The Baldwin Library
AUNT BESSIE AND THE CHILDREN.
," AIDEN Aunts," that is, most maiden aunts
who see much of small nephews and nieces,
will often have been attacked by the request
(to which they have, no doubt, often sur-
rendered) of "Please tell us a story."
Little do the eager little nephews and nieces know
what a task they are often imposing on the captive
aunt; for a captive she is, and her young victors very
tyrants, and most exacting taskmasters. No, Aunty,
not that story; another;" or, Oh I've heard that a
hundred times before;" or, "Tell it me over again!"
And then woe be to Aunty if, for her own amusement,
or the amusement of her hearers, she varies the story
in the repetition. Just look at Charlie springing up!
and Edith shaking her little head! What is the
matter? Aunt Bessie turned traitor? Yes! she has
made the Enchanted Princess wear a silver crown
instead of a golden one, and has allowed her to drive
out in a nutshell instead of a pumpkin; and Charlie,
who does not consider a silver crown "half jolly
enough," and Edith, who has taken Fidelia's measure
exactly, will not hear of these alterations.
Now, Aunt Bessie being one day left alone, for
quiet and peace, on the sofa, was so rash as to invite
some of her nephews and nieces to come and see
her. Immediately the sofa was turned into a gallery,
into which boys and girls all mounted with the inten-
tion of playing audience while Aunt Bessie told a
So Aunt Bessie having a headache, and not being
therefore in an inventive mood, set her young audience
to work to invent for her.
Something new !" said she m answer to a request
from one of them. What about ?"
"No, indeed, Edward; you must say something."
Shall it be about boys and girls, or about animals ?"
"No, about things, I think," said Edward.
"Dear me, Edward, you must tell me what things,
then; and if you will give me a title I will see if I can
write a story for you some day, and call it Edward's
The Spirit of the Flowers, I think," said Edward,
after due musing.
Why, Edward, how poetic you grow !"
"Oh! don't you know I've read fairy stories about
some little spirits that live in the flowers? something
like that, I mean."
Very good; the Spirit of the Flowers it shall be, in
a brown coat and black apron, I suppose, like grand-
No, no," said Edward; but all the others began to
laugh, and then Aunt Bessie bade them run away, and
choose titles for their stories.
Here then is Alice's story.
Two little girls and a little boy were playing one
autumn evening in some broad meadows which lay
outside the little town of Moorbridge. These meadows
were very pretty: they had a stream running through
them, and they were surrounded by fine old trees,
under the shade of which the reapers and gleaners used
to sit and eat their dinners: to the east lay fields of
yellow corn, with poppies and cornflowers set like
precious stones amongst the gold; and on the west,
stretched far away in the distance the rich brown
and purple colouring of a wild, heath-covered
Richard and Alice had been weaving a wreath of
wild-flowers and ears of corn to crown the little
Katherine. Queen Katherine sat on a little mound,
and in her tiny hand she held some straws for a
sceptre, while Richard and Alice kneeled to "do her
"I ami Queen of Cornland!" lisped the despotic
little lady, and you are my slaves, Rick and Alice."
Oh no," said Richard, drawing himself up proudly
and flourishing a switch, "I am a brother king, the
King of the Heath and Moorlands, and Alice is Queen
of the Meadows."
"No, no !" said Alice, I don't like that; I shall
be queen of something else."
"Queen of Thumthin elth!" lisped little Katie, as
though she had said something very witty; for in
her way her Majesty the Queen of Cornland was
something of a wag.
Queen of what, Alice ?" said Richard, who was a
young sovereign of an inquiring turn of mind.
"Well, of-of-let me see! well, of Cloudland, I
think," said Alice, rather doubtfully, and looking into
the western skies.
"Cloudland! how foolish, Alice!" said King
Richard, in rather a dictatorial tone. Why, you can't
walk on the clouds; you would tumble down."
"Not if I lived in Cloudland, I think," said Alice,
Why not ? Oh you would be light, I suppose;
a sort of bird."
No, not a bird exactly; a girl with wings."
Oh I know, like the heads Uncle Arthur draws;
but it would be very stupid, always flying."
"But I shouldn't always fly, Richard: look there,
that great yellow cloud, all golden-looking, should be
It's a great deal more like a salmon," said Richard,
"Well, I know what I mean," said Alice, but I
can't tell it as Aunt Bessie would."
"Me go and fetch Aunty," said Katie, suddenly
forgetting her queenly dignity and her grammar;
and away she scampered as fast as her little legs
could carry her to the tree where Aunt Bessie sat
"Aunty, Katie Queen Queen of Cornland," cried
the runaway monarch, and Rick is King, and Ally a
"Alice a salmon what a strange choice!"
