pipe, but when he stooped towards the hearth to take up a coal the eggshell flew in his eyes.

“Everything goes wrong this morning,” said he, and let himself drop, full of vexation, into his grandfather’s chair; but up he jumped in a moment, crying, “Oh dear!” for the needle had gone into him.

Now he became angry, and had his suspicions of the guests who had arrived so late the evening before; and when he looked round for them they were nowhere to be seen.

Then he swore that he would never more harbor such vagabonds, that consumed so much, paid nothing, and played such nasty tricks into the bargain.

 

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The Prince of Prophecy Vol. III: Changing Tides

ebook cover finished

Hello Everyone! Sorry I’ve been so spotty with my posts. I’ve been working hard on getting my third book, The Prince of Prophecy Vol. III: Changing Tides, ready for publishing. This new book will feature daring sword fights, pirates, betrayal, magic, and lots of new characters. Changing Tides will also include 8 illustrations for those who purchase hard copies of the book (softcover and hardcover). Those who have read it are calling it the best book in the series yet (said early praise has made me a very happy camper indeed)! This third installment will be released this fall (it’s so close)!

For those of you interested in reading the series, you can click the following links and be taken to the books’ Amazon.com pages:

The Prince of Prophecy Vol. I: Destined

The Prince of Prophecy Vol. II: Cursed

The first book as a 4.6 out of 5 stars rating on Amazon and the second book has a 5 out of 5 start rating on Amazon which is pretty darn good! Reading books with those sorts of star ratings can’t be too much of a gamble, right? If you like fairy tales and classic literature, you’re going to love these books!

 

For new fairy tale, Prince of Prophecy, and Writer’s Corner updates every Wednesday and Saturday, follow this blog!

Rudyard Kipling’s “A Ripple Song”

Kipling_nd

Once a ripple came to land
In the golden sunset burning—
Lapped against a maiden’s hand,
By the ford returning.

Dainty foot and gentle breast—
Here, across, be glad and rest.
“Maiden, wait,” the ripple saith;
“Wait awhile, for I am Death!”

“Where my lover calls I go—
Shame it were to treat him coldly—
’Twas a fish that circled so,
Turning over boldly.”

Dainty foot and tender heart,
Wait the loaded ferry-cart.
“Wait, ah, wait!” the ripple saith;
“Maiden, wait, for I am Death!”

“When my lover calls I haste—
Dame Disdain was never wedded!”
Ripple-ripple round her waist,
Clear the current eddied.

Foolish heart and faithful hand,
Little feet that touched no land.
Far away the ripple sped,
Ripple—ripple running red!
 

For new fairy tale, Prince of Prophecy, and Writer’s Corner updates every Wednesday and Saturday, follow this blog!

Hans Christian Andersen’s “Ole Lukoie”

Sorry for missing Wednesday’s post. I’ve been working like crazy trying to get my third book ready for publishing (The Prince of Prophecy Vol. III: Changing Tides will be released in October of this year). Thank you very much for following my blog, and I’ll try my darndest to keep these blog post coming despite the busy schedule! 

 

There is nobody in the world who knows so many stories as Ole-Luk-Oie, or who can relate them so nicely. In the evening, while the children are seated at the table or in their little chairs, he comes up the stairs very softly, for he walks in his socks, then he opens the doors without the slightest noise, and throws a small quantity of very fine dust in their eyes, just enough to prevent them from keeping them open, and so they do not see him. Then he creeps behind them, and blows softly upon their necks, till their heads begin to droop. But Ole-Luk-Oie does not wish to hurt them, for he is very fond of children, and only wants them to be quiet that he may relate to them pretty stories, and they never are quiet until they are in bed and asleep. As soon as they are asleep, Ole-Luk-Oie seats himself upon the bed. He is nicely dressed; his coat is made of silken stuff; it is impossible to say of what color, for it changes from green to red, and from red to blue as he turns from side to side. Under each arm he carries an umbrella; one of them, with pictures on the inside, he spreads over the good children, and then they dream the most beautiful stories the whole night. But the other umbrella has no pictures, and this he holds over the naughty children so that they sleep heavily, and wake in the morning without having dreamed at all.

Now we shall hear how Ole-Luk-Oie came every night during a whole week to the little boy named Hjalmar, and what he told him. There were seven stories, as there are seven days in the week.

Monday


“Now pay attention,” said Ole-Luk-Oie, in the evening, when Hjalmar was in bed, “and I will decorate the room.”

Immediately all the flowers in the flower-pots became large trees, with long branches reaching to the ceiling, and stretching along the walls, so that the whole room was like a greenhouse. All the branches were loaded with flowers, each flower as beautiful and as fragrant as a rose; and, had any one tasted them, he would have found them sweeter even than jam. The fruit glittered like gold, and there were cakes so full of plums that they were nearly bursting. It was incomparably beautiful. At the same time sounded dismal moans from the table-drawer in which lay Hjalmar’s school books.

“What can that be now?” said Ole-Luk-Oie, going to the table and pulling out the drawer.

It was a slate, in such distress because of a false number in the sum, that it had almost broken itself to pieces. The pencil pulled and tugged at its string as if it were a little dog that wanted to help, but could not.

And then came a moan from Hjalmar’s copy-book. Oh, it was quite terrible to hear! On each leaf stood a row of capital letters, every one having a small letter by its side. This formed a copy; under these were other letters, which Hjalmar had written: they fancied they looked like the copy, but they were mistaken; for they were leaning on one side as if they intended to fall over the pencil-lines.

“See, this is the way you should hold yourselves,” said the copy. “Look here, you should slope thus, with a graceful curve.”

“Oh, we are very willing to do so, but we cannot,” said Hjalmar’s letters; “we are so wretchedly made.”

“You must be scratched out, then,” said Ole-Luk-Oie.

“Oh, no!” they cried, and then they stood up so gracefully it was quite a pleasure to look at them.

“Now we must give up our stories, and exercise these letters,” said Ole-Luk-Oie; “One, two—one, two—” So he drilled them till they stood up gracefully, and looked as beautiful as a copy could look. But after Ole-Luk-Oie was gone, and Hjalmar looked at them in the morning, they were as wretched and as awkward as ever.

Tuesday

As soon as Hjalmar was in bed, Ole-Luk-Oie touched, with his little magic wand, all the furniture in the room, which immediately began to chatter, and each article only talked of itself.

Over the chest of drawers hung a large picture in a gilt frame, representing a landscape, with fine old trees, flowers in the grass, and a broad stream, which flowed through the wood, past several castles, far out into the wild ocean. Ole-Luk-Oie touched the picture with his magic wand, and immediately the birds commenced singing, the branches of the trees rustled, and the clouds moved across the sky, casting their shadows on the landscape beneath them. Then Ole-Luk-Oie lifted little Hjalmar up to the frame, and placed his feet in the picture, just on the high grass, and there he stood with the sun shining down upon him through the branches of the trees. He ran to the water, and seated himself in a little boat which lay there, and which was painted red and white. The sails glittered like silver, and six swans, each with a golden circlet round its neck, and a bright blue star on its forehead, drew the boat past the green wood, where the trees talked of robbers and witches, and the flowers of beautiful little elves and fairies, whose histories the butterflies had related to them. Brilliant fish, with scales like silver and gold, swam after the boat, sometimes making a spring and splashing the water round them, while birds, red and blue, small and great, flew after him in two long lines. The gnats danced round them, and the cockchafers cried “Buz, buz.” They all wanted to follow Hjalmar, and all had some story to tell him. It was a most pleasant sail. Sometimes the forests were thick and dark, sometimes like a beautiful garden, gay with sunshine and flowers; then he passed great palaces of glass and of marble, and on the balconies stood princesses, whose faces were those of little girls whom Hjalmar knew well, and had often played with. One of them held out her hand, in which was a heart made of sugar, more beautiful than any confectioner ever sold. As Hjalmar sailed by, he caught hold of one side of the sugar heart, and held it fast, and the princess held fast also, so that it broke in two pieces. Hjalmar had one piece, and the princess the other, but Hjalmar’s was the largest. At each castle stood little princes acting as sentinels. They presented arms, and had golden swords, and made it rain plums and tin soldiers, so that they must have been real princes.

Hjalmar continued to sail, sometimes through woods, sometimes as it were through large halls, and then by large cities. At last he came to the town where his nurse lived, who had carried him in her arms when he was a very little boy, and had always been kind to him. She nodded and beckoned to him, and then sang the little verses she had herself composed and set to him,—

“How oft my memory turns to thee,

My own Hjalmar, ever dear!

When I could watch thy infant glee,

Or kiss away a pearly tear.

’Twas in my arms thy lisping tongue

First spoke the half-remembered word,

While o’er thy tottering steps I hung,

My fond protection to afford.

Farewell! I pray the Heavenly Power
To keep thee till thy dying hour.”

And all the birds sang the same tune, the flowers danced on their stems, and the old trees nodded as if Ole-Luk-Oie had been telling them stories as well.

