Thursday, May 24, 2007


In the far-off ages, all the lands of northern Europe were one, for the
deep seas had not yet separated them. Then our forefathers thought that
fairies were gods. They built temples in their honor, and prayed to
them. Then, in the place where is now the little town of Ulrum in
Friesland was the home of the spirit in the ice, Uller. That is what
Ulrum means, the home of the good fairy Uller.

Uller was the patron of boys and girls. They liked him, because he
invented skates and sleds and sleighs. He had charge of things in winter
and enjoyed the cold. He delighted also in hunting. Dressed in thick
furs, he loved to roam over the hills and through the forests, seeking
out the wolf, the bear, the deer, and the aurochs. His bow and arrows
were terrible, for they were very big and he was a sure shot. Being the
patron of archery, hunters always sought his favor. The yew tree was
sacred to Uller, because the best bows were made from its wood. No one
could cut down a yew tree without angering Uller.

Nobody knew who Uller's father was, and if he knew himself, he did not
care to tell any one. He would not bestow many blessings upon mankind;
yet thousands of people used to come to Ulrum every year to invoke his
aid and ask him to send a heavy fall of snow to cover the ground. That
meant good crops of food for the next year. The white snow, lying thick
upon the ground, kept back the frost giants from biting the earth too
hard. Because of deep winter snows, the ground was soft during the next
summer. So the seed sprouted more easily and there was plenty to eat.

When Uller travelled over the winter snow, to go out on hunting trips,
he strapped snow-shoes on his feet. Because these were shaped like a
warrior's shield, Uller was often called the shield-god. His protection
was especially invoked by men who fought duels with sword or spear,
which were very common in early days; or by soldiers or hunters, who
wished to be very brave, or had engaged in perilous ventures.

Now when Uller wanted a wife to marry him, he made love to Skadi,
because she was a huntress and liked the things which he liked. So they
never had a quarrel. She was very strong, fond of sports, and of chasing
the wild animals. She wore a short skirt, which allowed freedom of
motion to her limbs. Then she ranged over the hills and valleys with
wonderful swiftness. So rapid were her movements that many people
likened her to the cold mountain stream, that leaps down from the high
peaks and over the rocks, foaming and dashing to the lowlands. They gave
the same name to both this fairy woman and the water, because they were
so much alike.

Indeed Skadi was very lovely to look at. It was no wonder that many of
the gods, fairies and men fell in love with her. It is even said that
she had had several husbands before marrying Uller. When you look at her
pictures, you will see that she was as pretty as bright winter itself,
when Jack Frost clothes the trees with white and makes the cheeks of the
girls so rosy. She wore armor of shining steel, a silver helmet, short
white skirts and white fur leggings. Her snow-shoes were of the hue of
winter. Besides a glittering spear, she had a bow and sharp arrows.
These were held in a silver quiver slung over her shoulders. Altogether,
she looked like winter alive. She loved to live in the mountains, and
hear the thunders of cataracts, the crash of avalanches, the moaning of
the winds in the pine forests. Even the howling of wolves was music in
her ears. She was afraid of nothing.

Now from such a father and mother one would expect wonderful children,
yet very much like their parents. It turned out that the offspring of
Uller and Skadi were all daughters. To them--one after another--were
given the names meaning Glacier, Cold, Snow, Drift, Snow Whirl, and Snow
Dust, the oldest being the biggest and hardiest. The others were in
degree softer and more easily influenced by the sun and the wind. They
all looked alike, so that some people called them the Six White Sisters.

Yet they were all so great and powerful that many considered them
giantesses. It was not possible for men to tame them, for they did very
much as they pleased. No one could stop their doings or drive them away,
except Woden, who was the god of the sun. Yet in winter, even he left
off ruling the world and went away. During that time, that is, during
seven months, Uller took Woden's throne and governed the affairs of the
world. When summer came, Uller went with his wife up to the North Pole;
or they lived in a house, on the top of the Alps. There they could hunt
and roam on their snow-shoes. To these cold places, which the whole
family enjoyed, their daughters went also and all were very happy so far
above the earth.

Things went on pleasantly in Uller's family so long as his daughters
were young, for then the girls found enough to delight in at their daily
play. But when grown up and their heads began to be filled with notions
about the young giants, who paid visits to them, then the family
troubles began.


There was one young giant fairy named Vuur, who came often to see all
six of Uller's daughters, from the youngest to the oldest. Yet no one
could tell which of them he was in love with, or could name the girl he
liked best; no, not even the daughters themselves. His character and his
qualities were not well known, for he put on many disguises and appeared
in many places. It was believed, however, that he had already done a
good deal of mischief and was likely to do more, for he loved
destruction. Yet he often helped the kabouter dwarfs to do great things;
so that showed he was of some use. In fact he was the fire fairy. He
kept on, courting all the six sisters, long after May day came, and he
lengthened his visits until the heat turned the entire half dozen of
them into water. So they became one.

At this, Uller was so angry at Vuur's having delayed so long before
popping the question, and at his daughters' losing their shapes, that he
made Vuur marry them all and at once, they taking the name of Regen.

Now when the child of Vuur and Regen was born, it turned out to be, in
body and in character, just what people expected from such a father and
mother. It was named in Dutch, Stoom. It grew fast and soon showed that
it was as powerful as its parents had been; yet it was much worse, when
shut up, than when allowed to go free in the air. Stoom loved to do all
sorts of tricks. In the kitchen, it would make the iron kettle lid flop
up and down with a lively noise. If it were confined in a vessel,
whether of iron or earthenware, when set over the fire, it would blow
the pot or kettle all to pieces, in order to get out. Thinking itself a
great singer, it would make rather a pleasant sound, when its mother let
it come out of a spout. Yet it never obeyed either of its parents. When
they tried to shut up Stoom inside of anything, it always escaped with a
terrible sound. In fact, nothing could long hold it in, without an

Sometimes Stoom would go down into the bowels of the earth and turn on a
stream of water so as to meet the deep fires which are ever burning far
down below us. Then there would come an awful earthquake, because Stoom
wanted to get out, and the earth crust would not let him, but tried to
hold him down. Sometimes Stoom slipped down into a volcano's mouth. Then
the mountain, in order to save itself from being choked, had to spit
Stoom out, and this always made a terrible mess on the ground, and men
called it lava. Or, Stoom might stay down in the crater as a guest, and
quietly come out, occasionally, in jets and puffs.

Even when Jack Frost was around and froze the pipes in the house, or
turned the water of the pots, pans, kettles and bottles into solid ice,
Stoom behaved very badly. If the frozen kettles, or any other closed
vessel were put over the stove, or near the fire, and the ice melted at
the bottom too fast, Stoom would blow the whole thing up. In this way,
he often put men's lives in danger and made them lose their property.

No one seemed to know how to handle this mischievous fairy. Not one man
on earth could do anything with him. So they let him have his own way.
Yet all the time, though he was enjoying his own tricks and lively fun,
he was, with his own voice, calling on human beings to use him properly,
and harness him to wheels; for he was willing to be useful to them, and
was all ready to pull or drive, lift or lower, grind or pump, as the
need might be.

As long as men did not treat him properly and give him the right to get
out into the air, after he had done his work, Stoom would explode, blow
up and destroy everything. He could be made to sing, hiss, squeal,
whistle, and make all kinds of sounds, but, unless the bands that held
him in were strong enough, or if Vuur got too hot, or his mother would
not give him drink enough, when the iron pipes were red with heat, he
would lose his temper and explode. He had no respect for bad or
neglected boilers, or for lazy or careless firemen and engineers.