"Oh no, Aunt Bessie," said Alice, laughing, I am
Queen of Cloudland."
"Dear me! Alice, will you take me with you to
peep at your palace ?"
"Oh yes! that cloud is my throne."
"And that your castle, I suppose; and that the lake
in front, and those the snowy mountains coloured by
the sun with a rosy, golden light."
"Yes! yes! Aunty; how charming Look, Richard,
look !" cried Alice, pointing to the beautiful clouds at
which her aunt was looking, do you see now!"
"Yes; I think I do. Oh yes! I see, I see! and
there is a giant's head, and there a horse, and there
- go on, Aunt Bessie; make a story of it."
"A story! a story why, Richard, one would think
that Aunt Bessie was like the houses in Edinburgh,
storey upon storey, mounting to the skies. I never
was in Cloudland; ask Alice."
"Oh! but you can make a story."
"Well then, Queen Katherine must promise to sit
still; now, let me see."
"Oh! that is jolly!" said Richard. "Aunt Bessie
always says, 'let me see,' when she is going to begin a
"I must see a long way, master philosopher, to see
into the clouds."
"Oh! very easy: get a telescope."
"So said Elric the Dreamer."
"Who was he ?" asked Richard.
A young gentleman who lived 'once upon a time,'"
said Aunt Bessie, "and who had a fancy, as Alice
has, to see what they did in Cloudland. However,
as he could never save up enough money to buy a
telescope, he began to think this quite a hopeless case.
But one afternoon, as he lay under the trees,
thinking how it could be managed, a large bird came
and stood beside him on one leg. This was in the Age
of Fables, when birds spoke; so Elric was not at all
alarmed when the bird opened its great beak and said,
Elric, mount on my back and put your arms round
my neck, for I will take you to Cloudland. I am
quite equal to your weight,' added the bird, in a
patronising tone, as the boy looked doubtfully at him,
'and my- feathers are so soft that you will not
require a saddle.'"
"Ha! ha!" laughed Richard, "that was a funny
sort of horse!"
"Hush! Richard!" said Alice, "don't interrupt.
It is so interesting."
"Well!" continued Aunt Bessie, "Elric had so
long dreamed about Cloudland, that nothing astonished
him; so he got astride on the back of the great bird,
which soon mounted ip with him-up-up, higher and
higher, until Elric began to feel giddy, and shut his
"' Look up look up !' said the bird, turning its head
over its shoulder; 'if you look down you will certainly
be dizzy, for the earth attracts you.'
"'Oh dear me!' thought Elric, 'I wish my bird
was not a philosopher, for he has such a funny stiff
way of turning his head, that he makes me feel quite
uncomfortable. And he is not very polite, for he does
not say, 'if you please.'"
Have all philosophers a stiff way of turning their
heads ?" inquired Richard in a grave tone. Aunt Bessie
looked grave too, but Alice could see she was laughing
by her eyes.
"Mr. Lane calls me a little philosopher," said
Richard, rather proudly.
"Oh! indeed," said Aunt Bessie, "then I suppose
it is a peculiarity of some philosophers to turn
their heads rather stiffly, and not to say 'if you
Richard coloured, and looked very unlike a philoso-
pher, "Which means a wise man, I suppose," said
Alice, musingly. "But go on, Aunt Bessie."
And her aunt continued her story. "Elric looked
up. Above them rose the clouds, pile upon pile, white,
grey, yellow, and rose-coloured, with the blue sky
beneath and around.
"'These are mountains,' said the bird, 'the snowy
Alps of Cloudland.' Indeed they were very glorious,
but Elric was so uncomfortable on the bird's back, that
he could not admire them as much as if he had been
standing on firm ground.
The sun shone upon the Cloudland mountains, and
made their summits shine with a beautiful rosy light.
Oh there never was anything like it on the cold,
foggy island where it was Elric's lot to dwell. The
hollows of the crags were all in deep shadow, which
made the cloudy mountains look quite substantial.
Here and there shone something which looked like 'a
tarn or little mountain lake. On one of the peaks,
about half-way up the mountains, stood a castle built
of grey stone, or of something which looked like
grey stone, only not quite so solid. This indeed
must be the very castle in the air' which Elric the
Dreamer had so often thought of, and which some
dreamer before him had spent many years in building'
If once he could reach it, Elric felt he should desire no
more. But they were not near it yet. They came
first to a glacier, or field of ice, where it was bitterly
cold, and then on to a ridge, where the wind howled
and whistled in poor Elric's ears. His hands felt very
cold, but still he held on ; for they had passed the grey
castle, and far beyond it was a beautiful blue lake, on
the shores of which stood a city of white houses with
golden roofs, and spires, and towers, and castles, all the
'castles in the air' that dreamers had ever raised.
