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- The Wagner Story Book - 4/24 -

High up upon a rock stands the Thunder God. He swings his hammer and the black clouds roll around him. The thunder mutters, and lightning flames flash out from the dark vapors. The fire flickers and blazes up again, the clouds part and melt away, and all is light at last. A rainbow reaches across the river from shore to shore, and the gods slowly walk across upon it toward their castle. Up from the river, far below them, comes a sad cry of the nymphs, begging the gods to give them back their gold. But the gods do not heed it. They rest upon the rainbow, gazing only at their castle, as it stands before them, stately, graceful, radiant, and rosy in the warm glow of the sunset."

"And did you really, really see it all in the fire?" the little girl asked, after she had thought it all over for a few minutes. "It sounds just as if it was a story you had read in a book."

"Well, perhaps I may have seen something, or heard something, or read something of the kind somewhere," I replied, "but you know I told you at first that you must think of the pictures before you could see them reflected in the fire."

The little girl sat still and thought about it again for a time. "I don't believe you saw any pictures in the fire at all," she said at last.


"If you say you can see all those things in the fire," said the little girl, with an air of doubt not yet quite overcome, "I suppose I shall have to believe it, but I don't see how. I try to think of them the way you said, but I don't see them in the fire a bit. Can you see them all the time?"

"It makes a good deal of difference how I feel about it," I answered, "and a little difference how the fire burns. To-night, you see, the fire does not burn quite as it usually does. It is cold out of doors, and there is a wind that comes in gusts and blows different ways. It gives the fire a good draught, and on the whole it burns rather fiercely, but when the wind goes down the fire goes down a little too, and when the wind changes it blows a puff of smoke down the chimney now and then. Altogether it is not a well-behaved fire at all, and I am afraid if we try to see things in it, some of them will be rather rough and rude, and none of them very cheerful. Still, if you would like to try--"

"Oh, do try," the child said, "I like nice gloomy things."

"Very well. Just now the fire is so fierce and hot that it seems to me nothing less than a house on fire. It is a house that stands all alone in the woods. Before it was set on fire a boy and a girl lived there. Neither of them had any mother, but the boy's father lived with them and took care of them, going out hunting and leaving the boy and the girl together, till the boy was old enough to go hunting with him, and then the girl was left alone. They were very happy there together, all three of them, and the father always thought that the girl would sometime grow up and be his son's wife. But now, while they are hunting, a robber has come and has burned the house, and he takes the girl with him and carries her off to his own house, far away among the mountains.

"After this it is not so pleasant roaming the woods and hunting all day, with no house to go back to and no greeting of a bright face in the evening. To make it still worse, one day, while they are hunting, the poor boy loses sight of his father and never finds him again. So now he is quite alone, but he still lives in the woods in the old way till he grows to be a tall, strong, handsome young man. Perhaps he is all the stronger and the better fighter because the most of his enemies, and his friends too, for that matter, have been wild beasts. That he has had one good enemy I know, because the coat that he wears is the skin of a bear.

"And all this time the girl has been kept a prisoner at the house of the robber, and she has grown up as well, now, to be a tall, beautiful woman. At times, no doubt, the robber has treated her well enough, and at times, I am afraid, not so well. But always he has urged her and has tried to make her promise to be his wife, and now, after all these years, at last she has promised. She has never forgotten the brave boy whom she used to love, but the robber has told her that he is dead, and finally she has come to believe it and has no more any hope of ever being happy.

"I am looking right into the robber's house now. It is a strange house, for right in the middle of it stands a large tree, which grows up through the roof and spreads its branches over the house. And more wonderful still, there is a sword sticking in this tree, up to the hilt. Perhaps I might better tell you something about this sword before we go any farther. Do you remember the gold that was stolen from the river nymphs, the other night, when we were watching the fire, and the magic ring that the dwarf made of it? Of course you do, and you remember too how the Father of the Gods got it and paid it to the giants for building his castle, and would not give it back to the river nymphs, and how one of the giants killed the other and kept all the treasure. Well, the Father of the Gods has been learning and thinking a good deal since then, and he has begun to see what a great wrong he did when he put the gold to his own uses, instead of giving it back to the nymphs. It is no light punishment that falls on gods when they do wrong, and he sees that for this sin he and all the other gods who live with him in his castle must at last be destroyed utterly. Yet he still hopes to save them if only the gold, or at least the ring, can be given back again to the nymphs.