Yet properly harnessed and treated well, and fed with the food such as
his mother can give, and roused by his father's persuasion, Stoom is
greater than any giant or fairy that ever was. He can drive a ship, a
locomotive, a submarine, or an aeroplane, as fast as Fro's boar, horse
or ship. Everybody to-day is glad that Stoom is such a good servant and
friend all over the world.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


Long, long ago, there were brave fighters and skilful hunters in
Holland, but neither men nor women ever dreamed that food was to be got
out of the ground, but only from the trees and bushes, such as berries,
acorns and honey. They thought the crust of the earth was too hard to be
broken up for seed, even if they knew what grain and bread were. They
supposed that what nature provided in the forest was the only food for
men. Besides this, they made their women do all the work and cook the
acorns and brew the honey into mead, while they went out to fish and
hunt and fight.

So the fairies took pity on the cold, northern people, who lived where
it rained and snowed a great deal. They held a council and agreed that
it was time to send down to the earth an animal, with tusks, to tear up
the ground. Then the people would see the riches of the earth and learn
what soil was. They would be blessed with farms and gardens, barns and
stalls, hay and grain, horses and cattle, wheat and barley, pigs and

Now there were powerful fairies, of a certain kind, who lived in a Happy
Land far, far away, who had charge of everything in the air and water.
One of them was named Fro, who became lord of the summer sunshine and
warm showers, that make all things grow. It was in this bright region
that the white elves lived.

It was a pretty custom in fairy-land that when a fairy baby cut its
first tooth, the mother's friends should make the little one some pretty

When Nerthus, the mother of the infant Fro, looked into its mouth and
saw the little white thing that had come up through the baby's gums, she
went in great glee and told the glad news to all the other fairies. It
was a great event and she tried to guess what present her wonderful
boy-baby should receive.

There was one giant-like fairy as strong as a polar bear, who agreed to
get, for little Fro, a creature that could put his nose under the sod
and root up the ground. In this way he would show men what the earth,
just under its surface, contained, without their going into mines and

One day this giant fairy heard two stout dwarfs talking loudly in the
region under the earth. They were boasting as to which could beat the
other at the fire and bellows, for both were blacksmiths. One was the
king of the dwarfs, who made a bet that he could excel the other. So he
set them to work as rivals, while a third dwarf worked the bellows. The
dwarf-king threw some gold in the flames to melt; but, fearing he might
not win the bet, he went away to get other fairies to help him. He told
the bellows dwarf to keep on pumping air on the fire, no matter what
might happen to him.

So when one giant fairy, in the form of a gadfly, flew at him, and bit
him in the hand, the bellows-blower did not stop for the pain, but kept
on until the fire roared loudly, as to make the cavern echo. Then all
the gold melted and could be transformed. As soon as the dwarf-king came
back, the bellows-blower took up the tongs and drew out of the fire a
boar having golden bristles.

This fire-born golden boar had the power of travelling through the air
as swiftly as a streak of lightning. It was named Gullin, or Golden, and
was given to the fairy Fro, and he, when grown, used the wonderful
creature as his steed. All the other good fairies and the elves
rejoiced, because men on the earth would now be helped to do great

Even more wonderful to tell, this fire-born creature became the father
of all the animals that have tusks and that roam in the woods. A tusk is
a big tooth, of which the hardest and sharpest part grows, long and
sharp, outside of the mouth and it stays there, even when the mouth is

When Gullin was not occupied, or being ridden by Fro on his errands over
the world, he taught his sons, that is, the wild boars of the forest,
how to root up the ground and make it soft for things to grow in. Then
his master Fro sent the sunbeams and the warm showers to make the
turned-up earth fruitful.

To do this, the wild boars were given two long tusks, as pointed as
needles and sharp as knives. With one sweep of his head a boar could rip
open a dog or a wolf, a bull or a bear, or furrow the earth like a

Now there were several cousins in the Tusk family. The elephant on land,
and the walrus and narwhal in the seas; but none of these could plough
ground, but because the boar's tusks grew out so long and were so sharp,
and hooked at the end, it could tear open the earth's hard crust and
root up the ground. This made a soil fit for tender plants to grow in,
and even the wild flowers sprang up in them.

All this, when they first noticed it, was very wonderful to human
beings. The children called one to the other to come and see the unusual
sight. The little troughs, made first by the ripping of the boar's
tusks, were widened by rooting with their snouts. These were welcomed by
the birds, for they hopped into the lines thus made, to feed on the
worms. So the birds, supposing that these little gutters in the ground
were made especially for them, made great friends with the boars. They
would even perch near by, or fly to their backs, and ride on them.

As for the men fathers, when they looked at the clods and the loose
earth thus turned over, they found them to be very soft. So the women
and girls were able to break them up with their sticks. Then the seeds,
dropped by the birds that came flying back every spring time, from
far-away lands, sprouted. It was noticed that new kinds of plants grew
up, which had stalks. In the heads or ears of these were a hundredfold
more seeds. When the children tasted them, they found, to their delight,
that the little grains were good to eat. They swallowed them whole, they
roasted them at the fire, or they pounded them with stones. Then they
baked the meal thus made or made it into mush, eating it with honey.

For the first time people in the Dutch world had bread. When they added
the honey, brought by the bees, they had sweet cakes with mead. Then,
saving the seeds over, from one summer to another, they in the spring
time planted them in the little trenches made by the animal's tusks.
Then the Dutch words for "boar" and "row" were put together, meaning
boar row, and there issued, in time, our word "furrow."

The women were the first to become skilful in baking. In the beginning
they used hot stones on which to lay the lump of meal, or flour and
water, or the batter. Then having learned about yeast, which "raised"
the flour, that is, lifted it up, with gas and bubbles, they made real
bread and cakes and baked them in the ovens which the men had made. When
they put a slice of meat between upper and lower layers of bread, they
called it "broodje," that is, little bread; or, sandwich. In time,
instead of one kind of bread, or cake, they had a dozen or twenty
different sorts, besides griddle cakes and waffles.

Now when the wise men of the mark, or neighborhood, saw that the women
did such wonderful things, they put their heads together and said one to
the other:

"We are quite ready to confess that fairies, and elves, and even the
kabouters are smarter than we are. Our women, also, are certainly
wonderful; but it will never do to let the boars think that they know
more than we do. They did indeed teach us how to make furrows, and the
birds brought us grain; but we are the greater, for we can hunt and kill
the boars with our spears.

"Although they can tear up the sod and root in the ground with tusk and
snout, they cannot make cakes, as our women can. So let us see if we
cannot beat both the boars and birds, and even excel our women. We shall
be more like the fairies, if we invent something that will outshine them

So they thought and planned, and, little by little, they made the
plough. First, with a sharp stick in their hands, the men scratched the
surface of the ground into lines that were not very deep. Then they
nailed plates of iron on those sticks. Next, they fixed this iron-shod
wood in a frame to be pulled forward, and, by and by, they added
handles. Men and women, harnessed together, pulled the plough. Indeed it
was ages before they had oxen to do this heavy work for them. At last
the perfect plough was seen. It had a knife in front to cut the clods, a
coulter, a beam, a mould board and handles, and, after a while, a wheel
to keep it straight. Then they set horses to draw it.

Fro the fairy was the owner, not only of the boar with the golden
bristles, but also of the lightning-like horse, Sleipnir, that could
ride through fire and water with the speed of light. Fro also owned the
magic ship, which could navigate both land and sea. It was so very
elastic that it could be stretched out to carry a host of warriors over
the seas to war, or fold up like a lady's handkerchief. With this flying
vessel, Fro was able to move about like a cloud and also to change like
them. He could also appear, or disappear, as he pleased, in one place or

By and by, the wild boars were all hunted to death and disappeared. Yet
in one way, and a glorious one also, their name and fame were kept in
men's memories. Brave knights had the boar's head painted on their
shields and coats of arms. When the faith of the Prince of Peace made
wars less frequent, the temples in honor of Fro were deserted, but the
yule log and the revels, held to celebrate the passing of the Mother
Night, in December, that is, the longest one of the year, were changed
for the Christmas festival.

Then again, the memory of man's teacher of the plough was still kept
green; for the boar was remembered as the giver, not only of nourishing
meat, but of ideas for men's brains. Baked in the oven, and made
delightful to the appetite, served on the dish, with its own savory
odors; withal, decorated with sprigs of rosemary, the boar's head was
brought in for the great dinner, with the singing of Christmas carols.

