The Baldwin Libraryfo
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THE SIX SWANS.
RHYMED BY JOSEPHINE POLLARD.
ONCE on a time a King pursued
A noble deer through a mighty wood,
So fast and far in the royal chase
His huntsmen with him could not keep pace.
As night came on the King looked i.und;
The path he sought could not be found,
And he said to himself "Alack-a-day!
I really believe I have lost my way!"
While thus bewildered and vexed he stood,
A woman came to him in the wood,
Her nose was long, and her hair was red,
And she was a witch with a nodding head.
Said the King to her "Will you be so good
As to show me the right way through the wood?"
Said she to the King "Ay, that I will;
But one condition you must fulfil.
I have a daughter, and fair is she
As any one in the world you'll see;
Take her for your bride; make her your Queen;
Or perish here in this forest green!"
THE SIX SWANS.
The King was troubled, for well he knew
The terrible things that a witch could do,
And if he offended her it was plain
He'd never get out of the woods again.
So he consented the child to wed
Of the ugly witch with the nodding head,
Who led the way to a house near by her
Where her daughter sat by the kitchen fire.
The maiden arose to receive the King,
As though it was no unusual thing
For royal hunters to lose their way,
And he was expected that very day.
O she was handsome in form and face!
The fairest thing in that lonely place;
/ And yet her countenance did not please
The King, who felt very ill at ease.
Yet he took the maiden upon his horse,
And out of the forest bent his course
As the witch directed, nor slackened rein
Till his royal castle he saw again.
There the wedding was held with great display,
The bride was handsome, the guests were gay,
And music and dancing, and feasting too
Were all kept up with a great ado.
Now the King had married some years before
A wife, who seven sweet children bore,
Six boys and a girl, and they were his pride,
And his comfort too, when their mother died&
K. .-. ..
THE SIX S WANS.
He loved his pets as he did his life,
And being afraid that his new-made wife
Might do them harm in a cruel way,
He had them taken without delay
To a lonely castle; so deep amid
The trees and shrubberies it was hid,
That he never could find his own way through
Without the yarn that furnished the clew.
A wise woman gave him the ball one day,
And said "If whenever you lose your way,
This ball of yarn you will lightly throw
'Twill always point out the way to go."
He threw the ball as the woman told,
And went the way that the yarn unrolled,
Till he came to the castle, broad and fair,
And spent much time with his children there.
Her husband's absence so much annoyed
The Queen, her comfort was quite destroyed,
And she made up her mind it should soon be known
To her, why he went to the woods alone.
She bribed his servants with so much gold
They could no longer the secret hold,
And then in a very short time she knew
Oh! all about the wonderful clew.
To find this ball she was so possessed
That night or day she could take no rest,
And searching over each nook and space
She soon discovered its hiding-place.
THE SIX SWANS.
Then she went to work, and she made of silk
Some little shirts, they were white as milk,
And into each garment she deftly wrought
A charm, her mother the witch, had taught.
One day when the King to the hunt had gone,
The Queen went off to the woods alone,
With the little shirts she'd contrived to make,
And the yarn to tell her which road to take.
The six bright boys when she came in sight
Were filled with happiness and delight,
And swiftly ran with no thought of fear,
Expecting to meet their father dear.
Then the wicked Queen with a sudden flirt,
Threw over the head of each one a shirt,
And soon into beautiful swans they grew,
Long and white, and away they flew!
The Queen was happy; For now," said she
No step-children ever will trouble me!"
But the girl with her brothers had not run out,
So this one the Queen knew nothing about.
When the King went into the woods next day
To see his children, and with them play,
His little daughter with tearful face
Alone was clasped in his fond embrace.
"Where are thy brothers?" the father cried;
"They have all gone away," the maid replied,
" And left me behind. I was standing by
My window and saw them, six white swans, fly
THE SIX S WANS.
" Away towards the wood. Though I hurried straight
To the court-yard, oh! I was much too late;
I listened, and waited, and searched around,
But only these few little feathers I found."
