Showing posts with label Short Stories. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Short Stories. Show all posts

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The game of chess


Once upon a time there was a king in Persia who had a beautiful wife and a handsome son called Gavin. Life was very happy until one day when he went hunting, the king fell from his horse and was killed. The dead ruler's brother was named the new king. His name was May. He fell in love with the widowed queen and married her, and they soon had a son named Talend.

Some time later, the new king died and only the queen and her two sons remained. They were brothers, of course, but with different fathers. The question was soon raised: “Which brother will become king of Persia?”

“It will be Gavin,” was one reply, “because he is the oldest.”

But others said, “It will be Talend, because he is the son of our last king.”

The queen said nothing at all. However, sooner or later, she would have to come to a decision, and she didn't want to disappoint either boy. As long as the two boys were small, it didn't matter. But when they grew up and began to ask when one or the other was going to be crowned king, the problems began.

The queen simply couldn't make up her mind. When the ministers asked her to make a decision, she would reply, “Yes, I will do it tomorrow.”

Years went by. Gavin and Talend grew up to be young men, and became rivals. As children they were always together; as youths, they saw little of each other. Each had his own group of friends. In that way, two opposing sides were formed: one supported Talend, the other supported Gavin.

The ministers were very worried and insisted that the queen choose the king. But she couldn't bring herself to do it, for fear of disappointing one of her dearly loved sons.

As the years passed, the kingdom drifted toward civil war. The two princes did not see eye to eye. Neither one wanted to give up the throne; neither one wanted to step down. Some of the provinces sided with Talend, others with Gavin. Certain battalions in the army swore allegiance to Talend, others to Gavin. The two young men met, but only to stare at each other coldly and to promise war instead of peace, and war was fast approaching.

Two opposing armies were built. Gavin's army began to march against Talend's. All Persia held its breath, awaiting the conflict that was to decide its fate. The battle was fought with equal forces. Both armies had the same number of foot soldiers, standard-bearers, and elephants. Elephants were very important in Persia because they carried on their backs wicker turrets from which archers fired arrows at the enemy.

Neither of the brothers wanted the other to die. In spite of everything, the brothers felt the pull of their family ties. Indeed, each had given an order that if the soldiers found they were about to kill the enemy leader, they were to stop and warn him by shouting, “Watch out, King!”

The conflict lasted for a long time, until Gavin's troops were overcome and Talend found himself with only a few soldiers to defend him. Then, a little later, quite alone, Talend found himself surrounded on all sides by Gavin's turreted elephants, slowly advancing on him. No arrows were fired on the prince; he turned this way and that, searching for a way to escape. But his heart failed at that moment, and he fell to the ground dead. High in the palace tower, the queen had watched the battle with deep sadness in her heart, knowing that she was at that moment losing one of her sons.

When she saw that the dust had settled on the distant plain and the cries of battle had faded, the queen came down from the tower and rushed through the palace to meet those returning from the field. She stopped in her tracks. Her son Gavin, his clothes in tatters and splashed with blood, staggered sadly toward her. “Talend?” stammered the queen.

Gavin shook his head, “Oh, Mother,” he said, “my brother Talend is dead.”

“Dead! Did you kill him?”

“No, Mother!” exclaimed Gavin. “I would never have done such a thing.”

“But you ordered his death!” exclaimed the queen.

The young man then knelt before her and, taking the hem of her dress in his hand, said, “Mother, I swear nobody was responsible for my brother's death. He died, but not violently.”

“I shall never believe that is the truth,” wept the queen.

But Gavin said, “I shall prove that it is.”

He then thought of a way to show his mother how the battle had been fought. First of all, he asked a carpenter to make him a board, as flat as the plain. Then to mark the positions and maneuvers of the two armies, the board was divided into white and black squares. A wood carver made him a miniature army of foot soldiers, a king, standard-bearers, knights, and towers, to take the place of the elephants and their turrets.

When everything was ready, Gavin called the queen and, moving one piece at a time, acted out the various stages of battle. “You see, Mother, my foot soldiers advanced like this, so Talend maneuvered his like that. Each time my brother was about to be killed, I had the men cry out, ‘Watch out, King!’ so that he could reach safety,” said Gavin.

“In the end, though, my Talend was no longer safe,” murmured the queen.

Gavin sadly replied, “That's true. He was surrounded. But I would never have had him killed, Mother. It was his heart that gave out. My brother realized he had lost, and so he died.”

The queen then said, “I understand, Son, and I forgive you. I believe you'll be a good king for our country. But I wonder why, in a battle between two kings, one must win and the other lose.”

The poor queen kept asking herself the same question for a very long time. She would sit all day long beside the little battlefield moving the pieces -  foot soldiers, standard-bearers, and towers - always trying to save the king. In the end, she understood that, in make-believe as in real life, when there is a fight to the last, one of the opponents must fall, just as her son Talend had fallen.

One day, they found the poor queen dead on what was, by then, known as the chessboard.

--------------
This is one of the stories about the origin of chess. Today, it is a peaceful contest that recalls a real-life battle. In the modern world it is a fun game, but then it caused a poor mother who saw her sons fight against each other, sadness and suffering. While visiting Emperor Akbar's residence at Fatherpur Sikri, we saw a giant courtyard with chess board marked out. The king and queen sat on pedestal in the middle and they played the game with slave girls dressed in various colors, instead of pawns.



Credits: Brothers Grimm

Monday, June 10, 2013

Wise men of Gotham


There is a town in England called Gotham. One day, news was brought to Gotham that the king was coming that way, and that he would pass through the town. This did not please the men of Gotham at all. They hated the king, for they knew that he was a cruel, bad man. If he came to their town, they would have to find food and lodging for him and his men; and if he saw anything that pleased him, he would be sure to take it for his own. At that time in England, any road the king traveled on had to be made a public highway and the people of Gotham did not want a public highway through their village.What should they do?

They met together to talk the matter over.

"Let us chop down the big trees in the woods, so that they will block up all the roads that lead into the town," said one of the wise men.

"Good!" said all the rest.

So they went out with their axes, and soon all the roads and paths to the town were filled with logs and brush. The king's horsemen would have a hard time of it getting into Gotham. They would either have to make a new road, or give up the plan altogether, and go on to some other place.

When the king came, and saw that the road had been blocked up, he was very angry.

"Who chopped those trees down in my way?" he asked of two country lads that were passing by.

"The men of Gotham," said the lads.

"Well," said the king, "go and tell the men of Gotham that I shall send my sheriff into their town, and have all their noses cut off."

The two lads ran to the town as fast as they could, and made known what the king had said.

Everybody was in great fright. The men ran from house to house, carrying the news, and asking one another what they should do.

"Our wits have kept the king out of the town," said one; "and so now our wits must save our noses."

"True, true!" said the others. "But what shall we do?"

Then one, whose name was Dobbin, and who was thought to be the wisest of them all, said, "Let me tell you something. Many a man has been punished because he was wise, but I have never heard of any one being harmed because he was a fool. So, when the king's sheriff comes, let us all act like fools."

"Good, good!" cried the others. "We will all act like fools."

It was no easy thing for the king's men to open the roads; and while they were doing it, the king grew tired of waiting, and went back to London. But very early one morning, the sheriff with a party of fierce soldiers rode through the woods, and between the fields, toward Gotham. Just before they reached the town, they saw a queer sight. The old men were rolling big stones up the hill, and all the young men were looking on, and grunting very loudly.

The sheriff stopped his horses, and asked what they were doing.

"We are rolling stones uphill to make the sun rise," said one of the old men.

"You foolish fellow!" said the sheriff. "Don't you know that the sun will rise without any help?"

"Ah! will it?" said the old man. "Well, I never thought of that. How wise you are!"

"And what are you doing?" said the sheriff to the young men.

"Oh, we do the grunting while our fathers do the working," they answered.

"I see," said the sheriff. "Well, that is the way the world goes everywhere. " And he rode on toward the town.

He soon came to a field where a number of men were building a stone wall.

"What are you doing?" he asked.

"Why, master," they answered, "there is a cuckoo in this field, and we are building a wall around it so as to keep the bird from straying away."

"You foolish fellows!" said the sheriff. "Don't you know that the bird will fly over the top of your wall, no matter how high you build it?"

"Why, no," they said. "We never thought of that. How very wise you are!"

The sheriff next met a man who was carrying a door on his back.

"What are you doing?" he asked.

"I have just started on a long journey, " said the man.

"But why do you carry that door?" asked the sheriff.

"I left my money at home."

"Then why didn't you leave the door at home too?"

"I was afraid of thieves; and you see, if I have the door with me, they can't break it open and get in."

"You foolish fellow!" said the sheriff. "It would be safer to leave the door at home, and carry the money with you."

"Ah, would it, though?" said the man. "Now, I never thought of that. You are the wisest man that I ever saw."

Then the sheriff rode on with his men; but every one that they met was doing some silly thing.

"Truly I believe that the people of Gotham are all fools," said one of the horsemen.

"That is true," said another. "It would be a shame to harm such simple people."

"Let us ride back to London, and tell the king all about them," said the sheriff.

"Yes, let us do so," said the horsemen.

So they went back, and told the king that Gotham was a town of fools; and the king laughed, and said that if that was the case, he would not harm them, but would let them keep their noses.


Thursday, June 6, 2013

Fountain of youth



Among the Spaniards who flocked to America in the hope of finding gold, there was a certain officer whose name was Juan Ponce de Leon. He had distinguished himself in the Spanish army and was very rich. He also had much influence with the king - so much, in fact, that he was soon appointed governor of all the eastern part of Haiti.

While attending to his duties in Haiti, he learned that at some distance farther eastward there was a rich island abounding in gold and other precious metals. The Indians called this island Borinquen; it was the same land which Columbus had discovered a few years before and called Porto Rico.

Ponce de Leon was so much pleased by the reports which were brought to him of the great wealth of Porto Rico that he at once made up his mind to get that wealth for himself. The king of Spain was very willing to please him and to have a share of the profits, and therefore appointed him governor of Porto Rico. Ponce was not a man to waste time in any undertaking. With eight stanch ships and several hundred men, he at once set sail for his new province and in due time landed upon the island.