Sunday, May 20, 2007


Long, long ago, before the Romans came into the land and when the fairies ruled in the forest, there was a maiden who lived under an oaktree. When she was a baby they called her Bundlekin. She had four brothers, who loved their younger sister very dearly and did everything they could to make her happy. Her fat father was a famous hunter. When he roamed the woods, no bear, wolf, aurochs, roebuck, deer, or big animal of any kind, could escape from his arrows, his spear, or hispit-trap. He taught his sons to be skilful in the chase, but also to bekind to the dumb creatures when captured. Especially when the motherbeast was killed, the boys were always told to care for the cubs, whelps and kittens. As for the smaller animals, foxes, hares, weasels, rabbit sand ermine, these were so numerous, that the father left the business ofhunting them to the lads, who had great sport.The house under the oak tree was always well provided with meat andfurs. The four brothers brought the little animals, which they took inthe woods, to make presents to their sister. So there was always aplenty of pets, bear and wolf cubs, wildcats' kittens and baby aurochsfor the girl to play with. Every day, while the animals were so young asto be fed on milk, she enjoyed frolicking with the four-footed babies.When they grew bigger, she romped and sported with them, as if she andthey were equal members of the same family. The older brother watchedcarefully, so that the little brutes, as they increased in size, shouldnot bite or claw his sister, for he knew the fierce nature that was inwild creatures. Yet the maiden had wonderful power over these beasts ofthe forest, whether little or big. She was not very much afraid of themand often made them run, by looking at them hard in the eye.While the girl made a pet of the animals, her parents made a pet of her.The mother prepared the skins of the wolves and bears, until these werevery soft, keeping the fur on, to make rugs for the floor, and wintercoats for her children. The hides of the aurochs sufficed for rougheruse, but from what had once been the clothes of the fawn, the weasel,the rabbit, and the ermine, garments were made that were smooth enoughto suit a baby's tender flesh. The forest folk wrapped their infants inswaddling hands made of these dressed pelts. After feeding the darling,a mother hung her baby up, warmly covered, to a tree branch. The cradle,which was a furry bag, was made of the same material and swung in thewind. Bundlekin usually fell asleep right after she had had her breakfast.When she woke up crowing, the squirrels were playing all around her. Sheeven learned to watch the spiders, spinning their houses of silk,without being afraid. When Bundlekin grew up, she always called thiscurious creature, that could make silk, Spin Head. She jokingly calledit her lover, in remembrance of baby days.It was funny to see how deft the mother was with her needles, fashionedfrom bone, and her rough thread, which was made of the intestines of thedeer. From her own childhood in the woods, Bundlekin's mother had beenused to this kind of dressmaking. Now, when her daughter had grown, frombabyhood and through her teens, to be a lovely maiden, fair of face andstrong of limb, her sweet, unselfish parent was equal to new tasks. Tothe soft leather coats, made from the skins of fawns, martens, andweasels, she added trimmings of snow white ermine. Caps and mittens,cloaks for the body, and coverings for the feet, were fashioned to fitneatly. Fringes, here and there, were put on them, until her girl lookedlike a king's daughter. In summer, the skins of birds and their feathersclothed her lightly, and with many and rich colors, while the forestflowers decked her hair.In winter, in her white forest robes, the maiden, except for her rosyface and sparkling eyes, seemed as if she might have been born of thesnow, or was a daughter of the northern ice god at Ulrum. And becauseshe was so lovely, her parents changed her baby name and called herDri'-fa, which means Snow White. Yet, though no other girl in Gelderland equalled, and none, not even theprincesses, excelled Snow White in beauty of face, form, or raiment, themaiden was not happy, even though many lovers came to her and offered tomarry her. Some, as proof of their skill as hunters, brought the finestfurs the forest furnished. Others showed their strength or fleetness offoot. Some bargained with the kabouters, or fairies of the mines, tobring them shining ore or precious gems which they offered to SnowWhite. Others, again, went afar to get strange wonders, amber andambergris, from the seashores of the far north to please her. One finefellow, who had been in the south and was proud of his travels, told herof what he had seen in the great cities, and offered her a necklace ofpearls.But all was in vain. Every lover went away sorrowful, for Snow Whitewearied of them and sent each one home, disappointed.Last of all, among the lovers came a strange looking one, named SpinHead, resembling a spider, promising a secret worth more than furs,gold, gems, or necklace; but the mother, seeing the ugly creature, droveit off with hard words. So the months and years passed, until her father feared he would notlive to see his daughter a wife.But one day, when all in the household were absent, the leaves of theoak tree rustled loudly. There was no wind, and Snow White, surprised,strained her ears to find out what this might mean. Soon she could makeout these words:"When the spider, that you called Spin Head, comes to make love to you,listen to him. He is the wisest being in all the forest. He knows thefuture. He will tell you a secret. I shall pass away, but what heteaches you shall live."Then the leaves of the oak ceased to rustle and all was quiet and stillagain.While wondering what this message might mean, down came the real spidershe had named Spin Head. He lowered himself from a tree branch, highabove on a silken thread. The creature sat down on the log beside themaiden; but she was not in the least startled and did not scream nor runaway. Indeed, she spoke to the spider as an old friend:"Well, playmate of my babyhood, what have you to tell me?""I came to offer you my love. You need not marry me yet, but if you willlet me spin a web in your room, I shall live there, and, by and by,reward you. Let me be in your sight always, and you will not be sorryfor it."The maiden had no sooner agreed than a terrible tempest uprooted the oakand levelled the trees of the forest. In a moment more, a new and verybeautiful house rose up out of the ground. It was as noble to look at asa palace. Near by was a garden, and one day when she walked in it, outof it sprang a blue flower, almost under her feet."Choose the best room for your own self," said Spin Head, "and then showme my corner. After a hundred days, if you treat me kindly, I shallreveal the secret of that blue flower."Dri'-fa, the maiden, chose the sunniest room, and gave Spin Head thebest corner, near the window and close to the ceiling. At once he beganto weave a shining web for his own house. She wondered at such finework, which no human weaver could excel, and why she was not able tospin silk out of her head, nor even with her fingers, like her strangelover. But the oak had promised that Spin Head would reveal a secret,and she was curious to know what it was. Like all girls, she was in ahurry to have the secret. To ease her impatience, Dri'-fa looked on,while Spin Head was thus busy at making his dwelling place, with shiningthreads which he spun out, never ceasing. She was so intent uponwatching him that night came down before she noticed that her room wasnot furnished. There was not even a bed to sleep on.Spin Head looked at her closely and then spoke with a deep voice, like aman's:"Ah, I know, you want a bed, and pretty things for your room."In another moment, soft furs lined the floor, and soon all that Dri'-fahad possessed in the forest for comfort she had now, and more. Lost inwonder as she was, in a few minutes she was fast asleep.She dreamed she wore a dress of some strange, new, white fabric, such asher people had never seen before. Instead of being close in texture,like the skin of an animal, it was as open work, full of thousands oflittle holes, yet strongly held together. It was light and gauzy, like asilvery spider's web on the summer grass before sunrise, when pearlywith dewdrops.The hundred days were passing swiftly by, and Spin Head and Snow White had become fast friends. Each lived in a different world--a world withina world. She was waiting for the secret he would tell her. She bravelyresolved not to be impatient, but let Spin Head speak first.One day, when autumn had come and she was lonely, she sauntered out intothe garden. The chill winds were blowing and the leaves falling, tillthey covered the ground like a yellow carpet. One fell into her hand, asif it bore words of friendly greeting. Yet, though she waited, not oneof the millions of them brought a message to her! Never a word had sheever heard from her parents and brothers! The blue flower had long agofallen away and there was nothing in its place but a hard, rough, blackstalk. Then she said to herself:"Is there anything in this ugly stick? How will Spin Head reveal hissecret?" Never had she been so cast down.Again the tempest howled. All the winds of heaven seemed to have brokenloose. Many a sturdy oak lay prostrate. The leaves darkened the air, sothat Snow White could see nothing. Then there was a great calm. The maidcleared her sight, and lo! there, beside her, stood a youth, morebeautiful than any of her brothers, or her lovers, or any man she hadever seen. He was dressed in fine white clothing, excelling in itstexture any skin of fawn, or animal of the forest. Instead of beingleather, however soft, it seemed woven of a multitude of threads. In hishand he held the black stalk of what had been the blue flower."I am Spin Head," he said. "The hundred days are over. The spell isbroken and my deliverance from enchantment has come. I bring to you, asmy gift, this ugly stalk, on which the blue flower bloomed."Between surprise at the change of Spin Head from a spider to a handsomeyouth, and disappointment at such a present offered her, Snow White wasdumb. She could hardly draw her breath. Was that all?"Break it open," said Spin Head.Splitting the stalk from end to end, the maiden was surprised to findinside many long silky fibres, almost as fine as the strands in aspider's web. She pulled them out and her eyes danced with joy."Plant the seed and let the blue flowers blossom by the million," saidthe youth. "Then gather the stalks and, from the fibres, weave themtogether and make this. The black rod is a sceptre of wealth."Then, separating the delicate strands one by one, Spin Head wove themtogether. The result was a rich robe, of a snow white fabric, never seenin the forest. It was linen.Snow White clapped her hands with joy."'Tis for your wedding dress, if you will marry me," said Spin Head.Snow White's cheeks blushed red, but she looked at him and her eyes said"yes.""Wait," said Spin Head. "I'll make you a bridal veil."Once more his fingers wrought wonders. He produced yards of a gauzy,open work stuff. He made it float in the air first. Then he threw itover her head. It trailed down her back and covered her rosy face. Itwas lace.Happily married, they left the forest and travelled into the land wherethe blue flax flowers made a new sky on the earth. Soon on the map menread the names of cities unknown before. At a time when Europe had nosuch masses of happy people, joyous in their toil, Courtrai, Tournay,Ypres, Ghent, and Bruges told what the blue flower of the flax had donefor the country. More than gold, gems, or the wealth of forest or mine,was the gift of Spin Head to Snow White, for the making of Belgic Land.