The King was grieved; and he did not dream
That his wife had planned such a wicked scheme;
But fearing his daughter he'd also lose
To take her with him he could but choose.
Though she loved her father, the little maid
Of her new step-mother was much afraid,
So she kissed the King, and begged that she might
Remain in the castle just one more night.
So her father left her; and then she said
To herself, as she heard his departing tread,
"I must stay here no longer, but straightway go
To seek for my brothers; I love them so!"
When night came on, with little delay
The maiden sped through the woods away,
And for hours and hours without a stop
She walked until she was ready to drop.
At last she came to a little hut,
'Twas roughly built, and the door was shut,
But she lifted the latch, and looked around
And a very nice little room she found.
Six little beds were there displayed;
Six little beds so smoothly made
If she should lie down in one, no doubt
The owner would enter and turn her out.
THE SIX SWANS.
So under one of the beds she crept,
And weary and hungry she sobbed and wept,
And said in a shiver of cold and fright,
" I wish, oh! I 'wish it would soon be night."
As the sun went down in the west, she heard
A rustling sound, and behold! a bird,
A great white swan, and then five swans more,
Flew through the window down to the floor.
Then they blew at each other until they'd blown
Every feather off that they'd chanced to own,
And pulling their swan skins over their heads
Prepared to tumble into their beds.
The maiden peeped from her hiding-place
And knew her brothers; and then apace
She sprang to greet them, her joy declared,
And all the boys in her gladness shared.
But the joy of the brothers full soon was fled;
"You must hurry away from this place," they said;
"'Tis a robbers' den; if they find you here
They'll certainly murder you, sister dear."
"Can't you defend me? help me escape?"
She asked. "Oh no! for our human shape
But fifteen minutes we keep, and then
We're quickly changed into swans again."
The sister wept o'er their fate. Said she
"Can nothing be done to set you free?"
"Oh no!" they answered, all weeping too,
"The work would be much too hard for you.
THE SIX SWANS.
"For six whole years-such a long, long while-
You never could speak, and never could smile,
And you'd have to make in those dreary hours
Six little shirts out of aster flowers.
"If a single word from your lips should fall,
The work would profit us not at all;"
And as they finish the time goes by
And out through the window, as swans, they fly.
The maiden made up her mind that she,
Though it cost her her life, would set them free,
For she loved them dearly, and missed them so
That away from them she'd no heart to go.
But she left the hut as soon as she could,
And climbed a tree that was in the wood,
Deep in the wood and of wondrous height,
And in this shelter she passed the night.
The very next morning .she set about
Her task; the aster blossoms were out,
And these she gathered and neatly sewed
Together, and there in the woods abode.
And as for speaking-why, bless your hearts!
There was no one to speak to in all those parts,
And to laugh or smile she was not inclined
With so much trouble upon her mind.
Thus sad and silent, like any Turk,
She looked at nothing but just her work,
For months and months, till it chanced one day
SA King and his merry men passed that way.
THE SIX SWANS.
And some of the huntsmen were quick to see,
The beautiful maiden up in the tree;
"Who art thou ?" they cried, as they neared the spot;
But the beautiful maiden answered not.
"Come down! come down! and be not alarmed;
We pledge thee our word thou shalt not be harmed.
Come down! come down!" they wrathfully said,
As the maiden continued to shake her head.
They teased and tormented her more and more,
And she took the necklace of gold she wore
And threw it down, for she hoped that they
Would seize the trinket and haste away.
But they would not leave her or cease their jeers
Despite her anger, despite her tears;
Though she cast her girdle down at their feet
And most of her clothes, they would not retreat.
At last, the huntsmen, convinced that she
Would never come down to them, climbed the tree,
Determined the beautiful maiden to bring,
As a hunting-trophy, to please the King.
When the King beheld her, amazed was he;
"Who art thou? and why wert thou in the tree?"
He asked; and the beautiful maiden sighed
But never a word to the King replied.
Then he asked her over and over again
In the language of Italy, France, and Spain,
In Greek and in Hebrew-oh, how absurd!-
And still the maiden spoke not one word.