The natives were kind and gentle. They welcomed the white men to their pleasant country and tried to help them in such ways as they could. Ponce de Leon repaid them as the Spaniards at that time usually repaid a kindness,—he robbed them of all they had and made slaves of as many as he could. Then at length the harassed savages turned against their oppressors and tried to drive them from the island; but what could they do against enemies so cunning and strong?

Ponce was as heartless and unfeeling as any wild beast. Soon the once happy island was filled with distress and terror. The Indians were hunted from their homes. Thousands of them were killed, and the rest became the slaves of their conquerors.

Ponce began to form a settlement at a place now called Pueblo Viejo; but he soon changed his plans and removed to a fine harbor on the north shore of the island. There he laid out the city of San Juan. He built for himself, near the mouth of the harbor, a grand house which he called Casa Blanca, or the White Castle; and there he made his home for some time.

But, with all his wealth, Ponce was not happy. He had lived so carelessly and wildly that his youth went from him early. At fifty years of age he was a miserable old man. There was no more joy in the world for him.

One day as he was sitting unhappy in the White Castle, a thing occurred that kindled a spark of hope in his despairing mind. He overheard an Indian slave say, "In Bimini no one grows old."

"Bimini! What is Bimini?" he asked.

"It is a beautiful island that lies far, far to the north of us," was the answer.

"Tell me about it."

"There is a fountain there, a spring of clear water, the most wonderful in the world. Every one that bathes in it becomes as young and strong as he was in his best days. No one grows old in Bimini."

"Have you ever been there?"

"Ah, no. It is too far away for any of our people to make the voyage. But we have heard talk of the fountain all our lives."

Ponce asked other Indians about Bimini and its magic fountain. All had heard of it. It. was a land fragrant with flowers. It lay far to the northwest - too far for frail canoes to venture. But the great ships of the white men could easily make the voyage in a few days.

Ponce made up his mind to discover the fountain. He first got the king's permission to conquer Bimini, wherever it might be. Then with three ships and a number of followers he sailed toward the northwest. He passed through the great group of islands known as the Bahamas; and, wherever there were natives living, he stopped and made inquiries.

"Where is Bimini? Where is the magic fountain of youth?"

They pointed to the northwest. It was always a little farther and a little farther. No one had ever seen the fountain, but Ponce understood that every one had heard of it.

At length, after leaving the Bahamas far behind them, the Spaniards discovered a strange coast where the land seemed to be covered with flowers. Was this Bimini?

Nobody could tell. The coast stretched so far northward and southward that Ponce felt sure it was no island but the mainland of a continent. The day was Easter Sunday, which in Spain is called Pascua de Flores, or the Feast of Flowers. For this reason, and also because of the abundance of flowers, the Spaniards named the land Florida.

Ponce de Leon went on shore at many places and sought for the wonderful fountain. He drank from every clear spring. He bathed in many a limpid stream. But his lost youth did not come back to him.

He sailed southward and around to the western coast of Florida, asking everywhere, "Is this Bimini? And where is the fountain of youth?"

But the Indians who lived there had never heard of Bimini, and they knew of no fountain of youth. And so, at last, the search was given up, and Ponce returned disappointed to Porto Rico.

Nine years passed, and then he sailed again for Florida. This time he took a number of men with him in order to conquer the country and seize upon whatever treasures he might find there. More than this, he expected to explore its woods and rivers and seek again for the mysterious fountain of youth.

The Florida Indians did not have any treasures; but they were brave and loved their homes. They would not be conquered and enslaved without a struggle. They therefore fell upon the Spaniards when they landed, and drove them back to their ships.

Ponce de Leon was struck by an arrow. He was wounded in the thigh.

"Take me back to Spain," said he, "for I shall never find the fountain of youth."

His ship carried him to Cuba; but no skill could heal his wound. He lingered in pain for a long time, and then died, bewailing his lost youth.

-----
Where else can we find the fountain of youth?
To me, the One who stays young forever is the Holy Spirit. When we embrace the Holy Spirit, our own spirit has found the fountain of youth.

The Bible, confirms it in Psalms 36: 5-9

Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the skies.
Your righteousness is like the highest mountains,
your justice like the great deep.
You, Lord, preserve both people and animals.
How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!
People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house;
you give them drink from your river of delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light we see light.

.. and in Proverbs 10: 11
The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life

.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Beauty of Form and Beauty of Mind



There was once a sculptor, named Alfred, who having won the large gold medal and obtained a travelling scholarship, went to Italy, and then came back to his native land. He was young at that time- indeed, he is young still, although he is ten years older than he was then.

On his return, he went to visit one of the little towns in the island of Zealand. The whole town knew who the stranger was; and one of the richest men in the place gave a party in his honor, and all who were of any consequence, or who possessed some property, were invited. It was quite an event, and all the town knew of it, so that it was not necessary to announce it by beat of drum. Apprentice-boys, children of the poor, and even the poor people themselves, stood before the house, watching the lighted windows; and the watchman might easily fancy he was giving a party also, there were so many people in the streets. There was quite an air of festivity about it, and the house was full of it; for Mr. Alfred, the sculptor, was there. He talked and told anecdotes, and every one listened to him with pleasure, not unmingled with awe; but none felt so much respect for him as did the elderly widow of a naval officer. She seemed, so far as Mr. Alfred was concerned, to be like a piece of fresh blotting-paper that absorbed all he said and asked for more. She was very appreciative, and incredibly ignorant—a kind of female Gaspar Hauser.

“I should like to see Rome,” she said; “it must be a lovely city, or so many foreigners would not be constantly arriving there. Now, do give me a description of Rome. How does the city look when you enter in at the gate?”

“I cannot very well describe it,” said the sculptor; “but you enter on a large open space, in the centre of which stands an obelisk, which is a thousand years old.”

“An organist!” exclaimed the lady, who had never heard the word ‘obelisk.’ Several of the guests could scarcely forbear laughing, and the sculptor would have had some difficulty in keeping his countenance, but the smile on his lips faded away; for he caught sight of a pair of dark-blue eyes close by the side of the inquisitive lady. They belonged to her daughter; and surely no one who had such a daughter could be silly. The mother was like a fountain of questions; and the daughter, who listened but never spoke, might have passed for the beautiful maid of the fountain. How charming she was! She was a study for the sculptor to contemplate, but not to converse with; for she did not speak, or, at least, very seldom.

“Has the pope a great family?” inquired the lady.

The young man answered considerately, as if the question had been a different one, “No; he does not come from a great family.”

“That is not what I asked,” persisted the widow; “I mean, has he a wife and children?”

“The pope is not allowed to marry,” replied the gentleman.

“I don’t like that,” was the lady’s remark.

She certainly might have asked more sensible questions; but if she had not been allowed to say just what she liked, would her daughter have been there, leaning so gracefully on her shoulder, and looking straight before her, with a smile that was almost mournful on her face?

Mr. Alfred again spoke of Italy, and of the glorious colors in Italian scenery; the purple hills, the deep blue of the Mediterranean, the azure of southern skies, whose brightness and glory could only be surpassed in the north by the deep-blue eyes of a maiden; and he said this with a peculiar intonation; but she who should have understood his meaning looked quite unconscious of it, which also was charming.

“Beautiful Italy!” sighed some of the guests.

“Oh, to travel there!” exclaimed others.

“Charming! Charming!” echoed from every voice.

“I may perhaps win a hundred thousand dollars in the lottery,” said the naval officer’s widow; “and if I do, we will travel—I and my daughter; and you, Mr. Alfred, must be our guide. We can all three travel together, with one or two more of our good friends.” And she nodded in such a friendly way at the company, that each imagined himself to be the favored person who was to accompany them to Italy. “Yes, we must go,” she continued; “but not to those parts where there are robbers. We will keep to Rome. In the public roads one is always safe.”

The daughter sighed very gently; and how much there may be in a sigh, or attributed to it! The young man attributed a great deal of meaning to this sigh. Those deep-blue eyes, which had been lit up this evening in honor of him, must conceal treasures, treasures of heart and mind, richer than all the glories of Rome; and so when he left the party that night, he had lost it completely to the young lady. The house of the naval officer’s widow was the one most constantly visited by Mr. Alfred, the sculptor. It was soon understood that his visits were not intended for that lady, though they were the persons who kept up the conversation. He came for the sake of the daughter. They called her Kæla. Her name was really Karen Malena, and these two names had been contracted into the one name Kæla. She was really beautiful; but some said she was rather dull, and slept late of a morning.

“She has been accustomed to that,” her mother said. “She is a beauty, and they are always easily tired. She does sleep rather late; but that makes her eyes so clear.”

What power seemed to lie in the depths of those dark eyes! The young man felt the truth of the proverb, “Still waters run deep:” and his heart had sunk into their depths. He often talked of his adventures, and the mamma was as simple and eager in her questions as on the first evening they met. It was a pleasure to hear Alfred describe anything. He showed them colored plates of Naples, and spoke of excursions to Mount Vesuvius, and the eruptions of fire from it. The naval officer’s widow had never heard of them before.

“Good heavens!” she exclaimed. “So that is a burning mountain; but is it not very dangerous to the people who live near it?”

“Whole cities have been destroyed,” he replied; “for instance, Herculaneum and Pompeii.”

“Oh, the poor people! And you saw all that with your own eyes?”

“No; I did not see any of the eruptions which are represented in those pictures; but I will show you a sketch of my own, which represents an eruption I once saw.”

He placed a pencil sketch on the table; and mamma, who had been over-powered with the appearance of the colored plates, threw a glance at the pale drawing and cried in astonishment, “What, did you see it throw up white fire?”

For a moment, Alfred’s respect for Kæla’s mamma underwent a sudden shock, and lessened considerably; but, dazzled by the light which surrounded Kæla, he soon found it quite natural that the old lady should have no eye for color. After all, it was of very little consequence; for Kæla’s mamma had the best of all possessions; namely, Kæla herself.

Alfred and Kæla were betrothed, which was a very natural result; and the betrothal was announced in the newspaper of the little town. Mama purchased thirty copies of the paper, that she might cut out the paragraph and send it to friends and acquaintances. The betrothed pair were very happy, and the mother was happy too. She said it seemed like connecting herself with Thorwalsden.