Friday, May 18, 2007


In the early ages, when our far-off ancestors lived in the woods, ate acorns, slept in caves, and dressed in the skins of wild animals, theyhad no horses, cows or cats. Their only pets and helpers were dogs. Themen and the dogs were more like each other than they are now.
However, they knew about bees. So the women gathered honey and from itthey made mead. Not having any sugar, the children enjoyed tasting honeymore than anything else, and it was the only sweet thing they had.
By and by, cows were brought into the country and the Dutch soil beinggood for grass, the cows had plenty to eat. When these animalsmultiplied, the people drank milk and learned to make cheese and butter.So the Dutch boys and girls grew fat and healthy.
The oxen were so strong that they could pull logs of wood or draw aplough. So, little by little, the forests were cut down and grassymeadows, full of bright colored flowers, took their place. Houses werebuilt and the people were rich and happy.
Yet there were still many cruel men and bad people in the land. Sometimes, too, floods came and drowned the cattle and covered thefields with sand, or salt water. In such times, food was very scarce.Thus it happened that not all the babies born could live, or everylittle child be fed. The baby girls especially were often left to die,because war was common and only boys, that grew into strong warriors,were wanted.
It grew to be a custom that families would hold a council and decidewhether the baby should be raised or not. But if any one should give theinfant even a tiny drop of milk, or food of any kind, it was allowed tolive and grow up. If no one gave it milk or honey, it died. No matterhow much a mother might love her baby, she was not allowed to put milkto its lips, if the grandmother or elders forbade it. The young bride,coming into her husband's home, always had to obey his mother, for shewas now as a daughter and one of the family. All lived together in onehouse, and the grandmother ruled all the women and girls that were underone roof.
This was the way of the world, when our ancestors were pagans, and notalways as kind to little babies as our own mothers and fathers are now.Many times was the old grandmother angry, when her son had taken a wifeand a girl was born. If the old woman expected a grandson, who shouldgrow up and be a fighter, with sword and spear, and it turned out to bea girl, she was mad as fire. Often the pretty bride, brought into thehouse, had a hard time of it, with her husband's mother, if she did notin time have a baby boy. In those days a "Herman," a "War Man" and"German" were one and the same word.
Now when the good missionaries came into Friesland, one of the first ofthe families to receive the gospel was one named Altfrid. With hisbride, who also became a Christian, Altfrid helped the missionary tobuild a church. By and by, a sweet little baby was born in the familyand the parents were very happy. They loved the little thing sent from God, as fathers and mothers love their children now.
But when some one went and told the pagan grandmother that the new babywas a girl instead of a boy, the old woman flew into a rage and wouldhave gone at once to get hold of the baby and put it to death. Herlameness, however, made her move slowly, and she could not find hercrutch; for the midwife, who knew the bad temper of the grandmother, hadpurposely hid it. The old woman was angry, because she did not want anymore females in the big house, where she thought there were already toomany mouths to fill. Food was hard to get, and there were not enough warmen to defend the tribe. She meant to get the new baby and throw it tothe wolves. The old grandmother was a pagan and still worshipped thecruel gods that loved fighting. She hated the new religion, because ittaught gentleness and peace.
But the midwife, who was a neighbor, feared that the old woman wasmalicious and she had hid her crutch. This she did, so that if the babywas a girl, she could save its life. The midwife was a good woman, whohad been taught that the Great Creator loves little girls as well asboys.
So when the midwife heard the grandmother storm and rave, while huntingfor her crutch, she ran first to the honey jar, dipped her forefinger init and put some drops of honey on the baby's tongue. Then she passed itout the window to some women friends, who were waiting outside. She knewthe law, that if a child tasted food, it must be allowed to live.
The kind women took the baby to their home and fed it carefully. A holewas drilled in the small end of a cow's horn and the warm milk, freshfrom the cow, was allowed to fall, drop by drop, into the baby's mouth.In a few days the little one was able to suck its breakfast slowly outof the horn, while one of the girls held it. So the baby grew biggerevery day. All the time it was carefully hidden.
The foolish old grandmother was foiled, for she could never find outwhere the baby girl was, which all the time was growing strong andplump. Her father secretly made her a cradle and he and the babe'smother came often to see their child. Every one called her Honig-je', orLittle Honey.
Now about this time, cats were brought into the country and the childrenmade such pets of them that some of the cows seemed to be jealous of theattentions paid to Pussy and the kittens. These were the days when cowsand people all lived under one long roof. The children learned to tellthe time of day, whether it was morning, noon or night by looking intothe cats' eyes. These seemed to open and shut, very much as if they haddoors.
The fat pussy, which was brought into the house where Honig-je' was,seemed to be very fond of the little girl, and the two, the cat and thechild, played much together. It was often said that the cat loved thebaby even more than her own kittens. Every one called the affectionateanimal by the nickname of Dub-belt-je', which means Little Double;because this puss was twice as loving as most cat mothers are. When herown furry little babies were very young, she carried them from one placeto another in her mouth. But this way, of holding kittens, she nevertried on the baby. She seemed to know better. Indeed, Dub-belt-je' oftenwondered why human babies were born so naked and helpless; for at an agewhen her kittens could feed themselves and run about and play with theirtails and with each other, Honig-je' was not yet able to crawl.
