Go through these lovely tales based on the Easter spirit and have an enjoyable time.
THERE was once a child, and he strolled about a good deal, and thought of a number of things. He had a sister, who was a child too, and his constant companion. These two used to wonder all day long. They wondered at the beauty of the flowers; they wondered at the height and blueness of the sky; they wondered at the depth of the bright water; they wondered at the goodness and the power of GOD who made the lovely world.
They used to say to one another, sometimes, Supposing all the children upon earth were to die, would the flowers, and the water, and the sky be sorry? They believed they would be sorry. For, said they, the buds are the children of the flowers, and the little playful streams that gambol down the hill-sides are the children of the water; and the smallest bright specks playing at hide and seek in the sky all night, must surely be the children of the stars; and they would all be grieved to see their playmates, the children of men, no more.
There was one clear shining star that used to come out in the sky before the rest, near the church spire, above the graves. It was larger and more beautiful, they thought, than all the others, and every night they watched for it, standing hand in hand at a window. Whoever saw it first cried out, 'I see the star!' And often they cried out both together, knowing so well when it would rise, and where. So they grew to be such friends with it, that, before lying down in their beds, they always looked out once again, to bid it good night; and when they were turning round to sleep, they used to say, 'God bless the star!'
But while she was still very young, oh, very, very young, the sister drooped, and came to be so weak that she could no longer stand in the window at night; and then the child looked sadly out by himself, and when he saw the star, turned round and said to the patient pale face on the bed, 'I see the star!' and then a smile would come upon the face, and a little weak voice used to say, 'God bless my brother and the star!'
And so the time came all too soon! when the child looked out alone, and when there was no face on the bed; and when there was a little grave among the graves, not there before; and when the star made long rays down towards him, as he saw it through his tears.
Now, these rays were so bright, and they seemed to make such a shining way from earth to Heaven, that when the child went to his solitary bed, he dreamed about the star; and dreamed that, lying where he was, he saw a train of people taken up that sparkling road by angels. And the star, opening, showed him a great world of light, where many more such angels waited to receive them.
All these angels, who were waiting, turned their beaming eyes upon the people who were carried up into the star; and some came out from the long rows in which they stood, and fell upon the people's necks, and kissed them tenderly, and went away with them down avenues of light, and were so happy in their company, that lying in his bed he wept for joy.
But, there were many angels who did not go with them, and among them one he knew. The patient face that once had lain upon the bed was glorified and radiant, but his heart found out his sister among all the host.
His sister's angel lingered near the entrance of the star, and said to the leader among those who had brought the people thither:
'Is my brother come?'
And he said 'No.'
She was turning hopefully away, when the child stretched out his arms, and cried, 'O, sister, I am here! Take me!' and then she turned her beaming eyes upon him, and it was night; and the star was shining into the room, making long rays down towards him as he saw it through his tears.
From that hour forth, the child looked out upon the star as on the home he was to go to, when his time should come; and he thought that he did not belong to the earth alone, but to the star too, because of his sister's angel gone before.
There was a baby born to be a brother to the child; and while he was so little that he never yet had spoken word, he stretched his tiny form out on his bed, and died.
Again the child dreamed of the open star, and of the company of angels, and the train of people, and the rows of angels with their beaming eyes all turned upon those people's faces.
Said his sister's angel to the leader:
'Is my brother come?'
And he said, 'Not that one, but another.'
As the child beheld his brother's angel in her arms, he cried, 'O, sister, I am here! Take me!' And she turned and smiled upon him, and the star was shining.
He grew to be a young man, and was busy at his books when an old servant came to him and said:
'Thy mother is no more. I bring her blessing on her darling son!'
Again at night he saw the star, and all that former company. Said his sister's angel to the leader.
'Is my brother come?'
And he said, 'Thy mother!'
A mighty cry of joy went forth through all the star, because the mother was re-united to her two children. And he stretched out his arms and cried, 'O, mother, sister, and brother, I am here! Take me!' And they answered him, 'Not yet,' and the star was shining.
He grew to be a man, whose hair was turning grey, and he was sitting in his chair by the fireside, heavy with grief, and with his face bedewed with tears, when the star opened once again.
Said his sister's angel to the leader: 'Is my brother come?'
And he said, 'Nay, but his maiden daughter.'
And the man who had been the child saw his daughter, newly lost to him, a celestial creature among those three, and he said, 'My daughter's head is on my sister's bosom, and her arm is around my mother's neck, and at her feet there is the baby of old time, and I can bear the parting from her, GOD be praised!'