“You are a true successor of Thorwalsden,” she said to Alfred; and it seemed to him as if, in this instance, mamma had said a clever thing. Kæla was silent; but her eyes shone, her lips smiled, every movement was graceful,—in fact, she was beautiful; that cannot be repeated too often. Alfred decided to take a bust of Kæla as well as of her mother. They sat to him accordingly, and saw how he moulded and formed the soft clay with his fingers.

“I suppose it is only on our account that you perform this common-place work yourself, instead of leaving it to your servant to do all that sticking together.”

“It is really necessary that I should mould the clay myself,” he replied.

“Ah, yes, you are always so polite,” said mamma, with a smile; and Kæla silently pressed his hand, all soiled as it was with the clay.

Then he unfolded to them both the beauties of Nature, in all her works; he pointed out to them how, in the scale of creation, inanimate matter was inferior to animate nature; the plant above the mineral, the animal above the plant, and man above them all. He strove to show them how the beauty of the mind could be displayed in the outward form, and that it was the sculptor’s task to seize upon that beauty of expression, and produce it in his works. Kæla stood silent, but nodded in approbation of what he said, while mamma-in-law made the following confession:—

“It is difficult to follow you; but I go hobbling along after you with my thoughts, though what you say makes my head whirl round and round. Still I contrive to lay hold on some of it.”

Kæla’s beauty had a firm hold on Alfred; it filled his soul, and held a mastery over him. Beauty beamed from Kæla’s every feature, glittered in her eyes, lurked in the corners of her mouth, and pervaded every movement of her agile fingers. Alfred, the sculptor, saw this. He spoke only to her, thought only of her, and the two became one; and so it may be said she spoke much, for he was always talking to her; and he and she were one. Such was the betrothal, and then came the wedding, with bride’s-maids and wedding presents, all duly mentioned in the wedding speech. Mamma-in-law had set up Thorwalsden’s bust at the end of the table, attired in a dressing-gown; it was her fancy that he should be a guest. Songs were sung, and cheers given; for it was a gay wedding, and they were a handsome pair. “Pygmalion loved his Galatea,” said one of the songs.

“Ah, that is some of your mythologies,” said mamma-in-law.

Next day the youthful pair started for Copenhagen, where they were to live; mamma-in-law accompanied them, to attend to the “coarse work,” as she always called the domestic arrangements. Kæla looked like a doll in a doll’s house, for everything was bright and new, and so fine. There they sat, all three; and as for Alfred, a proverb may describe his position—he looked like a swan amongst the geese. The magic of form had enchanted him; he had looked at the casket without caring to inquire what it contained, and that omission often brings the greatest unhappiness into married life. The casket may be injured, the gilding may fall off, and then the purchaser regrets his bargain.

In a large party it is very disagreeable to find a button giving way, with no studs at hand to fall back upon; but it is worse still in a large company to be conscious that your wife and mother-in-law are talking nonsense, and that you cannot depend upon yourself to produce a little ready wit to carry off the stupidity of the whole affair.

The young married pair often sat together hand in hand; he would talk, but she could only now and then let fall a word in the same melodious voice, the same bell-like tones. It was a mental relief when Sophy, one of her friends, came to pay them a visit. Sophy was not, pretty. She was, however, quite free from any physical deformity, although Kæla used to say she was a little crooked; but no eye, save an intimate acquaintance, would have noticed it. She was a very sensible girl, yet it never occurred to her that she might be a dangerous person in such a house. Her appearance created a new atmosphere in the doll’s house, and air was really required, they all owned that. They felt the want of a change of air, and consequently the young couple and their mother travelled to Italy.

“Thank heaven we are at home again within our own four walls,” said mamma-in-law and daughter both, on their return after a year’s absence.

“There is no real pleasure in travelling,” said mamma; “to tell the truth, it’s very wearisome; I beg pardon for saying so. I was soon very tired of it, although I had my children with me; and, besides, it’s very expensive work travelling, very expensive. And all those galleries one is expected to see, and the quantity of things you are obliged to run after! It must be done, for very shame; you are sure to be asked when you come back if you have seen everything, and will most likely be told that you’ve omitted to see what was best worth seeing of all. I got tired at last of those endless Madonnas; I began to think I was turning into a Madonna myself.”

“And then the living, mamma,” said Kæla.

“Yes, indeed,” she replied, “no such a thing as a respectable meat soup—their cookery is miserable stuff.”

The journey had also tired Kæla; but she was always fatigued, that was the worst of it. So they sent for Sophy, and she was taken into the house to reside with them, and her presence there was a great advantage. Mamma-in-law acknowledged that Sophy was not only a clever housewife, but well-informed and accomplished, though that could hardly be expected in a person of her limited means. She was also a generous-hearted, faithful girl; she showed that thoroughly while Kæla lay sick, fading away. When the casket is everything, the casket should be strong, or else all is over. And all was over with the casket, for Kæla died.

“She was beautiful,” said her mother; “she was quite different from the beauties they call ‘antiques,’ for they are so damaged. A beauty ought to be perfect, and Kæla was a perfect beauty.”

Alfred wept, and mamma wept, and they both wore mourning. The black dress suited mamma very well, and she wore mourning the longest. She had also to experience another grief in seeing Alfred marry again, marry Sophy, who was nothing at all to look at. “He’s gone to the very extreme,” said mamma-in-law; “he has gone from the most beautiful to the ugliest, and he has forgotten his first wife. Men have no constancy. My husband was a very different man,—but then he died before me.”

“‘Pygmalion loved his Galatea,’ was in the song they sung at my first wedding,” said Alfred; “I once fell in love with a beautiful statue, which awoke to life in my arms; but the kindred soul, which is a gift from heaven, the angel who can feel and sympathize with and elevate us, I have not found and won till now. You came, Sophy, not in the glory of outward beauty, though you are even fairer than is necessary. The chief thing still remains. You came to teach the sculptor that his work is but dust and clay only, an outward form made of a material that decays, and that what we should seek to obtain is the ethereal essence of mind and spirit. Poor Kæla! our life was but as a meeting by the way-side; in yonder world, where we shall know each other from a union of mind, we shall be but mere acquaintances.”

“That was not a loving speech,” said Sophy, “nor spoken like a Christian. In a future state, where there is neither marrying nor giving in marriage, but where, as you say, souls are attracted to each other by sympathy; there everything beautiful develops itself, and is raised to a higher state of existence: her soul will acquire such completeness that it may harmonize with yours, even more than mine, and you will then once more utter your first rapturous exclamation of your love, ‘Beautiful, most beautiful!’”


Credits: Hans Christian Andersen

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Cornelia's Jewels


One bright morning in the old city of Rome many hundred years ago, in a vine-covered summer-house in a beautiful garden, two boys were standing. They were looking at their mother and her friend, who were walking among the flowers and trees.

"Did you ever see such a beautiful lady as our mother's friend?" asked the younger boy, holding his tall brother's hand. "She looks like a queen."

"Yet she is not so beautiful as our mother," said the elder boy. "She has a fine dress, it is true; but her face is not noble and kind. It is our mother who is like a queen."

"That is true," said the other. "There is no woman in Rome so much like a queen as our own dear mother."

Soon Cornelia, their mother, came down the walk to speak with them. She was simply dressed in a plain white robe. Her arms and feet were bare, as was the custom in those days; and no rings nor chains glittered about her hands and neck. For her only crown, long braids of soft brown hair were coiled about her head; and a tender smile lit up her noble face as she looked into her sons' proud eyes.

"Boys," she said, "I have something to tell you."

They bowed before her, as Roman lads were taught to do, and said, "What is it, mother?"

"You are to dine with us to-day, here in the garden; and then our friend is going to show us that wonderful casket of jewels of which you have heard so much."

The brothers looked shyly at their mother's friend. Was it possible that she had still other rings besides those on her fingers? Could she have other gems besides those which sparkled in the chains about her neck?

When the simple outdoor meal was over, a servant brought the casket from the house. The lady opened it. Ah, how those jewels dazzled the eyes of the wondering boys! There were ropes of pearls, white as milk, and smooth as satin; heaps of shining rubies, red as the glowing coals; sapphires as blue as the sky that summer day; and diamonds that flashed and sparkled like the sunlight.

The brothers looked long at the gems.

"Ah!" whispered the younger; "if our mother could only have such beautiful things!"

At last, however, the casket was closed and carried carefully away.

"Is it true, Cornelia, that you have no jewels?" asked her friend. "Is it true, as I have heard it whispered by your boys, that you are poor?"

"No, I am not poor," answered Cornelia, and as she spoke she drew her two boys to her side; "for here are my jewels. They are worth more than all your gems."

The boys never forgot their mother's pride and love and care; and in after years, when they had become great men in Rome, they often thought of this scene in the garden.

Moral: Loved ones are precious than jewels.

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Butterfly that Stamped


This, O my Best Beloved, is a story - a new and a wonderful story - a story quite different from the other stories - a story about The Most Wise Sovereign Suleiman-bin-Daoud, the Son of David.

There are three hundred and fifty-five stories about Suleiman- bin-Daoud; but this is not one of them. It is not the story of the Lapwing who found the Water; or the Hoopoe who shaded Suleimanbin-Daoud from the heat. It is not the story of the Glass Pavement, or the Ruby with the Crooked Hole, or the Gold Bars of Balkis. It is the story of the Butterfly that Stamped.

Now attend all over again and listen!

Suleiman-bin-Daoud was wise. He understood what the beasts said, what the birds said, what the fishes said, and what the insects said. He understood what the rocks said deep under the earth when they bowed in towards each other and groaned; and he understood what the trees said when they rustled in the middle of the morning. He understood everything, from the bishop on the bench to the hyssop on the wall, and Balkis, his Head Queen, the Most Beautiful Queen Balkis, was nearly as wise as he was.