"Now, the giant who took all the treasure carried it away to a deep cave in the side of a mountain, and then, by the help of the magic helmet, he changed himself into a horrible, fierce, fiery, poisonous dragon, so that he might stay in the cave and guard it. And there he has stayed guarding it ever since. You will see at once that the treasure never would do him any good in that way, but giants are usually stupid, and he could not think of anything better to do with it. A boy who has a penny and knows enough to buy a penny whistle with it is richer than this dragon giant. Yet he guards the treasure pretty well, and the Father of the Gods cannot take it away from him, and cannot help anybody else to take it away from him, because he paid it to him for the castle, and to touch it now would be to break his promise. Yet he wishes that somebody, without his help, would kill the dragon and give the gold back to its real owners. This would not really do him any good, for his own old sin would still be just as great, and he knows it; yet he has a strange kind of hope that it may somehow help him. But the dragon is so big and fierce and fiery and poisonous, that nobody could ever hope to kill him except the very greatest of heroes, and one who simply did not know what fear meant. Even such a hero might have a good deal of trouble about it, if he did not have a sword that was just as keen and strong, just as sharp and firm and true as himself. So, that he may not want for such a good blade, the Father of the Gods has made a magic sword. No one but a god could make a sword like this, and he has driven it up to the hilt into the great tree in the robber's house. It is quite safe there, for the magic of it is that nobody but the bravest, strongest, truest hero living can ever draw it out, but for him it will be easy. There are some things besides drawing swords out of trees which can be done easily by men who are brave and strong and true, and which no other man can do at all.

"All this time I have been looking into the robber's house. There is a storm outside, worse than the wind that is troubling our fire. It howls above the house, and tears at the branches of the tree, till even the great trunk shivers and trembles and makes the roof creak and groan. Suddenly the door is burst open, and in, out of the storm, rushes a man, and falls before the fire as if he were so weary that he could move no more. Then from another room of the house comes the woman who has promised to be the robber's wife, the girl who once lived in the house that the robber burned. When she sees the stranger lying before the fire, she lifts him up and brings him a big drinking-horn, and tells him to stay and rest till the robber comes home. Then he looks at her, and she seems to him the kindest, the sweetest, and the loveliest woman he has ever seen.

"Soon the robber comes home, and he asks the stranger what he is and how he came here. Then the stranger tells him all the story that I have told you of the burning of the house where he lived with his father, and how since then he has wandered the woods and has fought with the wild beasts and with his enemies. As soon as he tells that, the woman knows that the boy whom she used to love so long ago is not dead, but is sitting here before her, and the hope comes to her that he may take her away from this place, so that she may not have to be married to the robber. Then she asks the stranger why he is unarmed, and he says that he fought to rescue a woman from her enemies; he killed some of them, but the others were so many that they broke his spear and his shield, and he had to save himself from them, and so it was that he came to this house.

"At this the robber grows red and pale with anger. He has heard of the fight, and the men who were killed were his friends. 'Stay here to-night,' he says; 'while you are in my house I cannot harm you, but to-morrow you must go out and fight with me for killing my friends.'

"The robber and the woman have gone away and the stranger is left alone. Sad and gloomy enough are his thoughts, for to-morrow he must fight with the robber, and he has no sword, no spear, no shield. The fire before him dies down, as our fire dies down too, for the moment, and as all his hope grows darker and colder. And then, just as his life and the world and the future seem blackest, the woman comes back. Why should her coming bring him hope? He could not tell, perhaps, yet her very presence cheers him; misfortune and death seem not so near when she is by, and not so terrible, even should they come. He may not know why it is, but I know, and so do you.

"She hastens to him and shows him the sword in the tree. She tells him of its magic; he must be the hero to draw it out, she says, and then, in the fight to-morrow, he must overcome his enemy and give her revenge for all she had suffered from him. And how gladly he will do her bidding! He seizes the sword and draws it quickly out of the tree, while her eyes gaze at him and are filled with joy. The hero has come-- her hero. He holds the wonderful magic sword in his hand, but only for a moment he looks upon its long, gleaming, beautiful blade. Then he turns to her again. They twine their arms about each other and together they leave this hateful house. And now, of a sudden, it is as if their two hearts were all the world, as indeed they are, to each other, for all around them the storm was stilled; the winter is gone and it is spring; the peaceful moonlight fills the happy woods with a soft glory; sweet airs breathe tenderly on them and on the flowers in their path; quiet voices speak to them out of the budding trees; and so together they are gone into the forest.

"The Father of the Gods has done more than I have told you yet to guard against the end which he knows must come, in spite of all that he can do. He has fancied that his castle might be safer if he were to fill it with strong warriors to fight for him in any need. Therefore, wherever battles are fought he sends his nine daughters to choose the bravest of

The Wagner Story Book - 4/24

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