And the star was shining.
Thus the child came to be an old man, and his once smooth face was wrinkled, and his steps were slow and feeble, and his back was bent. And one night as he lay upon his bed, his children standing round, he cried, as he had cried so long ago:
'I see the star!'
They whispered one another, 'He is dying.'
And he said, 'I am. My age is falling from me like a garment, and I move towards the star as a child. And O, my Father, now I thank thee that it has so often opened, to receive those dear ones who await me!'
And the star was shining; and it shines upon his grave.
~ Charles Dickens.
Once upon a time there were four little Rabbits, and their names were -- Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-tail and Peter.
They lived with their Mother in a sand-bank, underneath the root of a very big fir-tree.
"Now, my dears," said old Mrs. Rabbit one morning, "you may go into the fields or down the lane, but don't go into Mr. McGregor's garden: your Father had an accident there; he was put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor."
"Now run along, and don't get into mischief. I am going out."
Then old Mrs. Rabbit took a basket and her umbrella, and went through the wood to the baker's. She bought a loaf of brown bread and five currant buns.
Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cotton-tail, who were good little bunnies, went down the lane to gather blackberries;
But Peter, who was very naughty, ran straight away to Mr. McGregor's garden, and squeezed under the gate!
First he ate some lettuces and some French beans; and then he ate some radishes;
And then, feeling rather sick, he went to look for some parsley.
But round the end of a cucumber frame, whom should he meet but Mr. McGregor!
Mr. McGregor was on his hands and knees planting out young cabbages, but he jumped up and ran after Peter, waving a rake and calling out, "Stop thief."
Peter was most dreadfully frightened; he rushed all over the garden, for he had forgotten the way back to the gate.
He lost one of his shoes among the cabbages, and the other shoe amongst the potatoes.
After losing them, he ran on four legs and went faster, so that I think he might have got away altogether if he had not unfortunately run into a gooseberry net, and got caught by the large buttons on his jacket. It was a blue jacket with brass buttons, quite new.
Peter gave himself up for lost, and shed big tears; but his sobs were overheard by some friendly sparrows, who flew to him in great excitement, and implored him to exert himself.
Mr. McGregor came up with a sieve, which he intended to pop upon the top of Peter; but Peter wriggled out just in time, leaving his jacket behind him.
And rushed into the toolshed, and jumped into a can. It would have been a beautiful thing to hide in, if it had not had so much water in it.
Mr. McGregor was quite sure that Peter was somewhere in the toolshed, perhaps hidden underneath a flower- pot. He began to turn them over carefully, looking under each.
Presently Peter sneezed-- "Kertyschoo!" Mr. McGregor was after him in no time,
And tried to put his foot upon Peter, who jumped out of a window, upsetting three plants. The window was too small for Mr. McGregor, and he was tired of running after Peter. He went back to his work.
Peter sat down to rest; he was out of breath and trembling with fright, and he had not the least idea which way to go. Also he was very damp with sitting in that can.
After a time he began to wander about, going lippity--lippity--not very fast, and looking all around.
He found a door in a wall; but it was locked, and there was no room for a fat little rabbit to squeeze underneath.
An old mouse was running in and out over the stone doorstep, carrying peas and beans to her family in the wood. Peter asked her the way to the gate, but she had such a large pea in her mouth that she could not answer. She only shook her head at him. Peter began to cry.
Then he tried to find his way straight across the garden, but he became more and more puzzled. Presently, he came to a pond where Mr. McGregor filled his water-cans. A white cat was staring at some goldfish; she sat very, very still, but now and then the tip of her tail twitched as if it were alive. Peter thought it best to go away without speaking to her; he has heard about cats from his cousin, little Benjamin Bunny.
He went back towards the toolshed, but suddenly, quite close to him, he heard the noise of a hoe-- scr-r-ritch, scratch, scratch, scritch. Peter scuttered underneath the bushes. But presently, as nothing happened, he came out, and climbed upon a wheelbarrow, and peeped over. The first thing he saw was Mr. McGregor hoeing onions. His back was turned towards Peter, and beyond him was the gate!
Peter got down very quietly off the wheelbarrow, and started running as fast as he could go, along a straight walk behind some black-currant bushes.
Mr. McGregor caught sight of him at the corner, but Peter did not care. He slipped underneath the gate, and was safe at last in the wood outside the garden.
Mr. McGregor hung up the little jacket and the shoes for a scare-crow to frighten the blackbirds.
Peter never stopped running or looked behind him till he got home to the big fir-tree.