But other dangers were in store for the little girl. One day, when themen were out hunting, and the women went to the woods to gather nuts andacorns, a great flood came. The waters washed away the houses, so thateverything floated into the great river, and then down towards the sea.
What had, what would, become of our baby? So thought the parents ofHonig-je', when they came back to find the houses swept away and no signof their little daughter. Dub-belt-je' and her kittens, and all thecows, were gone too.
Now it had happened that when the flood came and the house crashed down,baby was sound asleep. The cat, leaving its kittens, that were nowpretty well grown up, leaped up and on to the top of the cradle and thetwo floated off together. Pretty soon they found themselves left alone,with nothing in sight that was familiar, except one funny thing. Thatwas a wooden shoe, in which was a fuzzy little yellow chicken hardlyfour days old. It had been playing in the shoe, when the floods cameand swept it off from under the very beak of the old hen, that, with allher other chicks, was speedily drowned.
On and on, the raging flood bore baby and puss, until dark night camedown. For hours more they drifted until, happily, the cradle was sweptinto an eddy in front of a village. There it spun round and round, andmight soon have been borne into the greater flood, which seemed to roarlouder as the waters rose.
Now a cat can see sometimes in the night, better even than in the day,for the darker it becomes, the wider open the eyes of puss. In brightsunshine, at noon, the inside doors of the cat's eyes close to a narrowslit, while at night these doors open wide. That is the reason why, inthe days before clocks and watches were made, the children could tellabout the time of day by looking at the cat's eyes. Sometimes they namedtheir pussy Klok'-oog, which means Clock Eye, or Bell Eye, for bellclocks are older than clocks with a dial, and because in Holland thebells ring out the hours and quarter hours.
Puss looked up and saw the church tower looming up in the dark. At onceshe began to meouw and caterwaul with all her might. She hoped that someone in one of the houses near the river bank might catch the sound. Butnone seemed to hear or heed. At last, when Puss was nearly dead withhowling, a light appeared at one of the windows. This showed that someone was up and moving. It was a boy, who was named Dirck, after thesaint Theodoric, who had first, long ago, built a church in the village.Then Puss opened her mouth and lungs again and set up a regularcat-scream. This wakened all her other relatives in the village andevery Tom and Kitty made answer, until there was a cat concert of meouwsand caterwauls.
The boy heard, rushed down-stairs, and, opening the door, listened. Thewind blew out his candle, but the brave lad was guided by the soundwhich Pussy made. Reaching the bank, he threw off his wooden klomps,plunged into the boiling waters, and, seizing the cradle, towed itashore. Then he woke up his mother and showed her his prize. The waythat baby laughed and crowed, and patted the horn of milk, and kicked upits toes in delight over the warm milk, which was brought, was a joy tosee. Near the hearth, in the middle of the floor, Dub-belt-je', thepuss, was given some straw for a bed and, after purring joyfully, wassoon, like the baby, sound asleep.
Thus the cat warned the boy, and the boy saved the baby, that was verywelcome in a family where there were no girls, but only a boy. WhenHonig-je' grew up to be a young woman, she looked as lovely as aprincess and in the church was married to Dirck! It was the month ofApril and all the world was waking to flowers, when the weddingprocession came out of the church and the air was sweet with the openingof the buds.
Before the next New Year's day arrived, there lay in the same cradle,and put to sleep over the same rockers, a baby boy. When they broughthim to the font, the good grandmother named him Luid-i-ger. He grew upto be the great missionary, whose name in Friesland is, even today,after a thousand years, a household word. He it was who drove out badfairies, vile enchanters, wicked spirits and terrible diseases. Best ofall, he banished "eye-bite," which was the name the people gave towitchcraft. Luid-i-ger, also, made it hard for the naughty elves andsprites that delude men.
After this, it was easy for all the good spirits, that live in kindhearts and noble lives, to multiply and prosper. The wolves were drivenaway or killed off and became very few, while the cattle and sheepmultiplied, until everybody could have a woollen coat, and there was acow to every person in the land.
But the people still suffered from the floods, that from time to timedrowned the cattle and human beings, and the ebb tides, that carriedeverything out to sea. Then the good missionary taught the men how tobuild dykes, that kept out the ocean and made the water of the riversstay between the banks. The floods became fewer and fewer and at lastrarely happened. Then Santa Klaas arrived, to keep alive in the heartsof the people the spirit of love and kindness and good cheer forever.
At last, when nearly a hundred years had passed away, Honig-je', oncethe girl baby, and then the dear old lady, who was kind to everybody andprepared the way for Santa Klaas, died. Then, also, Dub-belt-je' thecat, that had nine lives in one, died with her. They buried the old ladyunder the church floor and stuffed the pussy that everybody, kittens,boys, girls and people loved. By and by, when the cat's tail and furfell to pieces, and ears tumbled off, and its glass eyes dropped out, askilful artist chiselled a statue of Dub-belt-je', which still standsover the tomb in the church. Every year, on Santa Klaas day, Decembersixth, the children put a new collar around its neck and talk about thecat that saved a baby's life.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


