The New-Year's Bargain
The Project Gutenberg eBook, The New-Year's Bargain, by Susan Coolidge,Illustrated by Addie Ledyard
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Title: The New-Year's Bargain
Author: Susan Coolidge
Release Date: January 24, 2019 [eBook #58762]
Character set encoding: UTF-8
***START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE NEW-YEAR'S BARGAIN***
E-text prepared by K Nordquist, Miller, Sue Clark,
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|Note:||Images of the original pages are available through Internet Archive. See https://archive.org/details/newyearsbargain00cool|
THE NEW-YEAR’S BARGAIN.
WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY ADDIE LEDYARD.
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1871, by
In the Office of the Librarian of Congress at Washington.
University Press: John Wilson & Son,Cambridge.
|I.||The Bargain with the Months||5|
|II.||The Bear Story||19|
|VI.||The Little Housekeepers||80|
|VII.||The Last of the Fairies||98|
|VIII.||The Story of a Little Spark||114|
|IX.||The Desert Island||129|
|XII.||How the Cat kept Christmas||199|
|Conclusion.—What was on the Tree||224|
IT is a cold, wintry day. The Old Year is going to die to-night. Allthe winds have come to his funeral, and, while waiting, are sky-larkingabout the country. It is a very improper thing for mourners to do. Herethey are in the Black Forest, going on like a parcel of school-boys,6waltzing with leaves, singing in tree-tops, whooping, whistling, makingall sorts of odd noises. If the Old Year hears them, he must think hehas a very queer sort of “procession.”
Max and Thekla are used to the winds, and not afraid of them. They arenot afraid of the Forest either, though the country people avoid it,and tell wonderful stories about things seen and heard there. The hutin which they and their Grandfather live is in the heart of the wood.No other house stands within miles of them. In summer-time the wildlilies grow close to the door-step, and the fawns creep shyly out todrink at the spring near by; and sometimes, when the wind blows hardon winter nights, strange barkings can be heard in the distance, andthey know that the wolves are out. They do not tremble, though they arebut children. Max is eleven, very stout and strong for his age, andable to chop and mark the wood for Grandfather, who for many years hasbeen Woodman. Thekla, who is nine, keeps the house in order, cooks,mends7 clothes, and knits stockings like a little house-fairy. Alltheir lives they have lived here, and the lonely place is dear to them.The squirrels in the wood are not more free and fearless than thesechildren, and they are so busy and healthy that the days fly fast.
This afternoon, in spite of the cold, they are out gathering wood,of which the Ranger allows them all they need to use. There is apile at home already, almost as high as the cottage roof: but Theklais resolved that her fire shall always be bright when Max and theGrandfather come in from out-doors, blue and cold; and she isn’tsatisfied yet. For hours they have been at work, and have tied ever somany fagots. The merry winds have been helping in the task, tearingboughs and twigs off overhead, and throwing them down upon the path, sothat the bundles have collected rapidly, and wise little Thekla says,“This has been a good day.”
“I’m getting tired, though,” she goes on. “Let’s rest awhile, and takea walk. We never8 came so far as this before, did we? I want to go upthat pretty path, and see where it comes out. Don’t you think we havegot wood enough, Max?”
Yes, Max thought they had. So hand in hand the children went along thepath. Every thing was new and strange. Into this part of the forestthey had never wandered before. The trees were thick. Bushes grewbelow. Only the little foot-track broke the way. Thekla crept closer toher brother as the walk grew wilder. A great forest is an awful sort ofplace; most of all in winter, when the birds and squirrels are hushedand the trees can be heard talking to one another. Sweet, curioussmells come from you know not where. The wind roars, and the boughscreak back sharply as if the giants and dwarfs were quarreling. All isstrange and wonderful.
And now the bushes grow thinner. They were coming upon a little openspace fringed about with trees, and suddenly Thekla exclaimed, in anastonished voice,—
9“Why, Max! Look! There are people in there. I can see them through thebushes!”