Wednesday

How the rain did pour down! Hjalmar could hear it in his sleep;. and when Ole-Luk-Oie opened the window, the water flowed quite up to the window-sill. It had the appearance of a large lake outside, and a beautiful ship lay close to the house.

“Wilt thou sail with me to-night, little Hjalmar?” said Ole-Luk-Oie; “then we shall see foreign countries, and thou shalt return here in the morning.”

All in a moment, there stood Hjalmar, in his best clothes, on the deck of the noble ship; and immediately the weather became fine. They sailed through the streets, round by the church, and on every side rolled the wide, great sea. They sailed till the land disappeared, and then they saw a flock of storks, who had left their own country, and were travelling to warmer climates. The storks flew one behind the other, and had already been a long, long time on the wing. One of them seemed so tired that his wings could scarcely carry him. He was the last of the row, and was soon left very far behind. At length he sunk lower and lower, with outstretched wings, flapping them in vain, till his feet touched the rigging of the ship, and he slided from the sails to the deck, and stood before them. Then a sailor-boy caught him, and put him in the hen-house, with the fowls, the ducks, and the turkeys, while the poor stork stood quite bewildered amongst them.

“Just look at that fellow,” said the chickens.

Then the turkey-cock puffed himself out as large as he could, and inquired who he was; and the ducks waddled backwards, crying, “Quack, quack.”

Then the stork told them all about warm Africa, of the pyramids, and of the ostrich, which, like a wild horse, runs across the desert. But the ducks did not understand what he said, and quacked amongst themselves, “We are all of the same opinion; namely, that he is stupid.”

“Yes, to be sure, he is stupid,” said the turkey-cock; and gobbled.

Then the stork remained quite silent, and thought of his home in Africa.

“Those are handsome thin legs of yours,” said the turkey-cock. “What do they cost a yard?”

“Quack, quack, quack,” grinned the ducks; but, the stork pretended not to hear.

“You may as well laugh,” said the turkey; “for that remark was rather witty, or perhaps it was above you. Ah, ah, is he not clever? He will be a great amusement to us while he remains here.” And then he gobbled, and the ducks quacked, “Gobble, gobble; Quack, quack.”

What a terrible uproar they made, while they were having such fun among themselves!

Then Hjalmar went to the hen-house; and, opening the door, called to the stork. Then he hopped out on the deck. He had rested himself now, and he looked happy, and seemed as if he nodded to Hjalmar, as if to thank him. Then he spread his wings, and flew away to warmer countries, while the hens clucked, the ducks quacked, and the turkey-cock turned quite scarlet in the head.

“To-morrow you shall be made into soup,” said Hjalmar to the fowls; and then he awoke, and found himself lying in his little bed.

It was a wonderful journey which Ole-Luk-Oie had made him take this night.

Thursday

“What do you think I have got here?” said Ole-Luk-Oie, “Do not be frightened, and you shall see a little mouse.” And then he held out his hand to him, in which lay a lovely little creature. “It has come to invite you to a wedding. Two little mice are going to enter into the marriage state tonight. They reside under the floor of your mother’s store-room, and that must be a fine dwelling-place.”

“But how can I get through the little mouse-hole in the floor?” asked Hjalmar.

“Leave me to manage that,” said Ole-Luk-Oie. “I will soon make you small enough.” And then he touched Hjalmar with his magic wand, whereupon he became less and less, until at last he was not longer than a little finger. “Now you can borrow the dress of the tin soldier. I think it will just fit you. It looks well to wear a uniform when you go into company.”

“Yes, certainly,” said Hjalmar; and in a moment he was dressed as neatly as the neatest of all tin soldiers.

“Will you be so good as to seat yourself in your mamma’s thimble,” said the little mouse, “that I may have the pleasure of drawing you to the wedding.”

“Will you really take so much trouble, young lady?” said Hjalmar. And so in this way he rode to the mouse’s wedding.

First they went under the floor, and then passed through a long passage, which was scarcely high enough to allow the thimble to drive under, and the whole passage was lit up with the phosphorescent light of rotten wood.

“Does it not smell delicious?” asked the mouse, as she drew him along. “The wall and the floor have been smeared with bacon-rind; nothing can be nicer.”

Very soon they arrived at the bridal hall. On the right stood all the little lady-mice, whispering and giggling, as if they were making game of each other. To the left were the gentlemen-mice, stroking their whiskers with their fore-paws; and in the centre of the hall could be seen the bridal pair, standing side by side, in a hollow cheese-rind, and kissing each other, while all eyes were upon them; for they had already been betrothed, and were soon to be married. More and more friends kept arriving, till the mice were nearly treading each other to death; for the bridal pair now stood in the doorway, and none could pass in or out.

The room had been rubbed over with bacon-rind, like the passage, which was all the refreshment offered to the guests. But for dessert they produced a pea, on which a mouse belonging to the bridal pair had bitten the first letters of their names. This was something quite uncommon. All the mice said it was a very beautiful wedding, and that they had been very agreeably entertained.

After this, Hjalmar returned home. He had certainly been in grand society; but he had been obliged to creep under a room, and to make himself small enough to wear the uniform of a tin soldier.

Friday

“It is incredible how many old people there are who would be glad to have me at night,” said Ole-Luk-Oie, “especially those who have done something wrong. ‘Good little Ole,’ say they to me, ‘we cannot close our eyes, and we lie awake the whole night and see all our evil deeds sitting on our beds like little imps, and sprinkling us with hot water. Will you come and drive them away, that we may have a good night’s rest?’ and then they sigh so deeply and say, ‘We would gladly pay you for it. Good-night, Ole-Luk, the money lies on the window.’ But I never do anything for gold.” “What shall we do to-night?” asked Hjalmar. “I do not know whether you would care to go to another wedding,” he replied, “although it is quite a different affair to the one we saw last night. Your sister’s large doll, that is dressed like a man, and is called Herman, intends to marry the doll Bertha. It is also the dolls’ birthday, and they will receive many presents.”

“Yes, I know that already,” said Hjalmar, “my sister always allows her dolls to keep their birthdays or to have a wedding when they require new clothes; that has happened already a hundred times, I am quite sure.”

“Yes, so it may; but to-night is the hundred and first wedding, and when that has taken place it must be the last, therefore this is to be extremely beautiful. Only look.”

Hjalmar looked at the table, and there stood the little card-board doll’s house, with lights in all the windows, and drawn up before it were the tin soldiers presenting arms. The bridal pair were seated on the floor, leaning against the leg of the table, looking very thoughtful, and with good reason. Then Ole-Luk-Oie dressed up in grandmother’s black gown married them.

As soon as the ceremony was concluded, all the furniture in the room joined in singing a beautiful song, which had been composed by the lead pencil, and which went to the melody of a military tattoo.

“What merry sounds are on the wind,
As marriage rites together bind
A quiet and a loving pair,
Though formed of kid, yet smooth and fair!
Hurrah! If they are deaf and blind,
We’ll sing, though weather prove unkind.”

And now came the present; but the bridal pair had nothing to eat, for love was to be their food.

“Shall we go to a country house, or travel?” asked the bridegroom.

Then they consulted the swallow who had travelled so far, and the old hen in the yard, who had brought up five broods of chickens.

And the swallow talked to them of warm countries, where the grapes hang in large clusters on the vines, and the air is soft and mild, and about the mountains glowing with colors more beautiful than we can think of.

“But they have no red cabbage like we have,” said the hen, “I was once in the country with my chickens for a whole summer, there was a large sand-pit, in which we could walk about and scratch as we liked. Then we got into a garden in which grew red cabbage; oh, how nice it was, I cannot think of anything more delicious.”

“But one cabbage stalk is exactly like another,” said the swallow; “and here we have often bad weather.”

“Yes, but we are accustomed to it,” said the hen.

“But it is so cold here, and freezes sometimes.”

“Cold weather is good for cabbages,” said the hen; “besides we do have it warm here sometimes. Four years ago, we had a summer that lasted more than five weeks, and it was so hot one could scarcely breathe. And then in this country we have no poisonous animals, and we are free from robbers. He must be wicked who does not consider our country the finest of all lands. He ought not to be allowed to live here.” And then the hen wept very much and said, “I have also travelled. I once went twelve miles in a coop, and it was not pleasant travelling at all.”

“The hen is a sensible woman,” said the doll Bertha. “I don’t care for travelling over mountains, just to go up and come down again. No, let us go to the sand-pit in front of the gate, and then take a walk in the cabbage garden.”

And so they settled it.

Saturday

“Am I to hear any more stories?” asked little Hjalmar, as soon as Ole-Luk-Oie had sent him to sleep.