THE SIX SWANS.
But oh! her beauty had power to stir
The heart of the King, and in love with her
He threw his mantle around her waist
And up before him the maid was placed.
Then away he galloped, nor slackened rein
Till he came to his castle home again,
Where he had her dressed with the utmost care
In robes that a Queen would be proud to wear.
She'd servants and horses at her command;
At the table she sat at the King's right hand;
But whatever happened, at any joke
She never laughed, and she never spoke.
Her beauty shone like the morning bright,
And the King in her presence took such delight,
Her modest ways and her gentle mien
Admired so much, she became his Queen.
But a wicked mother the King possessed,
Who thought his marriage was not the best,
And many a cruel thing she said
Of the youthful maiden he chose to wed.
"Who is the creature? where came she from?
She's as deaf as an adder! Ay, deaf and dumb;
A sullen, silly, and ill-bred thing,
Not fit to be the wife of a King!"
Thus the wicked woman would scold and prate,
Each day reviving her cruel hate,
But the King was shrewd and he only said
"The stillest tongue shows the wisest head."
THE SIX S WANS.
When a year had passed, and a young child came
The love of the King and the Queen to claim,
The wicked mother went in one day
And stole the dear little babe away.
Then marking the mouth of the Queen who slept,
Away in search of the King she crept,
And said as she pointed to blood stains fresh,
" Your wife is an eater' of human flesh!"
This story the King did not alarm,
And he ordered that no one his wife should harm;
So she sewed each day, and the shirts prepared,
And for little else in the world she cared.
When the Queen gave birth to a lovely boy,
The wicked woman with secret joy
Made way with the child and told afresh
The Queen was an eater of human flesh.
But the King would never believe a word
Of what she said. It was too absurd.
" My wife is too tender and good," said he
"To treat her children so cruelly.
"And if she could only speak, and tell
Just how it happened, I know full well
The guilt of another she'd soon betray,
Her innocence shining as clear as day!"
Then after awhile a third child came,
And was stolen away by the cruel dame,
Who the very same story repeated o'er
That the King had heard from her twice before.
THE SIX S I WANS.
Though loath to listen, and greatly grieved
Because the story must be believed,
With none to speak in the Queen's defence,
And none to establish her innocence,
He had to yield to the law's demand,
And it long had been the law of the land,
That those who murdered for hate or hire
Be burned at the stake in a dreadful fire.
The Queen was sentenced to pass through flame,
And the very day they appointed came
On the last of the six long years that she
Had served her brothers so faithfully.
The six little shirts were nearly done;
The left sleeve only was missing from one
When the order came; and the Queen was led
To the funeral pile; not a word she said.
The six little shirts on her arm she bore,
With aster flowers embroidered o'er,
And mounting the pile she calmly stood
While the men with their torches drew near the wood.
Her eyes were turned away from the crowd,
When all of a sudden she cried aloud,
For she saw six swans flying fast and straight
To rescue her from a cruel fate.
The swans came close to their sister, so
That over each one she a shirt could throw,
When the skins fell off in which they were bound,
And they stood in their bodies all safe and sound.
THE SIX SWANS.
But one-this story you must believe-
Put on a shirt with a missing sleeve;
And he was the youngest-so 'twas no harm
That a swan's wing served for his lost left arm.
The brothers and sisters embrace with joy;
No thought of evil their hearts annoy;
While the King looks on with a wondering stare
At the curious scene enacted there.
Then the Queen to the King soon made her way,
And said Dearest husband, now I may
Presume to speak, no blood have I spilt;
And I've been falsely accused of guilt."
Then all that his wicked mother did,
And how the three little babes she hid,
She told the King; on his wife he smiled,
And the two were joyfully reconciled.
But the wicked mother who did this wrong
Was bound to the stake, and the flames ere long
Consumed her body; and under the skies
Is no monument telling us, Here she lies."
So the King, and the Queen, and the six bright boys
Lived on in the midst of imperial joys,
And safe from the power of their cruel foes
They had long, long years of supreme repose.
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