Long, long ago, before ever a blue flax-flower bloomed in Holland, and when Dutch mothers wore wolf-skin clothes, there was a little princess, very much beloved by her father, who was a great king, or war chief. She was very pretty and fond of seeing herself. There were no metal mirrorsin those days, nor any looking glass. So she went into the woods andbefore the pools and the deep, quiet watercourses, made reflection ofher own lovely face. Of this pleasure she never seemed weary. Yet sometimes this little princess was very naughty. Then her temper wasnot nearly so sweet as her face. She would play in the sand and rollaround in the woods among the leaves and bushes until her curls were alltangled up. When her nurse combed out her hair with a stone comb--for noother kinds were then known--she would fret and scold and often stampher foot. When very angry, she called her nurse or governess an"aurochs,"--a big beast like a buffalo. At this, the maid put up herhands to her face. "Me--an aurochs! Horrible!" Then she would feel herforehead to see if horns were growing there. The nurse--they called her "governess," as the years went on--grew tiredof the behavior of the bad young princess. Sometimes she went and toldher mother how naughty her daughter was, even to calling her an aurochs. Then the little girl only showed her bad temper worse. She rolled amongthe leaves all the more and mussed up her ringlets, so that thegoverness could hardly comb them out smooth again. It seemed useless to punish the perverse little maid by boxing her ears,pinching her arm, or giving her a good spanking. They even tried toimprove her temper by taking away her dinner, but it did no good. Then the governess and mother went together to her father. When they complained of his daughter to the king, he was much worried. He couldfight strong men with his club and spear, and even giants with his swordand battle-axe; but how to correct his little daughter, whom he loved as his own eyes, was too much for him. He had no son and the princess was his only child, and the hopes of the family all rested on her. The king wondered how she would govern his people, after he should die, and she became the queen. Yet he was glad for one thing: that, with all her naughtiness, she was, like her father, always kind to animals. Her pet was a little aurochs calf. Some hunters had killed the mother of the poor little thing in winter time. So the princess kept the creature warm and it fed out of her hand daily. It was in gloom and with a sad face that the king walked in the woods, thinking how to make a sweet-tempered lady out of his petulant daughter, who was fast growing up to be a tall, fine-looking woman. Now when the king had been himself a little boy, he was very kind to all living creatures, wild and tame, dumb and with voice--yes, even to the trees in the forest. When a prince, the boy would never let the axemen cut down an oak until they first begged pardon of the fairy that lived in the tree. There was one big oak, especially, which was near the mansion of his father, the king. It was said that the doctors found little babies in its leafy branches, and brought them to their mothers. The prince-boy took great care of this tree. He was taught by a wise man to cut off the dead limbs, keep off the worms, and warn away all people seeking to break off branches--even for Yule-tide, which came at our Christmastime. Once when some hunters had chased a young she-aurochs, with her two calves, into the king's park, the prince, though he was then only a boy, ran out and drove the rough fellows away. Then he sheltered and fed the aurochs family of three, until they were fresh and fat. After this he sent a skilled hunter to imitate the sound of an aurochs mother, to call the aurochs father to the edge of the woods. He then let them all go free, and was happy to see the dumb brutes frisking together. Now that the boy-prince was grown to be a man and had long been king, and had forgotten all about the incident of his earlier years, he was one day walking in the forest. Suddenly a gentle breeze arose and the leaves of the old oak tree began first to rustle and then to whisper. Soon the words were clear, and the spirit in the oak said: "I have seen a thousand years pass by, since I was an acorn planted here. In a few moments I shall die and fall down. Cut my body into staves. Of these make a wooden petticoat, like a barrel, for your daughter. When her temper is bad, let her put it on and wear it until she promises to be good. "The king was sad at the thought of losing the grand old tree, under which he had played as a boy and his fathers before him. His countenance fell."Cheer up, my friend," said the oak, "for something better shall follow. When I pass away, you will find on this spot a blue flower growing. Where the forest was shall be fields, on which the sun shines. Then, if your daughter be good, young women shall spin something prettier than wooden petticoats. Watch for the blue flower. Moreover," added the voice of the tree, "that I may not be forgotten, do you take, henceforth, as your family name Ten Eyck" (which, in Dutch, means "at the oak "). At this moment, a huge aurochs rushed into the wood. Its long hair and shaggy mane were gray with age. The king, thinking the beast would lower his horns and charge at him, drew his sword to fight the mighty brute that seemed to weigh well-nigh a ton. But the aurochs stopped within ten feet of the king and bellowed; but, in a minute or two, the bellowing changed to a voice and the king heard these good words:"I die with the oak, for we are brothers, kept under an enchantment for a thousand years, which is to end in a few moments. Neither a tree nor an aurochs can forget your kindness to us, when you were a prince. As soon as our spirits are released, and we both go back to our home in the moon, saw off my right horn and make of it a comb for use on your daughter's curls. It will be smoother than stone."In a moment a tempest arose, which drove the king for shelter behind some rocks hard by. After a few minutes, the wind ceased and the sky was clear. The king looked and there lay the oak, fallen at full length, and the aurochs lay lifeless beside it. Just then, the king's woodmen, who were out--thinking their master might be hurt--drew near. He ordered them to take out the right horn of the aurochs and to split up part of the oak for slaves. The next day, they made a wooden petticoat and a horn comb. They were such novelties that nearly every woman in the kingdom came to see them. After this, the king called himself the Lord of the Land of Ten Eyck, and ever after this was his family name, which all his descendants bore. Whenever the princess showed bad temper, she was forced to wear the wooden petticoat. To have the boys and girls point at her and make fun of her was severe punishment. But a curious thing took place. It was found that every time the maid combed the hair of the princess she became gentler and more sweet tempered. She often thanked her governess and said she liked to have her curls smoothed with the new comb. She even begged her father to let her own one and have the comb all to herself. It was not long before she surprised her governess and her parents by combing and curling her own hair. In truth, such a wonderful change came over the princess that she did not often have to wear the wooden petticoat, and after a year or two, not at all. So the gossips nearly forgot all about it. One summer's day, as the princess was walking in the open, sunny space, where the old oak had stood, she saw a blue flower. It seemed as beautiful as it was strange. She plucked it and put it in her hair. When she reached home, her old aunt, who had been in southern lands, declared it to be the flower of the flax. During that spring, millions of tiny green blades sprang up where theforest had been, and when summer came, the plants were half a yard high. The women learned how to put the stalks in water and rot the coarse, outer fibre of the flax. Then they took the silk-like strands from the inside and spun them on their spinning-wheels. Then they wove them into pretty cloth. This, when laid out on the grass, under the sunshine, was bleached white. The flax thread was made first into linen, and then into lace."Let us name the place Groen-e'-veld" (Green Field), the happy people cried, when they saw how green the earth was where had been the dark forest. So the place was ever after called the Green Field. Now when the princess saw what pretty clothes the snow white linen made,she invented a new style of dress. The upper garment, or "rok," that is, the one above the waist, she called the "boven rok" and the lower one, beneath the waist, her "beneden rok." In Dutch "boven" means above and"beneden" means beneath. By and by, when, at the looms, more of the beautiful white linen was woven, she had a new petticoat made and put it on. She was so delighted with this one that she wanted more. One after the other, she belted them around her waist, until she had on twenty petticoats at a time. Proud she was of her skirts, even though they made her look like a barrel. When her mother, and maids, and all the women of Groen-é-veld, young and old, saw the princess set the fashion, they all followed. It was not always easy for poor girls, who were to be married, to buy as many as twenty petticoats. But, as it was the fashion, every bride had to obey the rule. It grew to be the custom to have at least twenty; for only this number was thought proper. So, a new rule, even among the men, grew up. A betrothed young man, or his female relatives assisting him, was accustomed to make a present of one or more petticoats to his sweetheart to increase her wardrobe. Thus the fashion prevailed and still holds among the women of the coast. Fat or thin, tall or short, they pile on the petticoats and swing their skirts proudly as they walk or go to market, sell their fish, cry "fresh herring" in the streets, or do their knitting at home, or in front of their houses. In some parts of the country, nothing makes a girl so happy as to present her with a new petticoat. It is the fashion to have a figure like a barrel and wear one's clothes so as to look like a small hogshead. By and by, the men built a dam to get plenty of water in winter for the rotting of the flax stalks. The linen industry made the people rich. In time, a city sprang up, which they called Rotterdam, or the dam where they rotted the flax. And, because where had been a forest of oaks, with the pool and rivulet, there was now a silvery stream flowing gently between verdant meadows, they made the arms and seal of the city green and white, two of the former and one of the latter; that is, verdure and silver. To this day, on the arms and flags of the great city, and on the high smoke-stacks of the mighty steamers that cross the ocean, from land to land, one sees the wide, white band between the two broad stripes of green.