“We shall have no time this evening,” said he, spreading out his prettiest umbrella over the child. “Look at these Chinese,” and then the whole umbrella appeared like a large china bowl, with blue trees and pointed bridges, upon which stood little Chinamen nodding their heads. “We must make all the world beautiful for to-morrow morning,” said Ole-Luk-Oie, “for it will be a holiday, it is Sunday. I must now go to the church steeple and see if the little sprites who live there have polished the bells, so that they may sound sweetly. Then I must go into the fields and see if the wind has blown the dust from the grass and the leaves, and the most difficult task of all which I have to do, is to take down all the stars and brighten them up. I have to number them first before I put them in my apron, and also to number the places from which I take them, so that they may go back into the right holes, or else they would not remain, and we should have a number of falling stars, for they would all tumble down one after the other.”

“Hark ye! Mr. Luk-Oie,” said an old portrait which hung on the wall of Hjalmar’s bedroom. “Do you know me? I am Hjalmar’s great-grandfather. I thank you for telling the boy stories, but you must not confuse his ideas. The stars cannot be taken down from the sky and polished; they are spheres like our earth, which is a good thing for them.”

“Thank you, old great-grandfather,” said Ole-Luk-Oie. “I thank you; you may be the head of the family, as no doubt you are, but I am older than you. I am an ancient heathen. The old Romans and Greeks named me the Dream-god. I have visited the noblest houses, and continue to do so; still I know how to conduct myself both to high and low, and now you may tell the stories yourself:” and so Ole-Luk-Oie walked off, taking his umbrellas with him.

“Well, well, one is never to give an opinion, I suppose,” grumbled the portrait. And it woke Hjalmar.

Sunday

“Good evening,” said Ole-Luk-Oie.

Hjalmar nodded, and then sprang out of bed, and turned his great-grandfather’s portrait to the wall, so that it might not interrupt them as it had done yesterday. “Now,” said he, “you must tell me some stories about five green peas that lived in one pod; or of the chickseed that courted the chickweed; or of the darning needle, who acted so proudly because she fancied herself an embroidery needle.”

“You may have too much of a good thing,” said Ole-Luk-Oie. “You know that I like best to show you something, so I will show you my brother. He is also called Ole-Luk-Oie but he never visits any one but once, and when he does come, he takes him away on his horse, and tells him stories as they ride along. He knows only two stories. One of these is so wonderfully beautiful, that no one in the world can imagine anything at all like it; but the other is just as ugly and frightful, so that it would be impossible to describe it.” Then Ole-Luk-Oie lifted Hjalmar up to the window. “There now, you can see my brother, the other Ole-Luk-Oie; he is also called Death. You perceive he is not so bad as they represent him in picture books; there he is a skeleton, but now his coat is embroidered with silver, and he wears the splendid uniform of a hussar, and a mantle of black velvet flies behind him, over the horse. Look, how he gallops along.” Hjalmar saw that as this Ole-Luk-Oie rode on, he lifted up old and young, and carried them away on his horse. Some he seated in front of him, and some behind, but always inquired first, “How stands the mark-book?”

“Good,” they all answered.

“Yes, but let me see for myself,” he replied; and they were obliged to give him the books. Then all those who had “Very good,” or “Exceedingly good,” came in front of the horse, and heard the beautiful story; while those who had “Middling,” or “Tolerably good,” in their books, were obliged to sit behind, and listen to the frightful tale. They trembled and cried, and wanted to jump down from the horse, but they could not get free, for they seemed fastened to the seat.

“Why, Death is a most splendid Luk-Oie,” said Hjalmar. “I am not in the least afraid of him.”

“You need have no fear of him,” said Ole-Luk-Oie, “if you take care and keep a good conduct book.”

“Now I call that very instructive,” murmured the great-grandfather’s portrait. “It is useful sometimes to express an opinion;” so he was quite satisfied.

These are some of the doings and sayings of Ole-Luk-Oie. I hope he may visit you himself this evening, and relate some more.

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Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s “Mr. Korbes”

A cock and a hen once wanted to go on a journey together. So the cock built a beautiful carriage with four red wheels, and he harnessed four little mice to it. And the cock and the hen got into it, and were driven off. Very soon they met a cat, who asked where they were going. The cock answered,

“On Mr. Korbes a call to pay,

And that is where we go today!”

“Take me with you,” said the cat. The cock answered, “Very well, only you must sit well back, and then you will not fall forward.

“And pray take care

Of my red wheels there;

And wheels be steady,

And mice be ready

On Mr. Korbes a call to pay,

For that is where we go today!”

Then there came up a mill-stone, then an egg, then a duck, then a pin, and lastly a needle, who all got up on the carriage, and were driven along. But when they came to Mr. Korbes’s house he was not at home. So the mice drew the carriage into the barn, the cock and the hen flew up and perched on a beam, the cat sat by the fireside, the duck settled on the water; but the egg wrapped itself in the towel, the pin stuck itself in the chair cushion, the needle jumped into the bed among the pillows, and the mill-stone laid itself by the door.

Then Mr. Korbes came home, and went to the hearth to make a fire, but the cat threw ashes in his eyes. Then he ran quickly into the kitchen to wash himself, but the duck splashed water in his face. Then he was going to wipe it with the towel, but the egg broke in it, and stuck his eyelids together. In order to get a little peace he sat down in his chair, but the pin ran into him, and, starting up, in his vexation he threw himself on the bed, but as his head fell on the two pillow, in went the needle, so that he called out with the pain, and madly rushed out. But when he reached the housedoor the millstone jumped up and struck him dead.

What a bad man Mr. Korbes must have been!

 

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Rudyard Kipling’s “The Undertakers”

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When ye say to Tabaqui, “My Brother!” when ye call the Hyena to meat,

Ye may cry the Full Truce with Jacala — the Belly that runs on four feet.

Jungle Law

“Respect the aged!”

“It was a thick voice — a muddy voice that would have made you shudder — a voice like something soft breaking in two. There was a quaver in it, a croak and a whine.

“Respect the aged! O Companions of the River — respect the aged!”

Nothing could be seen on the broad reach of the river except a little fleet of square-sailed, wooden-pinned barges, loaded with building-stone, that had just come under the railway bridge, and were driving down-stream. They put their clumsy helms over to avoid the sand-bar made by the scour of the bridge-piers, and as they passed, three abreast, the horrible voice began again:

“O Brahmins of the River — respect the aged and infirm!”

A boatman turned where he sat on the gunwale, lifted up his hand, said something that was not a blessing, and the boats creaked on through the twilight. The broad Indian river, that looked more like a chain of little lakes than a stream, was as smooth as glass, reflecting the sandy-red sky in mid-channel, but splashed with patches of yellow and dusky purple near and under the low banks. Little creeks ran into the river in the wet season, but now their dry mouths hung clear above water-line. On the left shore, and almost under the railway bridge, stood a mud-and-brick and thatch-and-stick village, whose main street, full of cattle going back to their byres, ran straight to the river, and ended in a sort of rude brick pier-head, where people who wanted to wash could wade in step by step. That was the Ghaut of the village of Mugger–Ghaut.

Night was falling fast over the fields of lentils and rice and cotton in the low-lying ground yearly flooded by the river; over the reeds that fringed the elbow of the bend, and the tangled jungle of the grazing-grounds behind the still reeds. The parrots and crows, who had been chattering and shouting over their evening drink, had flown inland to roost, crossing the out-going battalions of the flying-foxes; and cloud upon cloud of water-birds came whistling and “honking” to the cover of the reed-beds. There were geese, barrel-headed and black-backed, teal, widgeon, mallard, and sheldrake, with curlews, and here and there a flamingo.

A lumbering Adjutant-crane brought up the rear, flying as though each slow stroke would be his last.

“Respect the aged! Brahmins of the River — respect the aged!”

The Adjutant half turned his head, sheered a little in the direction of the voice, and landed stiffly on the sand-bar below the bridge. Then you saw what a ruffianly brute he really was. His back view was immensely respectable, for he stood nearly six feet high, and looked rather like a very proper bald-headed parson. In front it was different, for his Ally Sloper-like head and neck had not a feather to them, and there was a horrible raw-skin pouch on his neck under his chin — a hold-all for the things his pick-axe beak might steal. His legs were long and thin and skinny, but he moved them delicately, and looked at them with pride as he preened down his ashy-gray tail-feathers, glanced over the smooth of his shoulder, and stiffened into “Stand at attention.”

A mangy little Jackal, who had been yapping hungrily on a low bluff, cocked up his ears and tail, and scuttered across the shallows to join the Adjutant.

He was the lowest of his caste — not that the best of jackals are good for much, but this one was peculiarly low, being half a beggar, half a criminal — a cleaner-up of village rubbish-heaps, desperately timid or wildly bold, everlastingly hungry, and full of cunning that never did him any good.

“Ugh!” he said, shaking himself dolefully as he landed. “May the red mange destroy the dogs of this village! I have three bites for each flea upon me, and all because I looked — only looked, mark you — at an old shoe in a cow-byre. Can I eat mud?” He scratched himself under his left ear.

“I heard,” said the Adjutant, in a voice like a blunt saw going through a thick board —“I HEARD there was a new-born puppy in that same shoe.”