Suleiman-bin-Daoud was strong. Upon the third finger of the right hand he wore a ring. When he turned it once, Afrits and Djinns came Out of the earth to do whatever he told them. When he turned it twice, Fairies came down from the sky to do whatever he told them; and when he turned it three times, the very great angel Azrael of the Sword came dressed as a water-carrier, and told him the news of the three worlds,--Above--Below--and Here.

And yet Suleiman-bin-Daoud was not proud. He very seldom showed off, and when he did he was sorry for it. Once he tried to feed all the animals in all the world in one day, but when the food was ready an animal came out of the deep sea and ate it up in three mouthfuls. Suleiman-bin-Daoud was very surprised and said, 'O Animal, who are you?' And the animal said, 'O King, live for ever! I am the smallest of thirty thousand brothers, and our home is at the bottom of the sea. We heard that you were going to feed all the animals in all the world, and my brothers sent me to ask when dinner would be ready.' Suleiman-bin-Daoud was more surprised than ever and said, 'O Animal, you have eaten all the dinner that I made ready for all the animals in the world.' And the Animal said, 'O King, live for ever, but do you really call that a dinner? Where I come from we each eat twice as much as that between meals.' Then Suleiman-bin-Daoud fell flat on his face and said, 'O Animal! I gave that dinner to show what a great and rich king I was, and not because I really wanted to be kind to the animals. Now I am ashamed, and it serves me right. Suleiman-bin-Daoud was a really truly wise man, Best Beloved. After that he never forgot that it was silly to show off; and now the real story part of my story begins.

He married ever so many wifes. He married nine hundred and ninety-nine wives, besides the Most Beautiful Balkis; and they all lived in a great golden palace in the middle of a lovely garden with fountains. He didn't really want nine-hundred and ninety-nine wives, but in those days everybody married ever so many wives, and of course the King had to marry ever so many more just to show that he was the King.

Some of the wives were nice, but some were simply horrid, and the horrid ones quarrelled with the nice ones and made them horrid too, and then they would all quarrel with Suleiman-bin-Daoud, and that was horrid for him. But Balkis the Most Beautiful never quarrelled with Suleiman-bin-Daoud. She loved him too much. She sat in her rooms in the Golden Palace, or walked in the Palace garden, and was truly sorry for him.

Of course if he had chosen to turn his ring on his finger and call up the Djinns and the Afrits they would have magicked all those nine hundred and ninety-nine quarrelsome wives into white mules of the desert or greyhounds or pomegranate seeds; but Suleiman-bin-Daoud thought that that would be showing off. So, when they quarrelled too much, he only walked by himself in one part of the beautiful Palace gardens and wished he had never been born.

One day, when they had quarrelled for three weeks - all nine hundred and ninety-nine wives together - Suleiman-bin-Daoud went out for peace and quiet as usual; and among the orange trees he met Balkis the Most Beautiful, very sorrowful because Suleiman- bin-Daoud was so worried. And she said to him, 'O my Lord and Light of my Eyes, turn the ring upon your finger and show these Queens of Egypt and Mesopotamia and Persia and China that you are the great and terrible King.' But Suleiman-bin-Daoud shook his head and said, 'O my Lady and Delight of my Life, remember the Animal that came out of the sea and made me ashamed before all the animals in all the world because I showed off. Now, if I showed off before these Queens of Persia and Egypt and Abyssinia and China, merely because they worry me, I might be made even more ashamed than I have been.'

And Balkis the Most Beautiful said, 'O my Lord and Treasure of my Soul, what will you do?'

And Suleiman-bin-Daoud said, 'O my Lady and Content of my Heart, I shall continue to endure my fate at the hands of these nine hundred and ninety-nine Queens who vex me with their continual quarrelling.'

So he went on between the lilies and the loquats and the roses and the cannas and the heavy-scented ginger-plants that grew in the garden, till he came to the great camphor-tree that was called the Camphor Tree of Suleiman-bin-Daoud. But Balkis hid among the tall irises and the spotted bamboos and the red lillies behind the camphor-tree, so as to be near her own true love, Suleiman-bin-Daoud.

Presently two butterflies flew under the tree, quarrelling.

Suleiman-bin-Daoud heard one say to the other, 'I wonder at your presumption in talking like this to me. Don't you know that if I stamped with my foot all Suleiman-bin-Daoud's Palace and this garden here would immediately vanish in a clap of thunder.'

Then Suleiman-bin-Daoud forgot his nine hundred and ninety-nine bothersome wives, and laughed, till the camphor-tree shook, at the Butterfly's boast. And he held out his finger and said, 'Little man, come here.'

The Butterfly was dreadfully frightened, but he managed to fly up to the hand of Suleiman-bin-Daoud, and clung there, fanning himself. Suleiman-bin-Daoud bent his head and whispered very softly, 'Little man, you know that all your stamping wouldn't bend one blade of grass. What made you tell that awful fib to your wife?--for doubtless she is your wife.'

The Butterfly looked at Suleiman-bin-Daoud and saw the most wise King's eye twinkle like stars on a frosty night, and he picked up his courage with both wings, and he put his head on one side and said, 'O King, live for ever. She is my wife; and you know what wives are like.

Suleiman-bin-Daoud smiled in his beard and said, 'Yes, I know, little brother.

'One must keep them in order somehow, said the Butterfly, and she has been quarrelling with me all the morning. I said that to quiet her.'

And Suleiman-bin-Daoud said, 'May it quiet her. Go back to your wife, little brother, and let me hear what you say.'

Back flew the Butterfly to his wife, who was all of a twitter behind a leaf, and she said, 'He heard you! Suleiman-bin-Daoud himself heard you!'

'Heard me!' said the Butterfly. 'Of course he did. I meant him to hear me.'

'And what did he say? Oh, what did he say?'

'Well,' said the Butterfly, fanning himself most importantly, 'between you and me, my dear - of course I don't blame him, because his Palace must have cost a great deal and the oranges are just ripening, - he asked me not to stamp, and I promised I wouldn't.'

'Gracious!' said his wife, and sat quite quiet; but Suleiman-bin-Daoud laughed till the tears ran down his face at the impudence of the bad little Butterfly.

Balkis the Most Beautiful stood up behind the tree among the red lilies and smiled to herself, for she had heard all this talk. She thought, 'If I am wise I can yet save my Lord from the persecutions of these quarrelsome Queens,' and she held out her finger and whispered softly to the Butterfly's Wife, 'Little woman, come here.' Up flew the Butterfly's Wife, very frightened, and clung to Balkis's soft hand.

Balkis bent her beautiful head down and whispered, 'Little woman, do you believe what your husband has just said?'

The Butterfly's Wife looked at Balkis, and saw the most beautiful Queen's eyes shining like deep pools with starlight on them, and she picked up her courage with both wings and said, 'O Queen, be lovely for ever. You know what men-folk are like.'

And the Queen Balkis, the Wise Balkis of Sheba, put her hand to her lips to hide a smile and said, 'Little sister, I know.'

'They get angry,' said the Butterfly's Wife, fanning herself quickly, 'over nothing at all, but we must humour them, O Queen. They never mean half they say. If it pleases my husband to believe that I believe he can make Suleiman-bin-Daoud's Palace disappear by stamping his foot, I'm sure I don't care. He'll forget all about it tomorrow.'

'Little sister,' said Balkis, 'you are quite right; but next time he begins to boast, take him at his word. Ask him to stamp, and see what will happen. We know what men-folk are like, don't we? He'll be very much ashamed.'

Away flew the Butterfly's Wife to her husband, and in five minutes they were quarrelling worse than ever.

'Remember!' said the Butterfly. 'Remember what I can do if I stamp my foot.'

'I don't believe you one little bit,' said the Butterfly's Wife. 'I should very much like to see it done. Suppose you stamp now.'

'I promised Suleiman-bin-Daoud that I wouldn't,' said the Butterfly, 'and I don't want to break my promise.'

'It wouldn't matter if you did,' said his wife. 'You couldn't bend a blade of grass with your stamping. I dare you to do it,' she said. Stamp! Stamp! Stamp!'

Suleiman-bin-Daoud, sitting under the camphor-tree, heard every word of this, and he laughed as he had never laughed in his life before. He forgot all about his Queens; he forgot all about the animal that came out of the sea; he forgot about showing off. He just laughed with joy, and Balkis, on the other side of the tree, smiled because her own true love was so joyful.

Presently the butterfly, very hot and puffy, came whirling back under the shadow of the camphor-tree and said to Suleiman, 'She wants me to stamp! She wants to see what will happen, O Suleiman-bin-Daoud! You know I can't do it, and now she'll never believe a word I say. She'll laugh at me to the end of my days!'

'No, little brother,' said Suleiman-bin-Daoud, 'she will never laugh at you again,' and he turned the ring on his finger - just for the little Butterfly's sake, not for the sake of showing off, - and, lo and behold, four huge Djinns came out of the earth!

'Slaves,' said Suleiman-bin-Daoud, 'when this gentleman on my finger' (that was where the impudent Butterfly was sitting) 'stamps his left front forefoot you will make my Palace and these gardens disappear in a clap of thunder. When he stamps again you will bring them back carefully.'

'Now, little brother,' he said, 'go back to your wife and stamp all you've a mind to.'

Away flew the Butterfly to his wife, who was crying, 'I dare you to do it! I dare you to do it! Stamp! Stamp now! Stamp!' Balkis saw the four vast Djinns stoop down to the four corners of the gardens with the Palace in the middle, and she clapped her hands softly and said, 'At last Suleiman-bin-Daoud will do for the sake of a Butterfly what he ought to have done long ago for his own sake, and the quarrelsome Queens will be frightened!'

The the butterfly stamped. The Djinns jerked the Palace and the gardens a thousand miles into the air: there was a most awful thunder-clap, and everything grew inky-black. The Butterfly's Wife fluttered about in the dark, crying, 'Oh, I'll be good! I'm so sorry I spoke. Only bring the gardens back, my dear darling husband, and I'll never contradict again.'

The Butterfly was nearly as frightened as his wife, and Suleiman-bin-Daoud laughed so much that it was several minutes before he found breath enough to whisper to the Butterfly, 'Stamp again, little brother. Give me back my Palace, most great magician.'