Monday, May 14, 2007


Klaas Van Bommel was a Dutch boy, twelve years old, who lived where cowswere plentiful. He was over five feet high, weighed a hundred pounds,and had rosy cheeks. His appetite was always good and his motherdeclared his stomach had no bottom. His hair was of a color half-waybetween a carrot and a sweet potato. It was as thick as reeds in a swampand was cut level, from under one ear to another.Klaas stood in a pair of timber shoes, that made an awful rattle when heran fast to catch a rabbit, or scuffed slowly along to school over thebrick road of his village. In summer Klaas was dressed in a rough, bluelinen blouse. In winter he wore woollen breeches as wide as coffee bags.They were called bell trousers, and in shape were like a couple ofcow-bells turned upwards. These were buttoned on to a thick warm jacket.Until he was five years old, Klaas was dressed like his sisters. Then,on his birthday, he had boy's clothes, with two pockets in them, ofwhich he was proud enough.Klaas was a farmer's boy. He had rye bread and fresh milk for breakfast.At dinner time, beside cheese and bread, he was given a plate heapedwith boiled potatoes. Into these he first plunged a fork and then dippedeach round, white ball into a bowl of hot melted butter. Very quicklythen did potato and butter disappear "down the red lane." At supper, hehad bread and skim milk, left after the cream had been taken off, with asaucer, to make butter. Twice a week the children enjoyed a bowl ofbonnyclabber or curds, with a little brown sugar sprinkled on the top.But at every meal there was cheese, usually in thin slices, which theboy thought not thick enough. When Klaas went to bed he usually fellasleep as soon as his shock of yellow hair touched the pillow. In summertime he slept till the birds began to sing, at dawn. In winter, when thebed felt warm and Jack Frost was lively, he often heard the cowstalking, in their way, before he jumped out of his bag of straw, whichserved for a mattress. The Van Bommels were not rich, but everything wasshining clean.There was always plenty to eat at the Van Bommels' house. Stacks of ryebread, a yard long and thicker than a man's arm, stood on end in thecorner of the cool, stone-lined basement. The loaves of dough were putin the oven once a week. Baking time was a great event at the VanBommels' and no men-folks were allowed in the kitchen on that day,unless they were called in to help. As for the milk-pails and pans,filled or emptied, scrubbed or set in the sun every day to dry, and thecheeses, piled up in the pantry, they seemed sometimes enough to feed asmall army.But Klaas always wanted more cheese. In other ways, he was a good boy,obedient at home, always ready to work on the cow-farm, and diligent inschool. But at the table he never had enough. Sometimes his fatherlaughed and asked him if he had a well, or a cave, under his jacket.Klaas had three younger sisters, Trintjé, Anneké and Saartjé; which isDutch for Kate, Annie and Sallie. These, their fond mother, who lovedthem dearly, called her "orange blossoms"; but when at dinner, Klaaswould keep on, dipping his potatoes into the hot butter, while otherswere all through, his mother would laugh and call him her Buttercup. Butalways Klaas wanted more cheese. When unusually greedy, she twitted himas a boy "worse than Butter-and-Eggs"; that is, as troublesome as theyellow and white plant, called toad-flax, is to the farmer--verypretty, but nothing but a weed.One summer's evening, after a good scolding, which he deserved well,Klaas moped and, almost crying, went to bed in bad humor. He had teasedeach one of his sisters to give him her bit of cheese, and this, addedto his own slice, made his stomach feel as heavy as lead.Klaas's bed was up in the garret. When the house was first built, one ofthe red tiles of the roof had been taken out and another one, made ofglass, was put in its place. In the morning, this gave the boy light toput on his clothes. At night, in fair weather, it supplied air to hisroom.A gentle breeze was blowing from the pine woods on the sandy slope, notfar away. So Klaas climbed up on the stool to sniff the sweet pinyodors. He thought he saw lights dancing under the tree. One beam seemedto approach his roof hole, and coming nearer played round the chimney.Then it passed to and fro in front of him. It seemed to whisper in hisear, as it moved by. It looked very much as if a hundred fire-flies hadunited their cold light into one lamp. Then Klaas thought that thestrange beams bore the shape of a lovely girl, but he only laughed athimself at the idea. Pretty soon, however, he thought the whisper becamea voice. Again, he laughed so heartily, that he forgot his moping andthe scolding his mother had given him. In fact, his eyes twinkled withdelight, when the voice gave this invitation:"There's plenty of cheese. Come with us."To make sure of it, the sleepy boy now rubbed his eyes and cocked hisears. Again, the light-bearer spoke to him: "Come."Could it be? He had heard old people tell of the ladies of the wood,that whispered and warned travellers. In fact, he himself had often seenthe "fairies' ring" in the pine woods. To this, the flame-lady wasinviting him.Again and again the moving, cold light circled round the red tile roof,which the moon, then rising and peeping over the chimneys, seemed toturn into silver plates. As the disc rose higher in the sky, he couldhardly see the moving light, that had looked like a lady; but the voice,no longer a whisper, as at first, was now even plainer:"There's plenty of cheese. Come with us.""I'll see what it is, anyhow," said Klaas, as he drew on his thickwoolen stockings and prepared to go down-stairs and out, without wakinga soul. At the door he stepped into his wooden shoes. Just then the catpurred and rubbed up against his shins. He jumped, for he was scared;but looking down, for a moment, he saw the two balls of yellow fire inher head and knew what they were. Then he sped to the pine woods andtowards the fairy ring.What an odd sight! At first Klaas thought it was a circle of bigfire-flies. Then he saw clearly that there were dozens of prettycreatures, hardly as large as dolls, but as lively as crickets. Theywere as full of light, as if lamps had wings. Hand in hand, they flittedand danced around the ring of grass, as if this was fun.Hardly had Klaas got over his first surprise, than of a sudden he felthimself surrounded by the fairies. Some of the strongest among them hadleft the main party in the circle and come to him. He felt himselfpulled by their dainty fingers. One of them, the loveliest of all,whispered in his ear:"Come, you must dance with us."Then a dozen of the pretty creatures murmured in chorus:"Plenty of cheese here. Plenty of cheese here. Come, come!"Upon this, the heels of Klaas seemed as light as a feather. In a moment,with both hands clasped in those of the fairies, he was dancing in highglee. It was as much fun as if he were at the kermiss, with a row ofboys and girls, hand in hand, swinging along the streets, as Dutch maidsand youth do, during kermiss week.Klaas had not time to look hard at the fairies, for he was too full ofthe fun. He danced and danced, all night and until the sky in the eastbegan to turn, first gray and then rosy. Then he tumbled down, tiredout, and fell asleep. His head lay on the inner curve of the fairy ring,with his feet in the centre.Klaas felt very happy, for he had no sense of being tired, and he didnot know he was asleep. He thought his fairy partners, who had dancedwith him, were now waiting on him to bring him cheeses. With a goldenknife, they sliced them off and fed him out of their own hands. How goodit tasted! He thought now he could, and would, eat all the cheese he hadlonged for all his life. There was no mother to scold him, or daddy toshake his finger at him. How delightful!But by and by, he wanted to stop eating and rest a while. His jaws weretired. His stomach seemed to be loaded with cannon-balls. He gasped forbreath.But the fairies would not let him stop, for Dutch fairies never gettired. Flying out of the sky--from the north, south, east and west--theycame, bringing cheeses. These they dropped down around him, until thepiles of the round masses threatened first to enclose him as with awall, and then to overtop him. There were the red balls from Edam, thepink and yellow spheres from Gouda, and the gray loaf-shaped ones fromLeyden. Down through the vista of sand, in the pine woods, he looked,and oh, horrors! There were the tallest and strongest of the fairiesrolling along the huge, round, flat cheeses from Friesland! Any one ofthese was as big as a cart wheel, and would feed a regiment. The fairiestrundled the heavy discs along, as if they were playing with hoops. Theyshouted hilariously, as, with a pine stick, they beat them forward likeboys at play. Farm cheese, factory cheese, Alkmaar cheese, and, to crownall, cheese from Limburg--which Klaas never could bear, because of itsstrong odor. Soon the cakes and balls were heaped so high around himthat the boy, as he looked up, felt like a frog in a well. He groanedwhen he thought the high cheese walls were tottering to fall on him.Then he screamed, but the fairies thought he was making music. They, notbeing human, do not know how a boy feels.At last, with a thick slice in one hand and a big hunk in the other, hecould eat no more cheese; though the fairies, led by their queen,standing on one side, or hovering over his head, still urged him to takemore.At this moment, while afraid that he would burst, Klaas saw the pile ofcheeses, as big as a house, topple over. The heavy mass fell inwardsupon him. With a scream of terror, he thought himself crushed as flat asa Friesland cheese.But he wasn't! Waking up and rubbing his eyes, he saw the red sun risingon the sand-dunes. Birds were singing and the cocks were crowing allaround him, in chorus, as if saluting him. Just then also the villageclock chimed out the hour. He felt his clothes. They were wet with dew.He sat up to look around. There were no fairies, but in his mouth was abunch of grass which he had been chewing lustily.Klaas never would tell the story of his night with the fairies, nor hashe yet settled the question whether they left him because thecheese-house of his dream had fallen, or because daylight had come.