“To hear is one thing; to know is another,” said the Jackal, who had a very fair knowledge of proverbs, picked up by listening to men round the village fires of an evening.

“Quite true. So, to make sure, I took care of that puppy while the dogs were busy elsewhere.”

“They were VERY busy,” said the Jackal. “Well, I must not go to the village hunting for scraps yet awhile. And so there truly was a blind puppy in that shoe?”

“It is here,” said the Adjutant, squinting over his beak at his full pouch. “A small thing, but acceptable now that charity is dead in the world.”

“Ahai! The world is iron in these days,” wailed the Jackal. Then his restless eye caught the least possible ripple on the water, and he went on quickly: “Life is hard for us all, and I doubt not that even our excellent master, the Pride of the Ghaut and the Envy of the River ——”

“A liar, a flatterer, and a Jackal were all hatched out of the same egg,” said the Adjutant to nobody in particular; for he was rather a fine sort of a liar on his own account when he took the trouble.

“Yes, the Envy of the River,” the Jackal repeated, raising his voice. “Even he, I doubt not, finds that since the bridge has been built good food is more scarce. But on the other hand, though I would by no means say this to his noble face, he is so wise and so virtuous — as I, alas I am not ——”

“When the Jackal owns he is gray, how black must the Jackal be!” muttered the Adjutant. He could not see what was coming.

“That his food never fails, and in consequence ——”

There was a soft grating sound, as though a boat had just touched in shoal water. The Jackal spun round quickly and faced (it is always best to face) the creature he had been talking about. It was a twenty-four-foot crocodile, cased in what looked like treble-riveted boiler-plate, studded and keeled and crested; the yellow points of his upper teeth just overhanging his beautifully fluted lower jaw. It was the blunt-nosed Mugger of Mugger–Ghaut, older than any man in the village, who had given his name to the village; the demon of the ford before the railway bridge, came — murderer, man-eater, and local fetish in one. He lay with his chin in the shallows, keeping his place by an almost invisible rippling of his tail, and well the Jackal knew that one stroke of that same tail in the water would carry the Mugger up the bank with the rush of a steam-engine.

“Auspiciously met, Protector of the Poor!” he fawned, backing at every word. “A delectable voice was heard, and we came in the hopes of sweet conversation. My tailless presumption, while waiting here, led me, indeed, to speak of thee. It is my hope that nothing was overheard.”

Now the Jackal had spoken just to be listened to, for he knew flattery was the best way of getting things to eat, and the Mugger knew that the Jackal had spoken for this end, and the Jackal knew that the Mugger knew, and the Mugger knew that the Jackal knew that the Mugger knew, and so they were all very contented together.

The old brute pushed and panted and grunted up the bank, mumbling, “Respect the aged and infirm!” and all the time his little eyes burned like coals under the heavy, horny eyelids on the top of his triangular head, as he shoved his bloated barrel-body along between his crutched legs. Then he settled down, and, accustomed as the Jackal was to his ways, he could not help starting, for the hundredth time, when he saw how exactly the Mugger imitated a log adrift on the bar. He had even taken pains to lie at the exact angle a naturally stranded log would make with the water, having regard to the current of the season at the time and place. All this was only a matter of habit, of course, because the Mugger had come ashore for pleasure; but a crocodile is never quite full, and if the Jackal had been deceived by the likeness he would not have lived to philosophise over it.

“My child, I heard nothing,” said the Mugger, shutting one eye. “The water was in my ears, and also I was faint with hunger. Since the railway bridge was built my people at my village have ceased to love me; and that is breaking my heart.”

“Ah, shame!” said the Jackal. “So noble a heart, too! But men are all alike, to my mind.”

“Nay, there are very great differences indeed,” the Mugger answered gently. “Some are as lean as boat-poles. Others again are fat as young ja — dogs. Never would I causelessly revile men. They are of all fashions, but the long years have shown me that, one with another, they are very good. Men, women, and children — I have no fault to find with them. And remember, child, he who rebukes the World is rebuked by the World.”

“Flattery is worse than an empty tin can in the belly. But that which we have just heard is wisdom,” said the Adjutant, bringing down one foot.

“Consider, though, their ingratitude to this excellent one,” began the Jackal tenderly.

“Nay, nay, not ingratitude!” the Mugger said. “They do not think for others; that is all. But I have noticed, lying at my station below the ford, that the stairs of the new bridge are cruelly hard to climb, both for old people and young children. The old, indeed, are not so worthy of consideration, but I am grieved — I am truly grieved — on account of the fat children. Still, I think, in a little while, when the newness of the bridge has worn away, we shall see my people’s bare brown legs bravely splashing through the ford as before. Then the old Mugger will be honoured again.”

“But surely I saw Marigold wreaths floating off the edge of the Ghaut only this noon,” said the Adjutant.

Marigold wreaths are a sign of reverence all India over.

“An error — an error. It was the wife of the sweetmeat-seller. She loses her eyesight year by year, and cannot tell a log from me — the Mugger of the Ghaut. I saw the mistake when she threw the garland, for I was lying at the very foot of the Ghaut, and had she taken another step I might have shown her some little difference. Yet she meant well, and we must consider the spirit of the offering.”

“What good are marigold wreaths when one is on the rubbish-heap?” said the Jackal, hunting for fleas, but keeping one wary eye on his Protector of the Poor.

“True, but they have not yet begun to make the rubbish-heap that shall carry ME. Five times have I seen the river draw back from the village and make new land at the foot of the street. Five times have I seen the village rebuilt on the banks, and I shall see it built yet five times more. I am no faithless, fish-hunting Gavial, I, at Kasi today and Prayag tomorrow, as the saying is, but the true and constant watcher of the ford. It is not for nothing, child, that the village bears my name, and ‘he who watches long,’ as the saying is, ‘shall at last have his reward.’”

I have watched long — very long — nearly all my life, and my reward has been bites and blows,” said the Jackal.

“Ho! ho! ho!” roared the Adjutant.

 

“In August was the Jackal born;

The Rains fell in September;

‘Now such a fearful flood as this,’

Says he, ‘I can’t remember!’”

 

There is one very unpleasant peculiarity about the Adjutant. At uncertain times he suffers from acute attacks of the fidgets or cramp in his legs, and though he is more virtuous to behold than any of the cranes, who are all immensely respectable, he flies off into wild, cripple-stilt war-dances, half opening his wings and bobbing his bald head up and down; while for reasons best known to himself he is very careful to time his worst attacks with his nastiest remarks. At the last word of his song he came to attention again, ten times adjutaunter than before.

The Jackal winced, though he was full three seasons old, but you cannot resent an insult from a person with a beak a yard long, and the power of driving it like a javelin. The Adjutant was a most notorious coward, but the Jackal was worse.

“We must live before we can learn,” said the Mugger, “and there is this to say: Little jackals are very common, child, but such a mugger as I am is not common. For all that, I am not proud, since pride is destruction; but take notice, it is Fate, and against his Fate no one who swims or walks or runs should say anything at all. I am well contented with Fate. With good luck, a keen eye, and the custom of considering whether a creek or a backwater has an outlet to it ere you ascend, much may be done.”

“Once I heard that even the Protector of the Poor made a mistake,” said the Jackal viciously.

“True; but there my Fate helped me. It was before I had come to my full growth — before the last famine but three (by the Right and Left of Gunga, how full used the streams to be in those days!). Yes, I was young and unthinking, and when the flood came, who so pleased as I? A little made me very happy then. The village was deep in flood, and I swam above the Ghaut and went far inland, up to the rice-fields, and they were deep in good mud. I remember also a pair of bracelets (glass they were, and troubled me not a little) that I found that evening. Yes, glass bracelets; and, if my memory serves me well, a shoe. I should have shaken off both shoes, but I was hungry. I learned better later. Yes. And so I fed and rested me; but when I was ready to go to the river again the flood had fallen, and I walked through the mud of the main street. Who but I? Came out all my people, priests and women and children, and I looked upon them with benevolence. The mud is not a good place to fight in. Said a boatman, ‘Get axes and kill him, for he is the Mugger of the ford.’ ‘Not so,’ said the Brahmin. ‘Look, he is driving the flood before him! He is the godling of the village.’ Then they threw many flowers at me, and by happy thought one led a goat across the road.”

“How good — how very good is goat!” said the Jackal.

“Hairy — too hairy, and when found in the water more than likely to hide a cross-shaped hook. But that goat I accepted, and went down to the Ghaut in great honour. Later, my Fate sent me the boatman who had desired to cut off my tail with an axe. His boat grounded upon an old shoal which you would not remember.”

“We are not ALL jackals here,” said the Adjutant. “Was it the shoal made where the stone-boats sank in the year of the great drouth — a long shoal that lasted three floods?”

“There were two,” said the Mugger; “an upper and a lower shoal.”

“Ay, I forgot. A channel divided them, and later dried up again,” said the Adjutant, who prided himself on his memory.