' One of these castles was built on the Philosopher's
Stone, which no one below the clouds had yet been
able to discover,' said the bird, who was really almost
as good as a guide-book.
In the courtyard of one bubbled up the Fountain of
lasting Youth, and in the garden of another bloomed the
Rose which when worn makes ugly people beautiful;
the white hall of one palace was lit by Aladdin's Won-
derful Lamp, and above the stately towers of another
shone the moon which was made of green cheese, and
for which the little boy who quarrelled with his bread
and butter, cried.
Everything, in fact, that any one had ever dreamed
of but never found, or ever wished for and never
obtained, was to be found in Cloudland. Kings were
there with golden crowns which sat on their foreheads
as light as a feather; little girls with a new doll, which
spoke for every day in the year; little boys with drums
which made as much noise when they had been cut
open as they did when they were new; ladies who
never stirred a finger, and who even eat by the help
of machinery; young men with pennies, which when
thrown into the air came down again as golden coins;
old men with pounds and shillings which never burned
holes in their pockets, but were yet no weight to carry;
all these, and many more, were to be seen in Cloud-
land, sitting proudly on jewelled thrones, or lying on
damask sofas, or playing in courts which shone with
precious stones. And there, too, was just the place for
which Elric had wished, a castle full of little boys,
dressed as knights in little suits of armour, with little
chargers waiting for them at the door, and a page in a
velvet dress, holding a beautiful little Arab horse, while
another page kneeled on the ground and held the
golden stirrup: close by sat on a white pony a beau-
tiful little girl, with long yellow hair. The saddle of
the Arab horse was empty, but on its bridle was em-
broidered in shining letters, Elric the Dreamer,' and,
as the bird flew over the castle all the little knights
shouted, 'Long live King Elric' Then the little
fair-haired damsel bowed her head, and the Arab
charger pranced, and the little musicians dressed in
scarlet struck up a lively air.
"' My Castle-my Castle in the Air !' shouted Elric,
as the bird flew over it; stop stop !'
"' It will melt when you touch it,' said the bird in a
disagreeable, croaking voice.
"'Oh! it is fading, it is fading away,' cried the boy,
despairingly, as he stretched out his hands towards it,
as its outline grew more dim, and the music grew
fainter and fainter. The dizzy feeling in his head, and
the cold and cutting wind had been unable to make
him raise his hand or cry out, for Elric was a brave
lad enough: but the sight of his dear castle in the air,
of which he had so long been dreaming, vanishing
away, made him do both. He stretched out his hands,
turned his head, lost his balance, and fell, fell, oh! I
can't tell you how far! it seemed miles, and poor Elric
held his breath lest he should be dashed to pieces when
he reached the ground.
Yet, strange to say, he was not at all hurt in the fall.
But whether he was stunned or whether he fainted
away, I cannot tell; all I know is that he awoke with
a start, and found himself under the large beech tree,
where he had been lying before the bird stood by his side.
The sun had gone down, and now the harvest moon
shone in the deep blue sky, and the little stars, little
lamps (so Elric used to dream), which had been bright
and steady, and now were hung up in Cloudland,
shone out, hundreds and thousands of them, far more
beautiful than Aladdin's Lamp in the Crystal Hall.
Elric felt very cold and stiff; whether that was caused
by his journey to Cloudland and his fall from the
bird's back, or was the effect of the damp evening air,
you cannot expect me to say. Elric himself did not
stay to inquire, but, getting up with difficulty, he
walked slowly home, resolving, as he went, that he
never should wish to live in Cloudland again, and
determining that' Castles in the Air' were very un-
Elric the Dreamer was, after this adventure, less
given to sleeping under trees when his brothers and
sisters were running in the fields; and he gave over
building castles in the air' when he was supposed to
be learning his lessons.
Yet, for all this, and though Elric preferred remain-
ing on solid ground, a good and useful little boy, and
growing up, in time, to be a better and more useful
man, to reigning as a king in Cloudland, still he never
ceased to love the sight of the beautiful skies and
fairy-looking clouds, which he could well admire from
a distance. When he grew to be a-man, he wrote a
book about the clouds; there was a great deal in it
which was nearly as wonderful as what I have told
you; and it had this advantage, that it was all real and
Perhaps some day I may be able to tell you, or you
may read for yourselves, some of these wonderful
things of which Elric wrote in his book about the