“People?” cried Max. “Stealing wood, no doubt. Quiet, Thekla! don’tmake any noise: we’ll creep up, and catch them at it. They shall seewhat the Ranger says to such doings.”
So, like mice, they crept forward, and peeped through the screen ofboughs. But there was no sound of chopping, and nobody was meddlingwith the wood. In fact, there was only one body visible,—an old, oldman with snow-white hair. But there was a long row of clay figuresin front of him, men and women as large as life; and they looked sonatural, it was no wonder Thekla had made the mistake. Some werehalf-finished; some but just begun: one only seemed perfect,—thefigure of a beautiful youth, with a crescent moon on his cap; and, evenas they looked, the old man took a pinch of something, molded it withhis hand, and stuck it on the side of the head, from which it hung likea graceful plume.10 Then he seemed satisfied, and began to work on oneof the others.
“How lovely! but did you ever see any thing so queer?” whisperedThekla. “If we only dared go nearer!”
“Dared!” cried Max: “this is our wood, and we have a right to gowhere we like in it. Come on!” and he took Thekla’s hand, and drew herboldly forward.
There were two great jars standing there, which seemed to hold thestuff out of which the figures were made. The children peeped in.One was full of a marvelous kind of water, sparkling and goldenand bubbling like wine. The other held sand, or what seemed likesand,—fine, glittering particles,—most beautiful to see. It waswonderful to watch the old man work. His lean fingers would twist andmold the sand and water for a second, and there would be a lovely head,an arm, or a garland of flowers. The forms grew like magic; and thechildren were so charmed with watching,11 that they forgot either tospeak or to go away.
At last, the old man turned, and saw them. He didn’t smile, nor did heseem angry. He only stood, and fixed his eyes upon them in silence.Thekla began to tremble, but Max bravely addressed him:—
“What curious work this is you are doing!” he said. “Is it very hard?”
“I’m used to it,” was the brief reply.
“You have been doing it a long time perhaps,” said Thekla, shyly.
“Seven thousand years or so,” answered the old man.
“Why, what a story!” cried Max. “That’s impossible, you know: the worldwasn’t made as long ago as that.”
“Oh, yes! it was. You were not there at the time, and I was. I gotthere about as soon as it did, or a little before.”
“He’s certainly crazy,” whispered Thekla; “let’s run away.”
12“Run away,” replied her brother, “from that old fellow? Why, he’s tentimes as old as Grandfather, and I’ll bet he’s not one quarter sostrong. There’s something very queer about it all, though, and I’mbound to find it out. Would you dislike to tell us your name, sir?” heasked politely.
“Oh, no!” answered the old man: “I haven’t the least objection. Mostpeople, however, don’t remember to inquire till they’re about seeingthe last of me. They mistake me for my brother, Eternity, I suppose. Myname is Old Time. That’s my scythe hanging on the tree. Don’t you seeit?”
There it was sure enough, only they had not noticed it before. “Andwhat are these beautiful figures?” asked little Thekla.
“Those are the Months,” replied Time. “I come here every year to renewthem. They get quite worn out, and need building up. It’s a nice dryplace, and they can stand till they are wanted. This one is January.He’s finished;13 but I’m a little behind hand with the others.” As hespoke, he turned again to his task.
“And what is this stuff you are making them of?” inquired Max, dippinghis finger in the sparkling liquid.
The old man fixed upon him a fiery eye. “Don’t meddle with that, boy!”said he, in a severe tone: “nobody can touch those drops safely butmyself. That is water from the stream of Time.”
“And these?” asked Thekla, pointing to the second jar.
“Those are what you know as ‘moments,’” was the reply. “They are reallythe dust of dead years, though somebody or other has given them thename of ‘sands of Time.’ Pretty things they are, but they won’t keep.Everybody in the world can have one at a time, but nobody can lay up astock for next day. I’m the only person to whom that is allowed.”
Just then a naughty idea entered into Max’s