“On the lower shoal my well-wisher’s craft grounded. He was sleeping in the bows, and, half awake, leaped over to his waist — no, it was no more than to his knees — to push off. His empty boat went on and touched again below the next reach, as the river ran then. I followed, because I knew men would come out to drag it ashore.”

“And did they do so?” said the Jackal, a little awe-stricken. This was hunting on a scale that impressed him.

“There and lower down they did. I went no farther, but that gave me three in one day — well-fed manjis (boatmen) all, and, except in the case of the last (then I was careless), never a cry to warn those on the bank.”

“Ah, noble sport! But what cleverness and great judgment it requires!” said the Jackal.

“Not cleverness, child, but only thought. A little thought in life is like salt upon rice, as the boatmen say, and I have thought deeply always. The Gavial, my cousin, the fish-eater, has told me how hard it is for him to follow his fish, and how one fish differs from the other, and how he must know them all, both together and apart. I say that is wisdom; but, on the other hand, my cousin, the Gavial, lives among his people. MY people do not swim in companies, with their mouths out of the water, as Rewa does; nor do they constantly rise to the surface of the water, and turn over on their sides, like Mohoo and little Chapta; nor do they gather in shoals after flood, like Batchua and Chilwa.”

“All are very good eating,” said the Adjutant, clattering his beak.

“So my cousin says, and makes a great to-do over hunting them, but they do not climb the banks to escape his sharp nose. MY people are otherwise. Their life is on the land, in the houses, among the cattle. I must know what they do, and what they are about to do; and adding the tail to the trunk, as the saying is, I make up the whole elephant. Is there a green branch and an iron ring hanging over a doorway? The old Mugger knows that a boy has been born in that house, and must some day come down to the Ghaut to play. Is a maiden to be married? The old Mugger knows, for he sees the men carry gifts back and forth; and she, too, comes down to the Ghaut to bathe before her wedding, and — he is there. Has the river changed its channel, and made new land where there was only sand before? The Mugger knows.”

“Now, of what use is that knowledge?” said the Jackal. “The river has shifted even in my little life.” Indian rivers are nearly always moving about in their beds, and will shift, sometimes, as much as two or three miles in a season, drowning the fields on one bank, and spreading good silt on the other.

“There is no knowledge so useful,” said the Mugger, “for new land means new quarrels. The Mugger knows. Oho! the Mugger knows. As soon as the water has drained off, he creeps up the little creeks that men think would not hide a dog, and there he waits. Presently comes a farmer saying he will plant cucumbers here, and melons there, in the new land that the river has given him. He feels the good mud with his bare toes. Anon comes another, saying he will put onions, and carrots, and sugar-cane in such and such places. They meet as boats adrift meet, and each rolls his eye at the other under the big blue turban. The old Mugger sees and hears. Each calls the other ‘Brother,’ and they go to mark out the boundaries of the new land. The Mugger hurries with them from point to point, shuffling very low through the mud. Now they begin to quarrel! Now they say hot words! Now they pull turbans! Now they lift up their lathis (clubs), and, at last, one falls backward into the mud, and the other runs away. When he comes back the dispute is settled, as the iron-bound bamboo of the loser witnesses. Yet they are not grateful to the Mugger. No, they cry ‘Murder!’ and their families fight with sticks, twenty a-side. My people are good people — upland Jats — Malwais of the Bet. They do not give blows for sport, and, when the fight is done, the old Mugger waits far down the river, out of sight of the village, behind the kikar-scrub yonder. Then come they down, my broad-shouldered Jats — eight or nine together under the stars, bearing the dead man upon a bed. They are old men with gray beards, and voices as deep as mine. They light a little fire — ah! how well I know that fire! — and they drink tobacco, and they nod their heads together forward in a ring, or sideways toward the dead man upon the bank. They say the English Law will come with a rope for this matter, and that such a man’s family will be ashamed, because such a man must be hanged in the great square of the Jail. Then say the friends of the dead, ‘Let him hang!’ and the talk is all to do over again — once, twice, twenty times in the long night. Then says one, at last, ‘The fight was a fair fight. Let us take blood-money, a little more than is offered by the slayer, and we will say no more about it.’ Then do they haggle over the blood-money, for the dead was a strong man, leaving many sons. Yet before amratvela (sunrise) they put the fire to him a little, as the custom is, and the dead man comes to me, and HE says no more about it. Aha! my children, the Mugger knows — the Mugger knows — and my Malwah Jats are a good people!”

“They are too close — too narrow in the hand for my crop,” croaked the Adjutant. “They waste not the polish on the cow’s horn, as the saying is; and, again, who can glean after a Malwai?”

“Ah, I— glean — THEM,” said the Mugger.

“Now, in Calcutta of the South, in the old days,” the Adjutant went on, “everything was thrown into the streets, and we picked and chose. Those wore dainty seasons. But today they keep their streets as clean as the outside of an egg, and my people fly away. To be clean is one thing; to dust, sweep, and sprinkle seven times a day wearies the very Gods themselves.”

“There was a down-country jackal had it from a brother, who told me, that in Calcutta of the South all the jackals were as fat as otters in the Rains,” said the Jackal, his mouth watering at the bare thought of it.

“Ah, but the white-faces are there — the English, and they bring dogs from somewhere down the river in boats — big fat dogs — to keep those same jackals lean,” said the Adjutant.

“They are, then, as hard-hearted as these people? I might have known. Neither earth, sky, nor water shows charity to a jackal. I saw the tents of a white-face last season, after the Rains, and I also took a new yellow bridle to eat. The white-faces do not dress their leather in the proper way. It made me very sick.”

“That was better than my case,” said the Adjutant. “When I was in my third season, a young and a bold bird, I went down to the river where the big boats come in. The boats of the English are thrice as big as this village.”

“He has been as far as Delhi, and says all the people there walk on their heads,” muttered the Jackal. The Mugger opened his left eye, and looked keenly at the Adjutant.

“It is true,” the big bird insisted. “A liar only lies when he hopes to be believed. No one who had not seen those boats COULD believe this truth.”

“THAT is more reasonable,” said the Mugger. “And then?”

“From the insides of this boat they were taking out great pieces of white stuff, which, in a little while, turned to water. Much split off, and fell about on the shore, and the rest they swiftly put into a house with thick walls. But a boatman, who laughed, took a piece no larger than a small dog, and threw it to me. I— all my people — swallow without reflection, and that piece I swallowed as is our custom. Immediately I was afflicted with an excessive cold which, beginning in my crop, ran down to the extreme end of my toes, and deprived me even of speech, while the boatmen laughed at me. Never have I felt such cold. I danced in my grief and amazement till I could recover my breath and then I danced and cried out against the falseness of this world; and the boatmen derided me till they fell down. The chief wonder of the matter, setting aside that marvellous coldness, was that there was nothing at all in my crop when I had finished my lamentings!”

The Adjutant had done his very best to describe his feelings after swallowing a seven-pound lump of Wenham Lake ice, off an American ice-ship, in the days before Calcutta made her ice by machinery; but as he did not know what ice was, and as the Mugger and the Jackal knew rather less, the tale missed fire.

“Anything,” said the Mugger, shutting his left eye again —“ANYTHING is possible that comes out of a boat thrice the size of Mugger–Ghaut. My village is not a small one.”

There was a whistle overhead on the bridge, and the Delhi Mail slid across, all the carriages gleaming with light, and the shadows faithfully following along the river. It clanked away into the dark again; but the Mugger and the Jackal were so well used to it that they never turned their heads.

“Is that anything less wonderful than a boat thrice the size of Mugger–Ghaut?” said the bird, looking up.

“I saw that built, child. Stone by stone I saw the bridge-piers rise, and when the men fell off (they were wondrous sure-footed for the most part — but WHEN they fell) I was ready. After the first pier was made they never thought to look down the stream for the body to burn. There, again, I saved much trouble. There was nothing strange in the building of the bridge,” said the Mugger.

“But that which goes across, pulling the roofed carts! That is strange,” the Adjutant repeated. “It is, past any doubt, a new breed of bullock. Some day it will not be able to keep its foothold up yonder, and will fall as the men did. The old Mugger will then be ready.”

The Jackal looked at the Adjutant and the Adjutant looked at the Jackal. If there was one thing they were more certain of than another, it was that the engine was everything in the wide world except a bullock. The Jackal had watched it time and again from the aloe hedges by the side of the line, and the Adjutant had seen engines since the first locomotive ran in India. But the Mugger had only looked up at the thing from below, where the brass dome seemed rather like a bullock’s hump.

“M— yes, a new kind of bullock,” the Mugger repeated ponderously, to make himself quite sure in his own mind; and “Certainly it is a bullock,” said the Jackal.

“And again it might be ——” began the Mugger pettishly.

“Certainly — most certainly,” said the Jackal, without waiting for the other to finish.