'Yes, give him back his Palace,' said the Butterfly's Wife, still flying about in the dark like a moth. 'Give him back his Palace, and don't let's have any more horrid.magic.'

'Well, my dear,' said the Butterfly as bravely as he could, 'you see what your nagging has led to. Of course it doesn't make any difference to me - I'm used to this kind of thing - but as a favour to you and to Suleiman-bin-Daoud I don't mind putting things right.'

So he stamped once more, and that instant the Djinns let down the Palace and the gardens, without even a bump. The sun shone on the dark-green orange leaves; the fountains played among the pink Egyptian lilies; the birds went on singing, and the Butterfly's Wife lay on her side under the camphor-tree waggling her wings and panting, 'Oh, I'll be good! I'll be good!'

Suleiman-bin-Daolld could hardly speak for laughing. He leaned back all weak and hiccoughy, and shook his finger at the Butterfly and said, 'O great wizard, what is the sense of returning to me my Palace if at the same time you slay me with mirth!'

Then came a terrible noise, for all the nine hundred and ninety-nine Queens ran out of the Palace shrieking and shouting and calling for their babies. They hurried down the great marble steps below the fountain, one hundred abreast, and the Most Wise Balkis went statelily forward to meet them and said, 'What is your trouble, O Queens?'

They stood on the marble steps one hundred abreast and shouted, 'What is our trouble? We were living peacefully in our golden palace, as is our custom, when upon a sudden the Palace disappeared, and we were left sitting in a thick and noisome darkness; and it thundered, and Djinns and Afrits moved about in the darkness! That is our trouble, O Head Queen, and we are most extremely troubled on account of that trouble, for it was a troublesome trouble, unlike any trouble we have known.'

Then Balkis the Most Beautiful Queen - Suleiman-bin-Daoud's Very Best Beloved - Queen that was of Sheba and Sable and the Rivers of the Gold of the South - from the Desert of Zinn to the Towers of Zimbabwe - Balkis, almost as wise as the Most Wise Suleiman-bin-Daoud himself, said, 'It is nothing, O Queens! A Butterfly has made complaint against his wife because she quarreled with him, and it has pleased our Lord Suleiman-bin-Daoud to teach her a lesson in low-speaking and humbleness, for that is counted a virtue among the wives of the butterflies.'

Then up and spoke an Egyptian Queen - the daughter of a Pharoah and she said, 'Our Palace cannot be plucked up by the roots like a leek for the sake of a little insect. No! Suleiman-bin-Daoud must be dead, and what we heard and saw was the earth thundering and darkening at the news.'

Then Balkis beckoned that bold Queen without looking at her, and said to her and to the others, 'Come and see.'

They came down the marble steps, one hundred abreast, and beneath his camphor-tree, still weak with laughing, they saw the Most Wise King Suleiman-bin-Daoud rocking back and forth with a Butterfly on either hand, and they heard him say, 'O wife of my brother in the air, remember after this, to please your husband in all things, lest he be provoked to stamp his foot yet again; for he has said that he is used to this magic, and he is most eminently a great magician - one who steals away the very Palace of Suleirnan-bin-Daoud himself. Go in peace, little folk!' And he kissed them on the wings, and they flew away.

Then all the Queens except Balkis - the Most Beautiful and Splendid Balkis, who stood apart smiling - fell flat on their faces, for they said, 'If these things are done when a butterfly is displeased with his wife, what shall be done to us who have vexed our King with our loud-speaking and open quarreling through many days?'

Then they put their veils over their heads, and they put their hands over their mouths, and they tiptoed back to the Palace most mousy-quiet.

Then Balkis - The Most Beautiful and Excellent Balkis - went forward through the red lilies into the shade of the camphor-tree and laid her hand upon Suleiman-bin-Daoud's shoulder and said, 'O my Lord and Treasure of my Soul, rejoice, for we have taught the Queens of Egypt and Ethiopia and Abyssinia and Persia and India and China with a great and a memorable teaching.'

And Suleiman-bin-Daoud, still looking after the Butterflies where they played in the sunlight, said, 'O my Lady and Jewel of my Felicity, when did this happen? For I have been jesting with a Butterfly ever since I came into the garden.' And he told Balkis what he had done.

Balkis - The tender and Most Lovely Balkis - said, 'O my Lord and Regent of my Existence, I hid behind the camphor-tree and saw it all. It was I who told the Butterfly's wife to ask the butterfly to stamp, because I hoped that for the sake of the jest my Lord would make some great magic and that the Queens would see it and be frightened.' And she told him what the Queens had said and seen and thought.

Then Suleiman-bin-Daoud rose up from his seat under the camphor-tree, and stretched his arms and rejoiced and said, 'O my Lady and Sweetener of my Days, know that if I had made a magic against my Queens for the sake of pride or anger, as I made that feast for all the animals, I should certainly have been put to shame. But by means of your wisdom I made the magic for the sake of a jest and for the sake of a little Butterfly, and - behold - it has also delivered me from the vexations of my vexatious wives! Tell me, therefore, O my Lady and Heart of my Heart, how did you come to be so wise?' And Balkis the Queen, beautiful and tall, looked up into Suleiman-bin-Daoud's eyes and put her head a little on one side, just like the butterfly, and said, 'First, O my Lord, because I loved you; and secondly, O my Lord, because I know what women-folk are.'

Then they went up to the palace and lived happily ever afterwards.

But wasn't it clever of Balkis?

-------
There was never a King like Suleiman-bin-Daoud - known to all of us as King Solomon; not since the world began; but King Solomon talked to a butterfly as a man would talk to a man.

There was never a Queen like Balkis, popularly known as Queen of Sheba, from here to the wide world's end; but Queen of Sheba talked to a butterfly as you would talk to a friend.

While he was Asia's Lord, she was Queen of Sheba. Both of them talked to butterflies, when they took their walks abroad!
------



Credits: Rudyard Kipling

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Thumbelina



Once upon a time there lived a woman who had no children. She dreamed of having a little girl, but time went by, and her dream never came true. She then went to visit a witch, who gave her a magic grain of barley. She planted it in a flower pot.

And the very next day, the grain had turned into a lovely flower, rather like a tulip. The woman softly kissed its half shut petals. And as though by magic, the flower opened in full blossom. Inside sat a tiny girl, no bigger than a thumb. The woman called her Thumbelina. For a bed she had a walnut shell, violet petals for her mattress and a rose petal blanket. In the daytime, she played in a tulip petal boat, floating on a plate of water. Using two horse hairs as oars, Thumbelina. sailed around her little lake, singing and singing in a gentle sweet voice.

Then one night, as she lay fast asleep in her walnut shell, a large frog hopped through a hole in the window pane. As she gazed down at Thumbelina., she said to herself: "How pretty she is! She'd make the perfect bride for my own dear son!"

She picked up Thumbelina., walnut shell and all, and hopped into the garden. Nobody saw her go. Back at the pond, her fat ugly son, who always did as mother told him, was pleased with her choice. But mother frog was afraid that her pretty prisoner might run away. So she carried Thumbelina out to a water lily leaf in the middle of the pond.

"She can never escape us now," said the frog to her son.

"And we have plenty of time to prepare a new home for you and your bride." Thumbelina. was left all alone. She felt so desperate. She knew she would never be able to escape the fate that awaited her with the two horrid fat frogs. All she could do was cry her eyes out. However, one or two minnows who had been enjoying the shade below the water lily leaf, had overheard the two frogs talking, and the little girl's bitter sobs. They decided to do something about it. So they nibbled away at the lily stem till it broke and drifted away in the weak current. A dancing butterfly had an idea: "Throw me the end of your belt! I'll help you to move a little faster!" Thumbelina. gratefully did so, and the leaf soon floated away from the frog pond.

But other dangers lay ahead. A large beetle snatched Thumbelina. with his strong feet and took her away to his home at the top of a leafy tree.

"Isn't she pretty?" he said to his friends. But they pointed out that she was far too different. So the beetle took her down the tree and set her free.

It was summertime, and Thumbelina. wandered all by herself amongst the flowers and through the long grass. She had pollen for her meals and drank the dew. Then the rainy season came, bringing nasty weather. The poor child found it hard to find food and shelter. When winter set in, she suffered from the cold and felt terrible pangs of hunger.

One day, as Thumbelina. roamed helplessly over the bare meadows, she met a large spider who promised to help her. He took her to a hollow tree and guarded the door with a stout web. Then he brought her some dried chestnuts and called his friends to come and admire her beauty. But just like the beetles, all the other spiders persuaded Thumbelina's rescuer to let her go. Crying her heart out, and quite certain that nobody wanted her because she was ugly, Thumbelina. left the spider's house.

As she wandered, shivering with the cold, suddenly she came across a solid little cottage, made of twigs and dead leaves. Hopefully, she knocked on the door. It was opened by a field mouse.

"What are you doing outside in this weather?" he asked. "Come in and warm yourself." Comfortable and cozy, the field mouse's home was stocked with food. For her keep, Thumbelina. did the housework and told the mouse stories. One day, the field mouse said a friend was coming to visit them.

"He's a very rich mole, and has a lovely house. He wears a splendid black fur coat, but he's dreadfully shortsighted. He needs company and he'd like to marry you!" Thumbelina. did not relish the idea. However, when the mole came, she sang sweetly to him and he fell head over heels in love. The mole invited Thumbelina. and the field mouse to visit him, but to their surprise and horror, they came upon a swallow in the tunnel. It looked dead. Mole nudged it with his foot, saying: "That'll teach her! She should have come underground instead of darting about the sky all summer!" Thumbelina. was so shocked by such cruel words that later, she crept back unseen to the tunnel.

And every day, the little girl went to nurse the swallow and tenderly give it food.

In the meantime, the swallow told Thumbelina. its tale. Jagged by a thorn, it had been unable to follow its companions to a warmer climate.

"It's kind of you to nurse me," it told Thumbelina. But, in spring, the swallow flew away, after offering to take the little girl with it. All summer, Thumbelina. did her best to avoid marrying the mole. The little girl thought fearfully of how she'd have to live underground forever. On the eve of her wedding, she asked to spend a day in the open air. As she gently fingered a flower, she heard a familiar song: "Winter's on its way and I'll be off to warmer lands. Come with me!"

