On the wooded hill behind the house Robert and I are looking for fairy-rings. Robert is eight years old, comely, and very wise;--I am a little more than seven,--and I reverence Robert. It is a glowing glorious August day; and the warm air is filled with sharp sweet scents of resin.
We do not find any fairy-rings; but we find a great many pine-cones in the high grass... I tell Robert the old Welsh story of the man who went to sleep, unawares, inside a fairy-ring, and so disappeared for seven years, and would never eat or speak after his friends had delivered him from the enchantment.
"They eat nothing but the points of needles, you know," says Robert.
"Who?" I ask.
""Goblins," Robert answers.
This revelation leaves me dumb with astonishment and awe... But Robert suddenly cries out:--
"There is a Harper!--he is coming to the house!"
And down the hill we run to hear the harper... But what a harper! Not like the hoary minstrels of the picture-books. A swarthy, sturdy, unkempt vagabond, with black bold eyes under scowling black brows. More like a bricklayer than a bard,--and his garments are corduroy!
"Wonder if he is going to sing in Welsh?" murmurs Robert.
I feel too much disappointed to make any remarks. The harper poses his harp--a huge instrument--upon our doorstep, sets all the strong ringing with a sweep of his grimy fingers, clears his throat with a sort of angry growl, and begins,--Believe me, if all those endearing young charms, Which I gaze on so fondly to-day...
The accent, the attitude, the voice, all fill me with repulsion unutterable,--shock me with a new sensation of formidable vulgarity. I want to cry out loud, "You have no right to sing that song!" For I have heard it sung by the lips of the dearest and fairest being in my little world;--and that this rude, coarse man should are to sing it vexes me like a mockery,--angers me like an insolence. But only for a moment!... With the utterance of the syllables "to-day," that deep, grim voice suddenly breaks into a quivering tenderness indescribable;--then, marvelously changing, it mellows into tones sonorous and rich as the bass of a great organ,--while a sensation unlike anything ever felt before takes me by the throat... What witchcraft has he learned? what secret has he found--this scowling man of the road?... Oh! is there anybody else in the whole world who can sing like that?... And the form of the singer flickers and dims;--and the house, and the lawn, and all visible shapes of things tremble and swim before me. Yet instinctively I fear that man;--I almost hate him; and I feel myself flushing with anger and shame because of his power to move me thus...
"He made you cry," Robert compassionately observes, to my further confusion,--as the harper strides away, richer by a gift of sixpence taken without thanks... "But I think he must be a gipsy. Gipsies are bad people--and they are wizards... Let us go back to the wood."
We climb again to the pines, and there squat down upon the sun-flecked grass, and look over town and sea. But we do not play as before: the spell of the wizard is strong upon us both... "Perhaps he is a goblin," I venture at last, "or a fairy?" "No," says Robert,--"only a gipsy. But that is nearly as bad. They steal children, you know."...
"What shall we do if he comes up here?" I gasp, in sudden terror at the lonesomeness of our situation.
"Oh, he wouldn't dare," answers Robert--"not by daylight, you know."...
[Only yesterday, near the village of Takata, I noticed a flower which the Japanese call by nearly the same name as we do: Himawari, "The Sunward-turning;"--and over the space of forty years there thrilled back to me the voice of that wandering harper,--As the Sunflower turns on her god, when he sets, The same look that she turned when he rose. Again I saw the sun-flecked shadows on that far Welsh hill; and Robert for a moment again stood beside me, with his girl's face and his curls of gold. We were looking for fairy-rings... But all that existed of the real Robert must long ago have suffered a sea-change into something rich and strange... Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friend...]