Sunday, May 13, 2007


Long ago, in Dutch Fairy Land, there lived a young mermaid who was very proud of her good looks. She was one of a family of mere or lake folksdwelling not far from the sea. Her home was a great pool of water thatwas half salt and half fresh, for it lay around an island near the mouthof a river. Part of the day, when the sea tides were out, she splashedand played, dived and swam in the soft water of the inland current. Whenthe ocean heaved and the salt water rushed in, the mermaid floated andfrolicked and paddled to her heart's content. Her father was agray-bearded merryman and very proud of his handsome daughter. He ownedan island near the river mouth, where the young mermaids held theirpicnics and parties and received the visits of young merrymen.Her mother and two aunts were merwomen. All of these were sober folksand attended to the business which occupies all well brought up mermaidsand merrymen. This was to keep their pool clean and nice. No frogs,toads or eels were allowed near, but in the work of daily housecleaning,the storks and the mermaids were great friends.All water-creatures that were not thought to be polite and well behavedwere expected to keep away. Even some silly birds, such as loons andplovers and all screaming and fighting creatures with wings, were warnedoff the premises, because they were not wanted. This family of merryfolks liked to have a nice, quiet time by themselves, without any rudefolks on legs, or with wings or fins from the outside. Indeed theywished to make their pool a model, for all respectable mermaids andmerrymen, for ten leagues around. It was very funny to see the old daddymerman, with a switch made of reeds, shooing off the saucy birds, suchas the sandpipers and screeching gulls. For the bullfrogs, too big forthe storks to swallow, and for impudent fishes, he had a whip made ofseaweed.Of course, all the mermaids in good society were welcome, but youngmermen were allowed to call only once a month, during the week when themoon was full. Then the evenings were usually clear, so that when theparty broke up, the mermen could see their way in the moonlight to swimhome safely with their mermaid friends. For, there were sea monstersthat loved to plague the merefolk, and even threatened to eat them up!The mermaids, dear creatures, had to be escorted home, but they feltsafe, for their mermen brothers and daddies were so fierce that, exceptsharks, even the larger fish, such as porpoises and dolphins were afraidto come near them.One day daddy and the mother left to visit some relatives near theisland of Urk. They were to be gone several days. Meanwhile, theirdaughter was to have a party, her aunts being the chaperones.The mermaids usually held their picnics on an island in the midst of thepool. Here they would sit and sun themselves. They talked about thefashions and the prettiest way to dress their hair. Each one had apocket mirror, but where they kept these, while swimming, no mortal everfound out. They made wreaths of bright colored seaweed, orange andblack, blue, gray and red and wore them on their brows like coronets.Or, they twined them, along with sea berries and bubble blossoms, amongtheir tresses. Sometimes they made girdles of the strongest and knottedthem around their waists.Every once in a while they chose a queen of beauty for their ruler. Theneach of the others pretended to be a princess. Their games and sportsoften lasted all day and they were very happy.Swimming out in the salt water, the mermaids would go in quest ofpearls, coral, ambergris and other pretty things. These they would bringto their queen, or with them richly adorn themselves. Thus the MermaidQueen and her maidens made a court of beauty that was famed wherevermermaids and merrymen lived. They often talked about human maids."How funny it must be to wear clothes," said one."Are they cold that they have to keep warm?" It was a little chit of amermaid, whose flippers had hardly begun to grow into hands, that askedthis question."How can they swim with petticoats on?" asked another."My brother heard that real men wear wooden shoes! These must botherthem, when on the water, to have their feet floating," said a third,whose name was Silver Scales. "What a pity they don't have flukes likeus," and then she looked at her own glistening scaly coat in admiration."I can hardly believe it," said a mermaid, that was very proud of herfine figure and slender waist. "Their girls can't be half as pretty aswe are.""Well, I should like to be a real woman for a while, just to try it, andsee how it feels to walk on legs," said another, rather demurely, as ifafraid the other mermaids might not like her remark.They didn't. Out sounded a lusty chorus, "No! No! Horrible! What anidea! Who wouldn't be a mermaid?""Why, I've heard," cried one, "that real women have to work, wash theirhusband's clothes, milk cows, dig potatoes, scrub floors and take careof calves. Who would be a woman? Not I"--and her snub nose--since itcould not turn up--grew wide at the roots. She was sneering at the ideathat a creature in petticoats could ever look lovelier than one inshining scales."Besides," said she, "think of their big noses, and I'm told, too, thatgirls have even to wear hairpins."At this--the very thought that any one should have to bind up theirtresses--there was a shock of disgust with some, while others clappedtheir hands, partly in envy and partly in glee.But the funniest things the mermaids heard of were gloves, and theylaughed heartily over such things as covers for the fingers. Just forfun, one of the little mermaids used to draw some bag-like seaweed overher hands, to see how such things looked.One day, while sunning themselves in the grass on the island, one oftheir number found a bush on which foxgloves grew. Plucking these, shecovered each one of her fingers with a red flower. Then, flopping overto the other girls, she held up her gloved hands. Half in fright andhalf in envy, they heard her story.After listening, the party was about to break up, when suddenly a youngmerman splashed into view. The tide was running out and the stream low,so he had had hard work to get through the fresh water of the river andto the island. His eyes dropped salt water, as if he were crying. Helooked tired, while puffing and blowing, and he could hardly get hisbreath. The queen of the mermaids asked him what he meant by comingamong her maids at such an hour and in such condition.At this the bashful merman began to blubber. Some of the mergirls puttheir hands over their mouths to hide their laughing, while they winkedat each other and their eyes showed how they enjoyed the fun. To have amerman among them, at that hour, in broad daylight, and crying, was toomuch for dignity."Boo-hoo, boo-hoo," and the merman still wept salt water tears, as hetried to catch his breath. At last, he talked sensibly. He warned theQueen that a party of horrid men, in wooden shoes, with pickaxes, spadesand pumps, were coming to drain the swamp and pump out the pool. He hadheard that they would make the river a canal and build a dyke thatshould keep out the ocean."Alas! alas!" cried one mermaid, wringing her hands. "Where shall we gowhen our pool is destroyed? We can't live in the ocean all the time."Then she wept copiously. The salt water tears fell from her great roundeyes in big drops."Hush!" cried the Queen. "I don't believe the merman's story. He onlytells it to frighten us. It's just like him."In fact, the Queen suspected that the merman's story was all a sham andthat he had come among her maids with a set purpose to run off withSilver Scales. She was one of the prettiest mermaids in the company, butvery young, vain and frivolous. It was no secret that she and the mermanwere in love and wanted to get married.So the Queen, without even thanking him, dismissed the swimmingmessenger. After dinner, the company broke up and the Queen retired toher cave to take a long nap! She was quite tired after entertaining somuch company. Besides, since daddy and mother were away, and there wereno beaus to entertain, since it was a dark night and no moon shining onthe water, why need she get up early in the morning?So the Mermaid Queen slept much longer than ever before. Indeed, it wasnot till near sunset the next day that she awoke. Then, taking her comband mirror in hand, she started to swim and splash in the pool, in orderto smooth out her tresses and get ready for supper.But oh, what a change from the day before! What was the matter? Allaround her things looked different. The water had fallen low and thepool was nearly empty. The river, instead of flowing, was as quiet as apond. Horrors! when she swam forward, what should she see but a dyke andfences! An army of horrid men had come, when she was asleep, and built adam. They had fenced round the swamp and were actually beginning to digsluices to drain the land. Some were at work, building a windmill tohelp in pumping out the water.The first thing she knew she had bumped her pretty nose against the dam.She thought at once of escaping over the logs and into the sea. When shetried to clamber over the top and get through the fence, her hair got soentangled between the bars that she had to throw away her comb andmirror and try to untangle her tresses. The more she tried, the worsebecame the tangle. Soon her long hair was all twisted up in the timber.In vain were her struggles to escape. She was ready to die with fright,when she saw four horrid men rush up to seize her. She attempted towaddle away, but her long hair held her to the post and rails. Hermodesty was so dreadfully shocked that she fainted away.When she came to herself, she found she was in a big long tub. A crowdof curious little girls and boys were looking at her, for she was onshow as a great curiosity. They were bound to see her and get theirmoney's worth in looking, for they had paid a stiver (two cents)admission to the show. Again, before all these eyes, her modesty was soshocked that she gave one groan, flopped over and died in the tub.Woe to the poor father and mother at Urk! They came back to find theirold home gone. Unable to get into it, they swam out to sea, neverstopping till they reached Spitzbergen.What became of the body of the Mermaid Queen?Learned men came from Leyden to examine what was now only a specimen,and to see how mermaids were made up. Then her skin was stuffed, andglass eyes put in, where her shining orbs had been. After this, her bodywas stuffed and mounted in the museum, that is, set up above a glasscase and resting upon iron rods. Artists came to Leyden to make picturesof her and no fewer than nine noblemen copied her pretty form andfeatures into their coats of arms. Instead of the Mermaid's Pool is nowa cheese farm of fifty cows, a fine house and barn, and a family ofpink-cheeked, yellow-haired children who walk and play in wooden shoes.So this particular mermaid, all because of her entanglement in thefence, was more famous when stuffed than when living, while all heryoung friends and older relatives were forgotten.