Thumbelina quickly clung to her swallow friend, and the bird soared into the sky. They flew over plains and hills till they reached a country of flowers. The swallow gently laid Thumbelina. in a blossom. There she met a tiny, white- winged fairy: the King of the Flower Fairies. Instantly, he asked her to marry him. Thumbelina. eagerly said "yes", and sprouting tiny white wings, she became the Flower Queen!

Moral: Always have a big heart.

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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Goldenrod and Aster



There were once two little girls who lived at the foot of a great hill; and one had such long, yellow hair that she was called Golden Hair, and the other had eyes as deep and blue as the sky, so every one called her Blue Eyes. And up at the top of the hill lived a wise old woman who could turn people into anything she wished.

It was a long way to the top of the hill, and the old woman was so dark and stern to look at that not every one cared to climb the path to the top; but one day the little girls began to wish that they might do something to make other people happy.

"Let us climb the hill," they cried, "and ask the old woman to tell us what we may do."

So Golden Hair took Blue Eyes' hand, and they started up the mountain side. It was a warm day, and they were obliged to stop many times to rest under the great oak trees which grew on either side of the path. They made baskets of leaves and filled them with berries as a gift for the old woman. They chased the squirrels and watched the gay little fishes darting about in the brook. On and on they walked in the rocky path, until the sun went down and the birds forgot to sing and the squirrels went to bed. Before long the stars peeped out and the moon shone down on them, and they were a long way from home—but they kept on climbing and climbing.

At last they came to the top of the hill, and there, at her gate, stood the old woman looking so stern that the two little girls were frightened, but Golden Hair said, bravely: "We came to ask you what we might do to make every one happy." And Blue Eyes said: "We want to stay together, please."

Then the old woman opened her gate wide for the two little girls to go inside, and she smiled a queer smile, as if she were thinking of magic things; and no one ever saw Golden Hair or Blue Eyes again. But in the morning the green grass on the hillside was full of waving, yellow goldenrod, and close by it grew nodding purple aster.

They say the old woman of the hill walks through the grass every moonlight night touching the goldenrod and aster - and she could tell, if she would, how she changed Golden Hair and Blue Eyes into flowers.


.

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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

King Cophetua & the Beggar Maid


There was in Africa a rich and powerful king, and his name was Cophetua. He lived in a fine palace and had gold and silver dishes on his table, and his bedstead was made of ivory, and there were weavers in the palace who were always weaving new and beautiful clothes for this rich and powerful king.

But though Cophetua had all these goods, he lacked one thing. He had no wife, and he was lonely. He was not an old man, -  not at all. He was young and fair to look at; and he was, beside, not spoiled by his riches and his power. He treated every one about him kindly, and he was known throughout his kingdom as a good and generous king.

The people wished him to marry, and his old counsellors wagged their heads together and named over all the young princesses in the neighboring kingdoms. They took journeys to see the different princesses, but could not agree amongst themselves. One princess was ill-tempered; another thought of nothing but her clothes; another was silly; and then, what they disliked most, all the princesses wanted so much to marry King Cophetua that they behaved ridiculously whenever his name was mentioned.

So it was that the king, for all his riches and power, led a lonely life. But he did not sit down and mope. He went cheerfully about his daily duties, and, to tell the truth, he had seen so many foolish princesses that he came to feel a great contempt for women. Mother and sisters had he none, and in his country it was not the way for young kings to see any women but princesses and slaves.

But one day, as King Cophetua was riding out to hunt with his nobles, there stood by the wayside a blind old man, and by his side was his daughter, a young maid, in poor clothing. They were beggars, for even when a king is rich he may have beggars in his kingdom. King Cophetua was about to toss a coin into the out-stretched hand of the old man, when he caught sight of the girl's face. He stopped his horse.

"What is your name?" he asked the girl.

"Penelophon," said she. Now it sounded oddly in the ears of his nobles that she did not say "Penelophon, your Majesty," but in fact the beggar girl did not know this was the king, and so she answered simply, and looked up into his face with her clear, trusting eyes.

King Cophetua had never seen such a face as hers. It was not only beautiful; it showed at once a beautiful soul behind it. The king forgot in a moment his disdain for women. He sprang from his horse to the ground, and took the girl's hand.

"Wilt thou love me and be my wife?" he asked, a little fear in his voice, lest she should say him nay. She looked at him and saw that he was a true man.

No one ever had asked her that question before, and she answered very simply, "Yes."

"Then back to the palace," shouted King Cophetua, joyously. "There shall be no hunt today." Amazed were the nobles, and amazed were the people, when they heard the news, but King Cophetua wedded the beggar maid, and together they reigned over a happy people.



Credits: Horace Scudder

The flying dutchman



Once upon a time, a Dutch ship set sail from the East Indies to return to Holland. The Dutch had rich lands in the East Indies and many a poor lad went out from Holland before the mast and landed at Java, it may be, and there settled himself and grew rich.

Such an one was a certain Diedrich, who had no father or mother living, and was left to shift for himself. And when he came to Java he was bound out to a rich planter; but he worked so hard and was so faithful that it was not long before he was free and his own master. Little by little he saved his money, and as he was very careful it was not many years before he was very rich indeed.

Now all these years Diedrich had never forgotten what a hard time he had had when he was a boy; and at last, when he was a man grown and had his large fortune, he resolved to carry out a plan which he had made. He sold his lands and houses, which he owned in Java, and all his goods, and took the money he received in bags aboard a ship which was to return to Holland.

He was the only passenger on board, but he was a friendly man, and soon he was on good terms with the captain and all the crew. One day, as the ship drew near the Cape of Good Hope, Diedrich was sitting by the captain, and they each fell to talking about their early life.

"And what," said Diedrich to the captain, "do you mean to do when you make a few more voyages, and have saved up money enough not to need to go to sea any more?"

"I know well," said the captain, as he pulled away at his pipe. "There is a little house I know by a canal just outside of Amsterdam. I mean to buy that house; and I will have a summer-house in the garden, and there I will sit all day long smoking my pipe, while my wife sits by my side and knits, and the children play in the garden."

"Then you have children?"

"That I have," said the captain, and he went on to name them, and to tell how old each one was, and how bright they all were. It was good to hear him, for he was a simple man, and cared for nothing so much as his wife and little ones.

"And what," at last the captain said to Diedrich,—"what shall you do?"

"Ah, I have no wife or children, and there is no one in all Holland who will be glad to see me come home." Then he told of what a hard time he had when he was a youngster, and at last, as the darkness grew deeper, and he sat there alone with the captain, he suddenly told him his great plan.

"I have made a great deal of money," said he, "which you know I am carrying home with me. I will tell you what I am going to do with it. There are a great many poor children in Amsterdam who have no home. I am going to build a great house and live in it, and I am going to have the biggest family of any one in Amsterdam. I shall take the poorest and the most miserable children in Amsterdam, and they shall be my sons and daughters."

"And you shall bring them out to my house," said the captain, "and your children and mine shall play together." So they talked and talked, until at last it was very late, and they went to their cabins for the night.

Now, while they were talking, the man at the wheel listened; and, as he heard of the bags of gold that Diedrich was carrying home, his evil heart began to covet the gold. As he steered the ship, and after his turn was over, he thought and thought how he could get that gold. He knew it would be impossible for him alone to seize it, and so he whispered about it to one and another of the sailors.

The crew had been got together hastily. There was not one Dutchman among them, and there was not one of the crew who had not committed some crime. They were wicked men, and, when the sailor told them of the gold that was on board, they were ready for anything.

The ship drew nearer the Cape of Good Hope, and the captain walked the deck with Diedrich, and they both talked of the Holland to which they were going, when suddenly they were seized from behind and tightly bound. At the same instant the officers of the ship, the mate and the second mate, were seized, and now the ship was in the hands of the mutinous crew.

These wicked men made short work. They threw the captain and Diedrich and the two mates, each bound hand and foot, into the sea. "Dead men tell no tales," said the man at the wheel. Then they sailed for the nearest port. But as they sailed a horrible plague broke out on board. It was a plague which made the men crave water for their burning throats, and, as they fought to get at the water-casks, they spilled all the water they had.

There they were, in the midst of the salt sea, which only to look at made them wild with thirst. Though they feared what might befall them if they made for the land, they could not stand the raging thirst, and they steered for the nearest port.

But when they came into the port, the people saw they had the plague, and they refused to let them land.

"We have great store of gold," the crew cried with their parched mouths. "Only give us water!" But the people drove them away. It was the same when they went to the next port, and the next. They turned back, away from their homeward voyage, to the ports of the East.

Then a great storm arose and they were driven far out to sea, and when the gale died down they steered again for the land. And when they drew near once more, another gale sprang up, and they were driven hither and thither. And once more they were swept far away from the shore.

That was years and years ago. But when ships make the Cape of Good Hope, and are rounding it, through the fog and mist and darkness of the night they see a ghostly ship sailing, sailing, never reaching land, always beating up against the wind. Its sails are torn, the masts are bleached, and there are pale figures moving about on deck. Then the sailors whisper to each other:—

"Look! there is the Flying Dutchman!"



Credits: Horace Scudder

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Damon and Pythias

The story of Damon and Pythias


Damon and Pythias had been the best of friends since childhood. Each trusted the other like a brother, and each knew in his heart there was nothing he would not do for his friend. Eventually the time came for them to prove the depth of their devotion. It happened this way.

Dionysius, the ruler of Syracuse, grew annoyed when he heard about the kind of speeches Pythias was giving. The young scholar was telling that no man should have unlimited power over another, and that absolute tyrants were unjust kings. In a fit of rage, Dionysius summoned Pythias and his friend.

"Who do you think you are, spreading unrest among the people?" he demanded.

"I spread only the truth," Pythias answered. "There can be nothing wrong with that."

"And does your truth hold that kings have too much power and that their laws are not good for their subjects?"

"If the king has seized power without permission of the people, then that is what I say."

"This kind of talk is treason," Dionysius shouted. "You are conspiring to overthrow me. Retract what you've said or face the consequences."

"I will retract nothing," Pythias answered.