“What?” said the Mugger angrily, for he could feel that the others knew more than he did. “What might it be? I never finished my words. You said it was a bullock.”

“It is anything the Protector of the Poor pleases. I am HIS servant — not the servant of the thing that crosses the river.”

“Whatever it is, it is white-face work,” said the Adjutant; “and for my own part, I would not lie out upon a place so near to it as this bar.”

“You do not know the English as I do,” said the Mugger. “There was a white-face here when the bridge was built, and he would take a boat in the evenings and shuffle with his feet on the bottom-boards, and whisper: ‘Is he here? Is he there? Bring me my gun.’ I could hear him before I could see him — each sound that he made — creaking and puffing and rattling his gun, up and down the river. As surely as I had picked up one of his workmen, and thus saved great expense in wood for the burning, so surely would he come down to the Ghaut, and shout in a loud voice that he would hunt me, and rid the river of me — the Mugger of Mugger–Ghaut! ME! Children, I have swum under the bottom of his boat for hour after hour, and heard him fire his gun at logs; and when I was well sure he was wearied, I have risen by his side and snapped my jaws in his face. When the bridge was finished he went away. All the English hunt in that fashion, except when they are hunted.”

“Who hunts the white-faces?” yapped the Jackal excitedly.

“No one now, but I have hunted them in my time.”

“I remember a little of that Hunting. I was young then,” said the Adjutant, clattering his beak significantly.

“I was well established here. My village was being builded for the third time, as I remember, when my cousin, the Gavial, brought me word of rich waters above Benares. At first I would not go, for my cousin, who is a fish-eater, does not always know the good from the bad; but I heard my people talking in the evenings, and what they said made me certain.”

“And what did they say?” the Jackal asked.

“They said enough to make me, the Mugger of Mugger–Ghaut, leave water and take to my feet. I went by night, using the littlest streams as they served me; but it was the beginning of the hot weather, and all streams were low. I crossed dusty roads; I went through tall grass; I climbed hills in the moonlight. Even rocks did I climb, children — consider this well. I crossed the tail of Sirhind, the waterless, before I could find the set of the little rivers that flow Gungaward. I was a month’s journey from my own people and the river that I knew. That was very marvellous!”

“What food on the way?” said the Jackal, who kept his soul in his little stomach, and was not a bit impressed by the Mugger’s land travels.

“That which I could find — COUSIN,” said the Mugger slowly, dragging each word.

Now you do not call a man a cousin in India unless you think you can establish some kind of blood-relationship, and as it is only in old fairy-tales that the Mugger ever marries a jackal, the Jackal knew for what reason he had been suddenly lifted into the Mugger’s family circle. If they had been alone he would not have cared, but the Adjutant’s eyes twinkled with mirth at the ugly jest.

“Assuredly, Father, I might have known,” said the Jackal. A mugger does not care to be called a father of jackals, and the Mugger of Mugger–Ghaut said as much — and a great deal more which there is no use in repeating here.

“The Protector of the Poor has claimed kinship. How can I remember the precise degree? Moreover, we eat the same food. He has said it,” was the Jackal’s reply.

That made matters rather worse, for what the Jackal hinted at was that the Mugger must have eaten his food on that land-march fresh and fresh every day, instead of keeping it by him till it was in a fit and proper condition, as every self-respecting mugger and most wild beasts do when they can. Indeed, one of the worst terms of contempt along the River-bed is “eater of fresh meat.” It is nearly as bad as calling a man a cannibal.

“That food was eaten thirty seasons ago,” said the Adjutant quietly. “If we talk for thirty seasons more it will never come back. Tell us, now, what happened when the good waters were reached after thy most wonderful land journey. If we listened to the howling of every jackal the business of the town would stop, as the saying is.”

The Mugger must have been grateful for the interruption, because he went on, with a rush:

“By the Right and Left of Gunga! when I came there never did I see such waters!”

“Were they better, then, than the big flood of last season?” said the Jackal.

“Better! That flood was no more than comes every five years — a handful of drowned strangers, some chickens, and a dead bullock in muddy water with cross-currents. But the season I think of, the river was low, smooth, and even, and, as the Gavial had warned me, the dead English came down, touching each other. I got my girth in that season — my girth and my depth. From Agra, by Etawah and the broad waters by Allahabad ——”

“Oh, the eddy that set under the walls of the fort at Allahabad!” said the Adjutant. “They came in there like widgeon to the reeds, and round and round they swung — thus!”

He went off into his horrible dance again, while the Jackal looked on enviously. He naturally could not remember the terrible year of the Mutiny they were talking about. The Mugger continued:

“Yes, by Allahabad one lay still in the slack-water and let twenty go by to pick one; and, above all, the English were not cumbered with jewellery and nose-rings and anklets as my women are nowadays. To delight in ornaments is to end with a rope for a necklace, as the saying is. All the muggers of all the rivers grew fat then, but it was my Fate to be fatter than them all. The news was that the English were being hunted into the rivers, and by the Right and Left of Gunga! we believed it was true. So far as I went south I believed it to be true; and I went down-stream beyond Monghyr and the tombs that look over the river.”

“I know that place,” said the Adjutant. “Since those days Monghyr is a lost city. Very few live there now.”

“Thereafter I worked up-stream very slowly and lazily, and a little above Monghyr there came down a boatful of white-faces — alive! They were, as I remember, women, lying under a cloth spread over sticks, and crying aloud. There was never a gun fired at us, the watchers of the fords in those days. All the guns were busy elsewhere. We could hear them day and night inland, coming and going as the wind shifted. I rose up full before the boat, because I had never seen white-faces alive, though I knew them well — otherwise. A naked white child kneeled by the side of the boat, and, stooping over, must needs try to trail his hands in the river. It is a pretty thing to see how a child loves running water. I had fed that day, but there was yet a little unfilled space within me. Still, it was for sport and not for food that I rose at the child’s hands. They were so clear a mark that I did not even look when I closed; but they were so small that though my jaws rang true — I am sure of that — the child drew them up swiftly, unhurt. They must have passed between tooth and tooth — those small white hands. I should have caught him cross-wise at the elbows; but, as I said, it was only for sport and desire to see new things that I rose at all. They cried out one after another in the boat, and presently I rose again to watch them. The boat was too heavy to push over. They were only women, but he who trusts a woman will walk on duckweed in a pool, as the saying is: and by the Right and Left of Gunga, that is truth!”

“Once a woman gave me some dried skin from a fish,” said the Jackal. “I had hoped to get her baby, but horse-food is better than the kick of a horse, as the saying is. What did thy woman do?”

“She fired at me with a short gun of a kind I have never seen before or since. Five times, one after another” (the Mugger must have met with an old-fashioned revolver); “and I stayed open-mouthed and gaping, my head in the smoke. Never did I see such a thing. Five times, as swiftly as I wave my tail — thus!”

The Jackal, who had been growing more and more interested in the story, had just time to leap back as the huge tail swung by like a scythe.

“Not before the fifth shot,” said the Mugger, as though he had never dreamed of stunning one of his listeners —“not before the fifth shot did I sink, and I rose in time to hear a boatman telling all those white women that I was most certainly dead. One bullet had gone under a neck-plate of mine. I know not if it is there still, for the reason I cannot turn my head. Look and see, child. It will show that my tale is true.”

“I?” said the Jackal. “Shall an eater of old shoes, a bone-cracker, presume, to doubt the word of the Envy of the River? May my tail be bitten off by blind puppies if the shadow of such a thought has crossed my humble mind! The Protector of the Poor has condescended to inform me, his slave, that once in his life he has been wounded by a woman. That is sufficient, and I will tell the tale to all my children, asking for no proof.”

“Over-much civility is sometimes no better than over-much discourtesy, for, as the saying is, one can choke a guest with curds. I do NOT desire that any children of thine should know that the Mugger of Mugger–Ghaut took his only wound from a woman. They will have much else to think of if they get their meat as miserably as does their father.”

“It is forgotten long ago! It was never said! There never was a white woman! There was no boat! Nothing whatever happened at all.”

The Jackal waved his brush to show how completely everything was wiped out of his memory, and sat down with an air.

“Indeed, very many things happened,” said the Mugger, beaten in his second attempt that night to get the better of his friend. (Neither bore malice, however. Eat and be eaten was fair law along the river, and the Jackal came in for his share of plunder when the Mugger had finished a meal.) “I left that boat and went up-stream, and, when I had reached Arrah and the back-waters behind it, there were no more dead English. The river was empty for a while. Then came one or two dead, in red coats, not English, but of one kind all — Hindus and Purbeeahs — then five and six abreast, and at last, from Arrah to the North beyond Agra, it was as though whole villages had walked into the water. They came out of little creeks one after another, as the logs come down in the Rains. When the river rose they rose also in companies from the shoals they had rested upon; and the falling flood dragged them with it across the fields and through the Jungle by the long hair. All night, too, going North, I heard the guns, and by day the shod feet of men crossing fords, and that noise which a heavy cart-wheel makes on sand under water; and every ripple brought more dead. At last even I was afraid, for I said: ‘If this thing happen to men, how shall the Mugger of Mugger–Ghaut escape?’ There were boats, too, that came up behind me without sails, burning continually, as the cotton-boats sometimes burn, but never sinking.”