He was so tired that he flopped down upon the nice soft sand on the floor of the rabbit-hole, and shut his eyes. His mother was busy cooking; she wondered what he had done with his clothes. It was the second little jacket and pair of shoes that Peter had lost in a fortnight!
I am sorry to say that Peter was not very well during the evening.
His mother put him to bed, and made some camomile tea; and she gave a dose of it to Peter! "One table-spoonful to be taken at bed-time."
But Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cotton-tail had bread and milk and blackberries for supper. ~ Helen Beatrix Potter.
King Robert was ruler of all Sicily. Many lands and beautiful castles were his, and he had many servants, who obeyed his every word; but they obeyed not because they loved him, but because they feared him. He was a proud king, and haughty - that is, he would look over his lands, and he would say, "Surely, this is a great kingdom, and I am a great king!"
One Easter Sunday morning, King Robert went to church. He wore his finest robes, and riding with him were all of his lords and ladies. The morning was beautiful, and everything seemed to bear a message of love and joy. The grass and flowers that grew by the roadside, the trees that waved their branches above, and the blue sky, all seemed to bear the same message.
But King Robert saw nothing beautiful. He was thinking only of himself. They reached the church, and the sunlight came through the beautiful windows, seeming to speak of God above. The pure white lilies on the altar whispered to each other, "On this day Christ was risen!" The music from the organ seemed to reach every heart, but King Robert sat unmoved in his pew. When the minister spoke, the king heard nothing of the sermon until certain words caught his ear. The minister was saying these words, "The Lord can exalt the humble and can bring down the proud and mighty from their seats." The choir chanted the words again and again.
As the king heard, he threw back his head and said, "Why do they teach such words as these? There is no power on earth or in heaven above that could take my throne."
By and by the king fell asleep in his pew. He must have slept a long time, for when he awoke the great church was dark and the moonlight was streaming through the great glass windows. The king sprang to his feet in alarm, and said, "How dare they go away and leave me alone?" He rushed quickly to the door, but it was locked. He called loudly and knocked upon the door, and finally the old sexton, asleep on the outside, heard the noise and shouted, "Who is there?" And the king answered, "It is I - the king. Open the door!"
The old sexton shook his head and murmured to himself, "It must be some madman locked in the church," but he unlocked the door, and the king rushed wildly out - on out in the street, where the moonlight fell upon him. Then suddenly he stopped and gazed at his clothes in amazement, for instead of wearing his royal robes he wore nothing but rags. His crown was gone, and he seemed a beggar, and he cried out, "How can these things be? Some one has robbed me while I have slept, and left me these rags."
Then he rushed on to the great castle, and at the gate he again called, "Open! I, the king, am here." The great gate swung open and the king rushed on through the great castle halls, never pausing until he reached the throne room, and there he stopped and stood looking in surprise and amazement, for there on his throne sat another king, wearing his crown and wearing his robes, and holding in his hand his scepter. King Robert looked at the new king and cried, "Why do you sit on my throne, wearing my robes and my crown and my scepter?"
The new king only smiled and said, "I am the king, and who art thou?"
King Robert threw back his head haughtily and answered, "I am the king. You have no right on my throne."
At these words the strange king smiled sadly, and replied, "I am the king, and thou shalt be my servant. Yes, thou shalt be the servant of all my servants, for thou shalt be court jester, and wear the cap and bells, and have for your companion the ugly ape."
Before King Robert could say more, the servants came and hurried him through the castle halls, down to a little room, cold and bare, with nothing but a pile of straw in a corner, and there they left him alone, save for the ugly ape, which sat in the corner grinning at him. As King Robert looked down on the rough pile of straw he said, "It must surely be a dream, and I will awaken in the morning and find myself the king."
The morning came, but when he awoke he heard the rustle of the straw beneath him, and there in the corner still sat the ugly ape. That day the new king called him to the throne, and, looking at him, said, "Art thou the king?" And King Robert proudly threw back his head as before and answered, "I am the king."
And each day the new king sent for him and asked him the same question, and each day King Robert gave the same proud and haughty answer. One day there came a summons to the court - King Robert's brother, the Emperor of Rome, sent word for King Robert and all of his court to visit him at Easter-time, and great preparations were made for the journey. When the train was ready it formed a beautiful procession. The new king rode at its head, in his splendor, and all the beautiful ladies and the brave knights came riding behind in their gorgeous robes. At the last of this splendid train rode King Robert on a queer old mule. He had on the cap and bells, and behind him sat the ugly ape, and, as they passed along the street, the boys laughed and jeered; but King Robert said to himself, "They will not laugh long," because his heart was glad now, for they were going to Rome, where his own brother ruled, and now surely he would be restored to his rights, for his brother would see and know that the new king was an impostor. Thus the splendid train rode to Rome, and the emperor was there to meet them.