"Then you will die. Do you have any last requests?"

Yes, Let me go home long enough to say goodbye to my wife and children and to put household in order."

"I see you not only think I am unjust, you think I’m stupid as well,"  Dionysius laughed scornfully. "If I let you leave Syracuse, I have no doubt I will never see you again."

"I will give you a pledge," Pythias said.

"What kind of pledge could you possibly give to make me think you will ever return?" Dionysius demanded.

At that instant Damon, who had stood quietly besides his friend, stepped forward. "I will be his pledge," he said. "Keep me here in Syracuse, as your prisoner, until Pythias returns. Our friendship is well known to you.You can be sure Pythias will return so long as you hold me."

Dionysius studied the two friends silently, "Very well," he said at last. "But if you are willing to take the place of your friend, you must be willing to accept his sentence if he breaks his promise. If Pythias does not return to Syracuse, you will have to die in his place."

"He will keep his word," Damon replied. "I have no doubt of that."

Pythias was allowed to go free for a time, and Damon was thrown into prison. After several days, when Pythias failed to reappear, Dionysius’s curiosity got the better of him, and he went to the prison to see if Damon was yet sorry he had made such a bargain.

"Your time is almost up," the ruler of Syracuse sneered. "It will be useless to beg for mercy. You are a fool to rely on your friend’s promise. Did you really think he would sacrifice his life for you or anyone else?"

"He has merely been delayed,” Damon answered steadily. "The winds have kept him from sailing, or perhaps he has met with some accident on the road. But if it is humanly possible, he will be here on time. I am confident of his virtue as I am of my own existence."

Dionysius was startled at the prisoner’s confidence. "We shall soon see," he said, and left Damon in his cell.

The fatal day arrived. Damon was brought from prison and led before the executioner. Dionysius greeted him with a smug smile. "It seems you friend has not turned up," he laughed. "What do you think of him now?"

"He is my friend," Damon answered. "I trust him." Even as he spoke, the doors flew open, and Pythias staggered into the room. He was pale and bruised and half speechless from exhaustion. He rushed to the arms of his friend.

"You are safe, praise the gods," he gasped. "It seemed as though the fate was conspiring against us. My ship was wrecked in a storm, and then bandits attacked me on the road. But I refused to give up hope, and at last I’ve made it back on time. I am ready to receive my sentence of death."

Dionysius heard his word with astonishment. His eyes and his heart were opened. It was impossible for him to resist the power of such constancy.

"The sentence is revoked," he declared. "I've never believed that such faith and loyalty could exist in friendship. You have shown me how wrong I was, and it is only right that you be rewarded with your freedom. But I ask that in return you do me one great service."

"What service do you mean?" the friends asked.

"Teach me how to be part of so worthy a friendship."


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Wednesday, May 8, 2013

King Canute on the Seashore




Long ago, England was ruled by a king named Canute. Like many leaders and men of power, Canute was surrounded by people who were always praising him. Every time he walked into a room, the flattery began.

"You are the greatest man that ever lived," one would say.

"O king, there can never be another as mighty as you," another would insist.

"Your highness, there is nothing you cannot do," someone would smile.

"Great Canute, you are the monarch of all," another would sing. "Nothing in this world dares to disobey you."

The king was a man of sense, and he grew tired of hearing such foolish speeches.

One day he was walking by the seashore, and his officers and courtiers were with him, praising him as usual. Canute decided to teach them a lesson.

"So you say I am the greatest man in the world?" he asked them.

"O king," they cried, "there never has been anyone as mighty as you, and there never be anyone so great, ever again!"

"And you say all things obey me?" Canute asked.

"Absolutely!" they said. "The world bows before you, and gives you honor."

"I see," the king answered. "In that case, bring me my chair, and we will go down to the water."

"At once, your majesty!" They scrambled to carry his royal chair over the sands.

"Bring it closer to the sea," Canute called. "Put it right here, right at the water's edge." He sat down and surveyed the ocean before him. "I notice the tide is coming in. Do you think it will stop if I give the command?"

His officers were puzzled, but they did not dare say no. "Give the order, O great king, and it will obey," one of then assured him.

"Very well. Sea," cried Canute, "I command you to come no further! Waves, stop your rolling!. Surf, stop your pounding! Do not dare touch my feet!"

He waited a moment, quietly, and a tiny wave rushed up the sand and lapped at his feet.

"How dare you!" Canute shouted. "Ocean, turn back now! I have ordered you to retreat before me, and now you must obey! Go back!"

And in answer another wave swept forward and curled around the king's feet. The tide came in, just as it always did. The water rose higher and higher. It came up around the king's chair, and wet not only his feet, but also his robe. His officers stood before him, alarmed, and wondering whether he was not mad.

"Well, my friends," Canute said, "it seems I do not have quite so much power as you would have me believe. Perhaps you have learned something today. Perhaps now you will remember there is only one King who is all-powerful, and it is He who rules the sea, and holds the ocean in the hollow of His hand. I suggest you reserve your praises for Him."

The royal officers and courtiers hung their heads and looked foolish. And some say Canute took off his crown soon afterward, and never wore it again.



Credits: James Baldwin
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Monday, May 6, 2013

The King and his Hawk


[Illustration]

Genghis Khan (1162 - 1227 AD) was a great king and warrior.

He led his army into China and Persia, and he conquered many lands. In every country, men told about his daring deeds; and they said that since Alexander the Great there had been no king like him.

One morning when he was home from the wars, he rode out into the woods to have a day's sport. Many of his friends were with him. They rode out gayly, carrying their bows and arrows. Behind them came the servants with the hounds.

It was a merry hunting party. The woods rang with their shouts and laughter. They expected to carry much game home in the evening.

On the king's wrist sat his favorite hawk; for in those days hawks were trained to hunt. At a word from their masters they would fly high up into the air, and look around for prey. If they chanced to see a deer or a rabbit, they would swoop down upon it swift as any arrow.

All day long Genghis Khan and his huntsmen rode through the woods. But they did not find as much game as they expected.

Toward evening they started for home. The king had often ridden through the woods, and he knew all the paths. So while the rest of the party took the nearest way, he went by a longer road through a valley between two mountains.

The day had been warm, and the king was very thirsty. His pet hawk had left his wrist and flown away. It would be sure to find its way home.

The king rode slowly along. He had once seen a spring of clear water near this pathway. If he could only find it now! But the hot days of summer had dried up all the mountain brooks.

At last, to his joy, he saw some water trickling down over the edge of a rock. He knew that there was a spring farther up. In the wet season, a swift stream of water always poured down here; but now it came only one drop at a time.

The king leaped from his horse. He took a little silver cup from his hunting bag. He held it so as to catch the slowly falling drops.

It took a long time to fill the cup; and the king was so thirsty that he could hardly wait. At last it was nearly full. He put the cup to his lips, and was about to drink.

All at once there was a whirring sound in the air, and the cup was knocked from his hands. The water was all spilled upon the ground.

The king looked up to see who had done this thing. It was his pet hawk.

The hawk flew back and forth a few times, and then alighted among the rocks by the spring.

The king picked up the cup, and again held it to catch the trickling drops.

This time he did not wait so long. When the cup was half full, he lifted it toward his mouth. But before it had touched his lips, the hawk swooped down again, and knocked it from his hands.

And now the king began to grow angry. He tried again; and for the third time the hawk kept him from drinking.

The king was now very angry indeed.

"How do you dare to act so?" he cried. "If I had you in my hands, I would wring your neck!"

Then he filled the cup again. But before he tried to drink, he drew his sword.

"Now, Sir Hawk," he said, "this is the last time."

He had hardly spoken, before the hawk swooped down and knocked the cup from his hand. But the king was looking for this. With a quick sweep of the sword he struck the bird as it passed.

The next moment the poor hawk lay bleeding and dying at its master's feet.

"That is what you get for your pains," said Genghis Khan.

But when he looked for his cup he found that it had fallen between two rocks, where he could not reach it.

"At any rate, I will have a drink from that spring," he said to himself.

With that he began to climb the steep bank to the place from which the water trickled. It was hard work, and the higher he climbed, the thirstier he became.

At last he reached the place. There indeed was a pool of water; but what was that lying in the pool, and almost filling it? It was a huge, dead snake of the most poisonous kind.

The king stopped. He forgot his thirst. He thought only of the poor dead bird lying on the ground below him.

"The hawk saved my life!" he cried; "and how did I repay him? He was my best friend, and I have killed him."

He clambered down the bank. He took the bird up gently, and laid it in his hunting bag. Then he mounted his horse and rode swiftly home. He said to himself,

"I have learned a sad lesson today; and that is, never to do anything in anger."




Credits: James Baldwin

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Please


There was once a little word named "Please," that lived in a small boy's mouth. Pleases live in everybody's mouth, though people often forget they are there.

Now, all Pleases, to be kept strong and happy, should be taken out of the mouth very often, so they can get air. They are like little fish in a bowl, you know, that come popping up to the top of the water to breathe.

The Please I am going to tell you about lived in the mouth of a boy named Dick; but only once in a long while did it have a chance to get out. For Dick, I am sorry to say, was a rude little boy; he hardly ever remembered to say "Please."

"Give me some bread! I want some water! Give me that book!"- that is the way he would ask for things.

His father and mother felt very bad about this. And, as for the poor Please itself, it would sit up on the roof of the boy's mouth day after day, hoping for a chance to get out. It was growing weaker and weaker every day.

This boy Dick had a brother, John. Now, John was older than Dick - he was almost ten; and he was just as polite as Dick was rude. So his Please had plenty of fresh air, and was strong and happy.

One day at breakfast, Dick's Please felt that he must have some fresh air, even if he had to run away. So out he ran - out of Dick's mouth - and took a long breath. Then he crept across the table and jumped into John's mouth!

The Please-who-lived-there was very angry.

"Get out!" he cried. "You don't belong here! This is my mouth!"

"I know it," replied Dick's Please. "I live over there in that brother mouth. But alas! I am not happy there. I am never used. I never get a breath of fresh air! I thought you might be willing to let me stay here for a day or so--until I felt stronger."