“Ah!” said the Adjutant. “Boats like those come to Calcutta of the South. They are tall and black, they beat up the water behind them with a tail, and they ——”

“Are thrice as big as my village. MY boats were low and white; they beat up the water on either side of them and were no larger than the boats of one who speaks truth should be. They made me very afraid, and I left water and went back to this my river, hiding by day and walking by night, when I could not find little streams to help me. I came to my village again, but I did not hope to see any of my people there. Yet they were ploughing and sowing and reaping, and going to and fro in their fields, as quietly as their own cattle.”

“Was there still good food in the river?” said the Jackal.

“More than I had any desire for. Even I— and I do not eat mud — even I was tired, and, as I remember, a little frightened of this constant coming down of the silent ones. I heard my people say in my village that all the English were dead; but those that came, face down, with the current were NOT English, as my people saw. Then my people said that it was best to say nothing at all, but to pay the tax and plough the land. After a long time the river cleared, and those that came down it had been clearly drowned by the floods, as I could well see; and though it was not so easy then to get food, I was heartily glad of it. A little killing here and there is no bad thing — but even the Mugger is sometimes satisfied, as the saying is.”

“Marvellous! Most truly marvellous!” said the Jackal. “I am become fat through merely hearing about so much good eating. And afterward what, if it be permitted to ask, did the Protector of the Poor do?”

“I said to myself — and by the Right and Left of Gunga! I locked my jaws on that vow — I said I would never go roving any more. So I lived by the Ghaut, very close to my own people, and I watched over them year after year; and they loved me so much that they threw marigold wreaths at my head whenever they saw it lift. Yes, and my Fate has been very kind to me, and the river is good enough to respect my poor and infirm presence; only ——”

“No one is all happy from his beak to his tail,” said the Adjutant sympathetically. “What does the Mugger of Mugger–Ghaut need more?”

“That little white child which I did not get,” said the Mugger, with a deep sigh. “He was very small, but I have not forgotten. I am old now, but before I die it is my desire to try one new thing. It is true they are a heavy-footed, noisy, and foolish people, and the sport would be small, but I remember the old days above Benares, and, if the child lives, he will remember still. It may be he goes up and down the bank of some river, telling how he once passed his hands between the teeth of the Mugger of Mugger–Ghaut, and lived to make a tale of it. My Fate has been very kind, but that plagues me sometimes in my dreams — the thought of the little white child in the bows of that boat.” He yawned, and closed his jaws. “And now I will rest and think. Keep silent, my children, and respect the aged.”

He turned stiffly, and shuffled to the top of the sand-bar, while the Jackal drew back with the Adjutant to the shelter of a tree stranded on the end nearest the railway bridge.

“That was a pleasant and profitable life,” he grinned, looking up inquiringly at the bird who towered above him. “And not once, mark you, did he think fit to tell me where a morsel might have been left along the banks. Yet I have told HIM a hundred times of good things wallowing down-stream. How true is the saying, ‘All the world forgets the Jackal and the Barber when the news has been told!’ Now he is going to sleep! Arrh!”

“How can a jackal hunt with a Mugger?” said the Adjutant coolly. “Big thief and little thief; it is easy to say who gets the pickings.”

The Jackal turned, whining impatiently, and was going to curl himself up under the tree-trunk, when suddenly he cowered, and looked up through the draggled branches at the bridge almost above his head.

“What now?” said the Adjutant, opening his wings uneasily.

“Wait till we see. The wind blows from us to them, but they are not looking for us — those two men.”

“Men, is it? My office protects me. All India knows I am holy.” The Adjutant, being a first-class scavenger, is allowed to go where he pleases, and so this one never flinched.

“I am not worth a blow from anything better than an old shoe,” said the Jackal, and listened again. “Hark to that footfall!” he went on. “That was no country leather, but the shod foot of a white-face. Listen again! Iron hits iron up there! It is a gun! Friend, those heavy-footed, foolish English are coming to speak with the Mugger.”

“Warn him, then. He was called Protector of the Poor by some one not unlike a starving Jackal but a little time ago.”

“Let my cousin protect his own hide. He has told me again and again there is nothing to fear from the white-faces. They must be white-faces. Not a villager of Mugger–Ghaut would dare to come after him. See, I said it was a gun! Now, with good luck, we shall feed before daylight. He cannot hear well out of water, and — this time it is not a woman!”

A shiny barrel glittered for a minute in the moonlight on the girders. The Mugger was lying on the sand-bar as still as his own shadow, his fore-feet spread out a little, his head dropped between them, snoring like a — mugger.

A voice on the bridge whispered: “It’s an odd shot — straight down almost — but as safe as houses. Better try behind the neck. Golly! what a brute! The villagers will be wild if he’s shot, though. He’s the deota [godling] of these parts.”

“Don’t care a rap,” another voice answered; “he took about fifteen of my best coolies while the bridge was building, and it’s time he was put a stop to. I’ve been after him in a boat for weeks. Stand by with the Martini as soon as I’ve given him both barrels of this.”

“Mind the kick, then. A double four-bore’s no joke.”

“That’s for him to decide. Here goes!”

There was a roar like the sound of a small cannon (the biggest sort of elephant-rifle is not very different from some artillery), and a double streak of flame, followed by the stinging crack of a Martini, whose long bullet makes nothing of a crocodile’s plates. But the explosive bullets did the work. One of them struck just behind the Mugger’s neck, a hand’s-breadth to the left of the backbone, while the other burst a little lower down, at the beginning of the tail. In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred a mortally-wounded crocodile can scramble to deep water and get away; but the Mugger of Mugger–Ghaut was literally broken into three pieces. He hardly moved his head before the life went out of him, and he lay as flat as the Jackal.

“Thunder and lightning! Lightning and thunder!” said that miserable little beast. “Has the thing that pulls the covered carts over the bridge tumbled at last?”

“It is no more than a gun,” said the Adjutant, though his very tail-feathers quivered. “Nothing more than a gun. He is certainly dead. Here come the white-faces.”

The two Englishmen had hurried down from the bridge and across to the sand-bar, where they stood admiring the length of the Mugger. Then a native with an axe cut off the big head, and four men dragged it across the spit.

“The last time that I had my hand in a Mugger’s mouth,” said one of the Englishmen, stooping down (he was the man who had built the bridge), “it was when I was about five years old — coming down the river by boat to Monghyr. I was a Mutiny baby, as they call it. Poor mother was in the boat, too, and she often told me how she fired dad’s old pistol at the beast’s head.”

“Well, you’ve certainly had your revenge on the chief of the clan — even if the gun has made your nose bleed. Hi, you boatmen! Haul that head up the bank, and we’ll boil it for the skull. The skin’s too knocked about to keep. Come along to bed now. This was worth sitting up all night for, wasn’t it?”

*****

Curiously enough, the Jackal and the Adjutant made the very same remark not three minutes after the men had left.

 

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Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Buckwheat”

Very often, after a violent thunder-storm, a field of buckwheat appears blackened and singed, as if a flame of fire had passed over it. The country people say that this appearance is caused by lightning; but I will tell you what the sparrow says, and the sparrow heard it from an old willow-tree which grew near a field of buckwheat, and is there still. It is a large venerable tree, though a little crippled by age. The trunk has been split, and out of the crevice grass and brambles grow. The tree bends for-ward slightly, and the branches hang quite down to the ground just like green hair. Corn grows in the surrounding fields, not only rye and barley, but oats,—pretty oats that, when ripe, look like a number of little golden canary-birds sitting on a bough. The corn has a smiling look and the heaviest and richest ears bend their heads low as if in pious humility. Once there was also a field of buckwheat, and this field was exactly opposite to old willow-tree. The buckwheat did not bend like the other grain, but erected its head proudly and stiffly on the stem. “I am as valuable as any other corn,” said he, “and I am much handsomer; my flowers are as beautiful as the bloom of the apple blossom, and it is a pleasure to look at us. Do you know of anything prettier than we are, you old willow-tree?”

And the willow-tree nodded his head, as if he would say, “Indeed I do.”

But the buckwheat spread itself out with pride, and said, “Stupid tree; he is so old that grass grows out of his body.”

There arose a very terrible storm. All the field-flowers folded their leaves together, or bowed their little heads, while the storm passed over them, but the buckwheat stood erect in its pride. “Bend your head as we do,” said the flowers.

“I have no occasion to do so,” replied the buckwheat.

“Bend your head as we do,” cried the ears of corn; “the angel of the storm is coming; his wings spread from the sky above to the earth beneath. He will strike you down before you can cry for mercy.”

“But I will not bend my head,” said the buckwheat.