When the emperor saw the strange king he went to him and embraced him and called him "brother." At this, King Robert rushed forward and cried out, "I am the king, thy brother. This man is an impostor. Do you not know me? I am the king." But the emperor only looked at him strangely, and, turning to the strange king, he said, "Why do you keep this madman at your court?" The new king only smiled, and made no answer.
The visit ended, and again the splendid train passed back to Sicily, and King Robert still rode behind. His heart was very sad, because he thought, "If my own brother knows me not, what hope can there be?"
When the new king came back to Sicily he changed many of the cruel laws, and the whole land was made glad and happy, as it had never been before. King Robert noticed the change and wondered at it.
It was Easter-time again, and King Robert said in his heart, "I will go to church again this morning." Behind all the procession he rode, as usual, and took his seat in the back of the church, so that no one might see him. Everything was beautiful at this Easter-time. The church, the flowers, the music, all bore the Easter message. When the music began it crept into King Robert's heart, and as he listened the tears rolled down his cheek, and he bowed his head in prayer. The first words that he heard were the old, familiar ones, "The Lord can exalt the humble and bring down the proud and mighty from their seats." As poor King Robert listened he humbly bowed his head and said, "Ah, surely that is true; the Lord in heaven is mightiest of all. He is the king."
When the king and his court had reached home again that day, the new king called King Robert immediately to his throne room, and upon his face there seemed to be a glorious light shining forth, and, looking at King Robert with a wondrous smile, he asked the old, old question, "Art thou the king?" But King Robert only bowed his head and said, "I know not who I am. I only know that I am the most humble and most unworthy of all men to be the king." To these words the new king replied, "Thou art indeed the king, and I - I am an angel sent from Heaven to help thee for a little while."
When King Robert raised his head, behold! he was alone. The angel had gone. He again had on his own robes, his own crown, and was bearing his own scepter.
That day, when the courtiers came to wait upon the king, they found him kneeling beside his throne in prayer.
~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
It was distinctly hard lines for Lady Barbara, who came of good fighting stock, and was one of the bravest women of her generation, that her son should be so undisguisedly a coward. Whatever good qualities Lester Slaggby may have possessed, and he was in some respects charming, courage could certainly never be imputed to him. As a child he had suffered from childish timidity, as a boy from unboyish funk, and as a youth he had exchanged unreasoning fears for others which were more formidable from the fact of having a carefully-thought-out basis. He was frankly afraid of animals, nervous with firearms, and never crossed the Channel without mentally comparing the numerical proportion of life belts to passengers. On horseback he seemed to require as many hands as a Hindu god, at least four for clutching the reins, and two more for patting the horse soothingly on the neck. Lady Barbara no longer pretended not to see her son's prevailing weakness; with her usual courage she faced the knowledge of it squarely, and, mother-like, loved him none the less.
Continental travel, anywhere away from the great tourist tracks, was a favoured hobby with Lady Barbara, and Lester joined her as often as possible. Eastertide usually found her at Knobaltheim, an upland township in one of those small princedoms that make inconspicuous freckles on the map of Central Europe.
A long-standing acquaintanceship with the reigning family made her a personage of due importance in the eyes of her old friend the Burgomaster, and she was anxiously consulted by that worthy on the momentous occasion when the Prince made known his intention of coming in person to open a sanatorium outside the town. All the usual items in a programme of welcome, some of them fatuous and commonplace, others quaint and charming, had been arranged for, but the Burgomaster hoped that the resourceful English lady might have something new and tasteful to suggest in the way of loyal greeting. The Prince was known to the outside world, if at all, as an old-fashioned reactionary, combating modern progress, as it were, with a wooden sword; to his own people he was known as a kindly old gentleman with a certain endearing stateliness which had nothing of standoffishness about it. Knobaltheim was anxious to do its best. Lady Barbara discussed the matter with Lester and one or two acquaintances in her little hotel, but ideas were difficult to come by.