"Why, certainly," said the other Please, kindly. "I understand. Stay, of course; and when my master uses me, we will both go out together. He is kind, and I am sure he would not mind saying 'Please' twice. Stay, as long as you like."

That noon, at dinner, John wanted some butter; and this is what he said:

"Father, will you pass me the butter, please - please?"

"Certainly," said the father. "But why be so very polite?"

John did not answer. He was turning to his mother, and said,

"Mother, will you give me a muffin, please-please?"

His mother laughed.

"You shall have the muffin, dear; but why do you say 'please' twice?"

I don't know," answered John. "The words seem just to jump out, somehow. Katie, please-please, some water!"

This time, John was almost frightened.

"Well, well," said his father, "there is no harm done. One can't be too 'pleasing' in this world."

All this time little Dick had been calling, "Give me an egg! I want some milk. Give me a spoon!" in the rude way he had. But now he stopped and listened to his brother. He thought it would be fun to try to talk like John; so he began,

"Mother, will you give me a muffin, m-m-m-?"

He was trying to say "please"; but how could he? He never guessed that his own little Please was sitting in John's mouth. So he tried again, and asked for the butter.

"Mother, will you pass me the butter, m-m-m-?"

That was all he could say.

So it went on all day, and everyone wondered what was the matter with those two boys. When night came, they were both so tired, and Dick was so cross, that their mother sent them to bed very early.

But the next morning, no sooner had they sat down to breakfast than Dick's Please ran home again. He had had so much fresh air the day before that now he was feeling quite strong and happy. And the very next moment, he had another airing; for Dick said,

"Father, will you cut my orange, please?" Why! the word slipped out as easily as could be! It sounded just as well as when John said it - John was saying only one "please" this morning. And from that time on, little Dick was just as polite as his brother.




Credits: Alicia Aspinwall

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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Christmas at Gas Station



The old man sat in his gas station on a cold Christmas Eve. He hadn’t been anywhere in years since his wife had passed away. It was just another day to him. He didn’t hate Christmas, just couldn’t find a reason to celebrate. He was sitting there looking at the snow that had been falling for the last hour and wondering what it was all about when the door opened and a homeless man stepped through.

Instead of throwing the man out, Old George as he was known by his customers, told the man to come and sit by the heater and warm up. “Thank you, but I don’t mean to intrude,” said the stranger. “I see you’re busy, I’ll just go.”

“Not without something hot in your belly.” George said.

He turned and opened a wide mouth Thermos and handed it to the stranger. “It ain’t much, but it’s hot and tasty. Stew … Made it myself. When you’re done, there’s coffee and it’s fresh.”

Just at that moment he heard the “ding” of the driveway bell. “Excuse me, be right back,” George said. There in the driveway was an old ’53 Chevy. Steam was rolling out of the front.. The driver was panicked. “Mister can you help me!” said the driver, with a deep Spanish accent. “My wife is with child and my car is broken.” George opened the hood. It was bad. The block looked cracked from the cold, the car was dead.

“You ain’t going in this thing,” George said as he turned away.

“But Mister, please help …” The door of the office closed behind George as he went inside. He went to the office wall and got the keys to his old truck, and went back outside. He walked around the building, opened the garage, started the truck and drove it around to where the couple was waiting. “Here, take my truck,” he said. “She ain’t the best thing you ever looked at, but she runs real good.”

George helped put the woman in the truck and watched as it sped off into the night. He turned and walked back inside the office. “Glad I gave ‘em the truck, their tires were shot too. That ‘ol truck has brand new .” George thought he was talking to the stranger, but the man had gone. The Thermos was on the desk, empty, with a used coffee cup beside it. “Well, at least he got something in his belly,” George thought.

George went back outside to see if the old Chevy would start. It cranked slowly, but it started. He pulled it into the garage where the truck had been. He thought he would tinker with it for something to do. Christmas Eve meant no customers. He discovered the block hadn’t cracked, it was just the bottom hose on the radiator. “Well, shoot, I can fix this,” he said to himself. So he put a new one on.

“Those tires ain’t gonna get ‘em through the winter either.” He took the snow treads off of his wife’s old Lincoln. They were like new and he wasn’t going to drive the car anyway.

As he was working, he heard shots being fired. He ran outside and beside a police car an officer lay on the cold ground. Bleeding from the left shoulder, the officer moaned, “Please help me.”

George helped the officer inside as he remembered the training he had received in the Army as a medic. He knew the wound needed attention. “Pressure to stop the bleeding,” he thought. The uniform company had been there that morning and had left clean shop towels. He used those and duct tape to bind the wound. “Hey, they say duct tape can fix anythin’,” he said, trying to make the policeman feel at ease.

“Something for pain,” George thought. All he had was the pills he used for his back. “These ought to work.” He put some water in a cup and gave the policeman the pills. “You hang in there, I’m going to get you an ambulance.”

The phone was dead. “Maybe I can get one of your buddies on that there talk box out in your car.” He went out only to find that a bullet had gone into the dashboard destroying the two way radio.

He went back in to find the policeman sitting up. “Thanks,” said the officer. “You could have left me there. The guy that shot me is still in the area.”

George sat down beside him, “I would never leave an injured man in the Army and I ain’t gonna leave you.” George pulled back the bandage to check for bleeding. “Looks worse than what it is. Bullet passed right through ‘ya. Good thing it missed the important stuff though. I think with time your gonna be right as rain.”

George got up and poured a cup of coffee. “How do you take it?” he asked.

“None for me,” said the officer..

“Oh, yer gonna drink this. Best in the city. Too bad I ain’t got no donuts.” The officer laughed and winced at the same time.

The front door of the office flew open. In burst a young man with a gun. “Give me all your cash! Do it now!” the young man yelled. His hand was shaking and George could tell that he had never done anything like this before.

“That’s the guy that shot me!” exclaimed the officer.

“Son, why are you doing this?” asked George, “You need to put the cannon away. Somebody else might get hurt.”

The young man was confused. “Shut up old man, or I’ll shoot you, too. Now give me the cash!”

The cop was reaching for his gun. “Put that thing away,” George said to the cop, “we got one too many in here now.”

He turned his attention to the young man. “Son, it’s Christmas Eve. If you need money, well then, here. It ain’t much but it’s all I got. Now put that pea shooter away.”

George pulled $150 out of his pocket and handed it to the young man, reaching for the barrel of the gun at the same time. The young man released his grip on the gun, fell to his knees and began to cry. “I’m not very good at this am I? All I wanted was to buy something for my wife and son,” he went on. “I’ve lost my job, my rent is due, my car got repossessed last week.”

George handed the gun to the cop. “Son, we all get in a bit of squeeze now and then. The road gets hard sometimes, but we make it through the best we can.”

He got the young man to his feet, and sat him down on a chair across from the cop. “Sometimes we do stupid things.” George handed the young man a cup of coffee. “Bein’ stupid is one of the things that makes us human. Comin’ in here with a gun ain’t the answer. Now sit there and get warm and we’ll sort this thing out.”

The young man had stopped crying. He looked over to the cop. “Sorry I shot you. It just went off. I’m sorry officer.”

“Shut up and drink your coffee ” the cop said.

George could hear the sounds of sirens outside. A police car and an ambulance skidded to a halt. Two cops came through the door, guns drawn. “Chuck! You ok?” one of the cops asked the wounded officer.

“Not bad for a guy who took a bullet. How did you find me?”

“GPS locator in the car. Best thing since sliced bread. Who did this?” the other cop asked as he approached the young man.

Chuck answered him, “I don’t know. The guy ran off into the dark. Just dropped his gun and ran.”

George and the young man both looked puzzled at each other.

“That guy work here?” the wounded cop continued.

“Yep,” George said, “just hired him this morning. Boy lost his job.”

The paramedics came in and loaded Chuck onto the stretcher. The young man leaned over the wounded cop and whispered, “Why?”

Chuck just said, “Merry Christmas boy … and you too, George, and thanks for everything.”

“Well, looks like you got one doozy of a break there. That ought to solve some of your problems.”

George went into the back room and came out with a box. He pulled out a ring box. “Here you go, something for the little woman. I don’t think Martha would mind. She said it would come in handy some day.”

The young man looked inside to see the biggest diamond ring he ever saw. “I can’t take this,” said the young man. “It means something to you.”

“And now it means something to you,” replied George. “I got my memories. That’s all I need.”

George reached into the box again. An airplane, a car and a truck appeared next. They were toys that the oil company had left for him to sell. “Here’s something for that little man of yours.”

The young man began to cry again as he handed back the $150 that the old man had handed him earlier.

“And what are you supposed to buy Christmas dinner with? You keep that too,” George said. “Now git home to your family.”

The young man turned with tears streaming down his face. “I’ll be here in the morning for work, if that job offer is still good.”

“Nope. I’m closed Christmas day,” George said. “See ya the day after.”

George turned around to find that the stranger had returned. “Where’d you come from? I thought you left?”

“I have been here. I have always been here,” said the stranger. “You say you don’t celebrate Christmas. Why?”

“Well, after my wife passed away, I just couldn't see what all the bother was. Puttin’ up a tree and all seemed a waste of a good pine tree. Bakin’ cookies like I used to with Martha just wasn’t the same by myself and besides I was gettin’ a little chubby.”

The stranger put his hand on George’s shoulder. “But you do celebrate the holiday, George. You gave me food and drink and warmed me when I was cold and hungry. The woman with child will bear a son and he will become a great doctor.

The policeman you helped will go on to save 19 people from being killed by terrorists. The young man who tried to rob you will make you a rich man and not take any for himself. “That is the spirit of the season and you keep it as good as any man.”

George was taken aback by all this stranger had said. “And how do you know all this?” asked the old man.

“Trust me, George. I have the inside track on this sort of thing. And when your days are done you will be with Martha again.”

The stranger moved toward the door. “If you will excuse me, George, I have to go now. I have to go home where there is a big celebration planned.”

George watched as the old leather jacket and the torn pants that the stranger was wearing turned into a white robe. A golden light began to fill the room.

“You see, George … it’s My birthday. Merry Christmas.”

George fell to his knees and replied, “Happy Birthday, Lord Jesus”