“Close your flowers and bend your leaves,” said the old willow-tree. “Do not look at the lightning when the cloud bursts; even men cannot do that. In a flash of lightning heaven opens, and we can look in; but the sight will strike even human beings blind. What then must happen to us, who only grow out of the earth, and are so inferior to them, if we venture to do so?”

“Inferior, indeed!” said the buckwheat. “Now I intend to have a peep into heaven.” Proudly and boldly he looked up, while the lightning flashed across the sky as if the whole world were in flames.

When the dreadful storm had passed, the flowers and the corn raised their drooping heads in the pure still air, refreshed by the rain, but the buckwheat lay like a weed in the field, burnt to blackness by the lightning. The branches of the old willow-tree rustled in the wind, and large water-drops fell from his green leaves as if the old willow were weeping. Then the sparrows asked why he was weeping, when all around him seemed so cheerful. “See,” they said, “how the sun shines, and the clouds float in the blue sky. Do you not smell the sweet perfume from flower and bush? Wherefore do you weep, old willow-tree?” Then the willow told them of the haughty pride of the buckwheat, and of the punishment which followed in consequence.

This is the story told me by the sparrows one evening when I begged them to relate some tale to me.

 

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Jacob and Wilhlem Grimm’s “The Dog and the Sparrow”

dog and sparrow

A shepherd’s dog had a master who took no care of him, but often let him suffer the greatest hunger. At last he could bear it no longer; so he took to his heels, and off he ran in a very sad and sorrowful mood. On the road he met a sparrow that said to him, ’Why are you so sad, my friend?’ ’Because,’ said the dog, ’I am very very hungry, and have nothing to eat.’ ’If that be all,’ answered the sparrow, ’come with me into the next town, and I will soon find you plenty of food.’ So on they went together into the town: and as they passed by a butcher’s shop, the sparrow said to the dog, ’Stand there a little while till I peck you down a piece of meat.’ So the sparrow perched upon the shelf: and having first looked carefully about her to see if anyone was watching her, she pecked and scratched at a steak that lay upon the edge of the shelf, till at last down it fell. Then the dog snapped it up, and scrambled away with it into a corner, where he soon ate it all up. ’Well,’ said the sparrow, ’you shall have some more if you will; so come with me to the next shop, and I will peck you down another steak.’ When the dog had eaten this too, the sparrow said to him, ’Well, my good friend, have you had enough now?’ ’I have had plenty of meat,’ answered he, ’but I should like to have a piece of bread to eat after it.’ ’Come with me then,’ said the sparrow, ’and you shall soon have that too.’ So she took him to a baker’s shop, and pecked at two rolls that lay in the window, till they fell down: and as the dog still wished for more, she took him to another shop and pecked down some more for him. When that was eaten, the sparrow asked him whether he had had enough now. ’Yes,’ said he; ’and now let us take a walk a little way out of the town.’ So they both went out upon the high road; but as the weather was warm, they had not gone far before the dog said, ’I am very much tired–I should like to take a nap.’ ’Very well,’ answered the sparrow, ’do so, and in the meantime I will perch upon that bush.’ So the dog stretched himself out on the road, and fell fast asleep. Whilst he slept, there came by a carter with a cart drawn by three horses, and loaded with two casks of wine. The sparrow, seeing that the carter did not turn out of the way, but would go on in the track in which the dog lay, so as to drive over him, called out, ’Stop! stop! Mr Carter, or it shall be the worse for you.’ But the carter, grumbling to himself, ’You make it the worse for me, indeed! what can you do?’ cracked his whip, and drove his cart over the poor dog, so that the wheels crushed him to death. ’There,’ cried the sparrow, ’thou cruel villain, thou hast killed my friend the dog. Now mind what I say. This deed of thine shall cost thee all thou art worth.’ ’Do your worst, and welcome,’ said the brute, ’what harm can you do me?’ and passed on. But the sparrow crept under the tilt of the cart, and pecked at the bung of one of the casks till she loosened it; and than all the wine ran out, without the carter seeing it. At last he looked round, and saw that the cart was dripping, and the cask quite empty. ’What an unlucky wretch I am!’ cried he. ’Not wretch enough yet!’ said the sparrow, as she alighted upon the head of one of the horses, and pecked at him till he reared up and kicked. When the carter saw this, he drew out his hatchet and aimed a blow at the sparrow, meaning to kill her; but she flew away, and the blow fell upon the poor horse’s head with such force, that he fell down dead. ’Unlucky wretch that I am!’ cried he. ’Not wretch enough yet!’ said the sparrow. And as the carter went on with the other two horses, she again crept under the tilt of the cart, and pecked out the bung of the second cask, so that all the wine ran out. When the carter saw this, he again cried out, ’Miserable wretch that I am!’ But the sparrow answered, ’Not wretch enough yet!’ and perched on the head of the second horse, and pecked at him too. The carter ran up and struck at her again with his hatchet; but away she flew, and the blow fell upon the second horse and killed him on the spot. ’Unlucky wretch that I am!’ said he. ’Not wretch enough yet!’ said the sparrow; and perching upon the third horse, she began to peck him too. The carter was mad with fury; and without looking about him, or caring what he was about, struck again at the sparrow; but killed his third horse as he done the other two. ’Alas! miserable wretch that I am!’ cried he. ’Not wretch enough yet!’ answered the sparrow as she flew away; ’now will I plague and punish thee at thy own house.’ The carter was forced at last to leave his cart behind him, and to go home overflowing with rage and vexation. ’Alas!’ said he to his wife, ’what ill luck has befallen me! –my wine is all spilt, and my horses all three dead.’ ’Alas! husband,’ replied she, ’and a wicked bird has come into the house, and has brought with her all the birds in the world, I am sure, and they have fallen upon our corn in the loft, and are eating it up at such a rate!’ Away ran the husband upstairs, and saw thousands of birds sitting upon the floor eating up his corn, with the sparrow in the midst of them. ’Unlucky wretch that I am!’ cried the carter; for he saw that the corn was almost all gone. ’Not wretch enough yet!’ said the sparrow; ’thy cruelty shall cost thee they life yet!’ and away she flew.

The carter seeing that he had thus lost all that he had, went down into his kitchen; and was still not sorry for what he had done, but sat himself angrily and sulkily in the chimney corner. But the sparrow sat on the outside of the window, and cried ’Carter! thy cruelty shall cost thee thy life!’ With that he jumped up in a rage, seized his hatchet, and threw it at the sparrow; but it missed her, and only broke the window. The sparrow now hopped in, perched upon the window-seat, and cried, ’Carter! it shall cost thee thy life!’ Then he became mad and blind with rage, and struck the window-seat with such force that he cleft it in two: and as the sparrow flew from place to place, the carter and his wife were so furious, that they broke all their furniture, glasses, chairs, benches, the table, and at last the walls, without touching the bird at all. In the end, however, they caught her: and the wife said, ’Shall I kill her at once?’ ’No,’ cried he, ’that is letting her off too easily: she shall die a much more cruel death; I will eat her.’ But the sparrow began to flutter about, and stretch out her neck and cried, ’Carter! it shall cost thee thy life yet!’ With that he could wait no longer: so he gave his wife the hatchet, and cried, ’Wife, strike at the bird and kill her in my hand.’ And the wife struck; but she missed her aim, and hit her husband on the head so that he fell down dead, and the sparrow flew quietly home to her nest.

 

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Rudyard Kipling’s “Mowgli’s Song Against People”

I will let loose against you the fleet-footed vines –
I will call in the Jungle to stamp out your lines !
The roofs shall fade before it,
The house-beams shall fall;
And the Karela, the bitter Karela,
Shall cover it all !

In the gates of these your councils my people shall sing.
In the doors of these your garners the Bat-folk shall cling;
And the snake shall be your watchman,
By a hearthstone unswept;
For the Karela, the bitter Karela,
Shall fruit where ye slept !

Ye shall not see my strikers; ye shall hear them and guess.
By night, before the moon-rise, I will send for my cess,
And the wolf shall be your herdsman
By a landmark removed;
For the Karela, the bitter Karela,
Shall seed where ye loved !

I will reap your fields before you at the hands of a host.
Ye shall glean behind my reapers for the bread that is lost;
And the deer shall be your oxen
On a headland untilled;
For the Karela, the bitter Karela,
Shall leaf where ye build !

I have untied against you the club-footed vines –
I have sent in the Jungle to swamp out your lines !
The trees – the trees are on you !
The house-beams shall fall;
And the Karela, the bitter Karela,
Shall cover you all !

 

Man, I’ve been off my game, guys! I’m sorry I’ve missed so many updates. A lot of exciting things have happened with The Prince of Prophecy Vol. III: Changing Tides, and it’s kept me really busy! I’m going to try to stay on top of these posts, but if I get a little behind I’m sorry in advance–right now I’m running my own three-ring circus.

For new fairy tale, Prince of Prophecy, and Writer’s Corner updates every Wednesday and Saturday, follow this blog!