"Might I suggest something to the Gnoedige Frau?" asked a sallow high-cheekboned lady to whom the Englishwoman had spoken once or twice, and whom she had set down in her mind as probably a Southern Slav. "Might I suggest something for the Reception Fest?" she went on, with a certain shy eagerness. "Our little child here, our baby, we will dress him in little white coat, with small wings, as an Easter angel, and he will carry a large white Easter egg, and inside shall be a basket of plover eggs, of which the Prince is so fond, and he shall give it to his Highness as Easter offering. It is so pretty an idea; we have seen it done once in Styria." Lady Barbara looked dubiously at the proposed Easter angel, a fair, wooden-faced child of about four years old. She had noticed it the day before in the hotel, and wondered rather how such a tow-headed child could belong to such a dark-visaged couple as the woman and her husband; probably, she thought, an adopted baby, especially as the couple were not young. "Of course Gnoedige Frau will escort the little child up to the Prince," pursued the woman; "but he will be quite good, and do as he is told." "We haf some pluffers' eggs shall come fresh from Wien," said the husband. The small child and Lady Barbara seemed equally unenthusiastic about the pretty idea; Lester was openly discouraging, but when the Burgomaster heard of it he was enchanted. The combination of sentiment and plovers' eggs appealed strongly to his Teutonic mind.
On the eventful day the Easter angel, really quite prettily and quaintly dressed, was a centre of kindly interest to the gala crowd marshalled to receive his Highness. The mother was unobtrusive and less fussy than most parents would have been under the circumstances, merely stipulating that she should place the Easter egg herself in the arms that had been carefully schooled how to hold the precious burden. Then Lady Barbara moved forward, the child marching stolidly and with grim determination at her side. It had been promised cakes and sweeties galore if it gave the egg well and truly to the kind old gentleman who was waiting to receive it. Lester had tried to convey to it privately that horrible smackings would attend any failure in its share of the proceedings, but it is doubtful if his German caused more than an immediate distress. Lady Barbara had thoughtfully provided herself with an emergency supply of chocolate sweetmeats; children may sometimes be timeservers, but they do not encourage long accounts. As they approached nearer to the princely dais Lady Barbara stood discreetly aside, and the stolid-faced infant walked forward alone, with staggering but steadfast gait. encouraged by a murmur of elderly approval. Lester, standing in the front row of the onlookers, turned to scan the crowd for the beaming faces of the happy parents. In a side-road which led to the railway station he saw a cab; entering the cab with every appearance of furtive haste were the dark-visaged couple who had been so plausibly eager for the "pretty idea." The sharpened instinct of cowardice lit up the situation to him in one swift flash. The blood roared and surged to his head as though thousands of floodgates had been opened in his veins and arteries, and his brain was the common sluice in which all the torrents met. He saw nothing but a blur around him. Then the blood ebbed away in quick waves, till his very heart seemed drained and empty, and he stood nervelessly, helplessly, dumbly watching the child, bearing its accursed burden with slow, relentless steps nearer and nearer to the group that waited sheep-like to receive him. A fascinated curiosity compelled Lester to turn his head towards the fugitives; the cab had started at hot pace in the direction of the station.
The next moment Lester was running, running faster than any of those present had ever seen a man run, and - he was not running away. For that stray fraction of his life some unwonted impulse beset him, some hint of the stock he came from, and he ran unflinchingly towards danger. He stooped and clutched at the Easter egg as one tries to scoop up the ball in Rugby football. What he meant to do with it he had not considered, the thing was to get it. But the child had been promised cakes and sweetmeats if it safely gave the egg into the hands of the kindly old gentleman; it uttered no scream but it held to its charge with limpet grip. Lester sank to his knees, tugging savagely at the tightly clasped burden, and angry cries rose from the scandalized onlookers. A questioning, threatening ring formed round him, then shrank back in recoil as he shrieked out one hideous word. Lady Barbara heard the word and saw the crowd race away like scattered sheep, saw the Prince forcibly hustled away by his attendants; also she saw her son lying prone in an agony of overmastering terror, his spasm of daring shattered by the child's unexpected resistance, still clutching frantically, as though for safety, at that white-satin gew-gaw, unable to crawl even from its deadly neighbourhood, able only to scream and scream and scream. In her brain she was dimly conscious of balancing, or striving to balance, the abject shame which had him now in thrall against the one compelling act of courage which had flung him grandly and madly on to the point of danger. It was only for the fraction of a minute that she stood watching the two entangled figures, the infant with its woodenly obstinate face and body tense with dogged resistance, and the boy limp and already nearly dead with a terror that almost stifled his screams; and over them the long gala streamers flapping gaily in the sunshine. She never forgot the scene; but then, it was the last she ever saw.
Lady Barbara carries her scarred face with its sightless eyes as bravely as ever in the world, but at Eastertide her friends are careful to keep from her ears any mention of the children's Easter symbol.
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