I HAVE TOUCHED upon Eva's efforts to interest children; she always seemed to be a fountain of delight where they were concerned. The first to introduce her to the intricacies as well as the simplicities of child nature was a small nephew who assiduously developed her storytelling habit. He was afterward provincial chaplain to this Community.
During all the years in Omaha and through the year abroad on the continent, in Egypt, and the Holy Land, in the midst of work or travel, she always found a little corner of time in which to write a story letter to the little boy at Oakencroft. Anything was useful as a subject for the Stanley letters, from a fragmentary dream to a picture embroidered on a Japanese screen or a tiny pen wiper decorated with two little red chickens. The story of The Cowardly Cock, The Proud Little Skyrocket, The Mouse in our House, were abundantly illustrated and eagerly enjoyed, with many others of a like nature. As the small boy grew, year by year, the stories began to grow up too. Then other children joined the family group, and Aunt Eva on her visits home sat in a circle of upturned faces telling stories by the hour. Sunday afternoons on the lawn at Oaken-croft were times of enchantment to the children; and even the grownups caught themselves attentive to new versions of old tales or perhaps to some utterly new and bewildering witch or fairy story manufactured on demand and afterwards preserved for some child in a typed book.
The Two Crimson Chickens is a favorite of mine, so I insert it as a sample of the wee stories:
TWO CRIMSON CHICKENS
I am going to tell you a story about two little crimson chickens. They were twins, and came out of one egg, a large speckled one, and their mother, a sober, respectable hen who had never been known to do anything uncommon, was dreadfully ashamed of them and would not allow them to run with the rest of the brood. If it had not been for the good-humored kindness of a shiftless duck, who was a slovenly creature, her feathers always out of place, and usually some half eaten worm hanging out of her bill, they might have died from neglect.
As they grew a little older, they felt terribly ashamed of their unnatural color, and would blush at the least allusion to it; but that only made them more crimson than ever.
One day they were walking together quite disconsolately, and they met a robin redbreast. He was a kind-hearted bird, and while he was fond of bright colors (he was in the habit of wearing a scarlet waistcoat), a crimson chicken! that was pretty bad.
So he said to them, "Why don't you eat the red barberry that changes you into whatever you wish while you are eating it?"
"Oh, where can we find it?" asked the little chickens.
"I don't know," said the robin, "ask the rook."
Now the rook was a magician, reputed to be a hundred years old, and very wise in the black art. The little chickens approached his house, which was in the old hollow sycamore, with trembling hearts. They felt sure that he would want some presents, so one caught a great furry caterpillar that would make an excellent fur cap handsomely striped, and the other a beautiful butterfly, whose wings make beautiful fans, and are very acceptable presents to the fairy queen even.
The old rook, dressed in a long black gown, and looking very mysterious, met them at the door of his house, for he never let anybody come in. He was secretly very much pleased at their gifts, though he pretended to be indifferent. "The red barberries," he said. "Oh, yes, they grow beneath the rocks in the country of the gnomes, three days' journey from here as the crow flies, but as you are only chickens, and crimson chickens at that, I will send you there in my coach, for it would take you a year to get there."
He blew a little silver whistle and there appeared a car draped in black and drawn by two black crows. The little chickens thanked the rook and away they flew over field and forest, by dark and by light, for three days and three nights, till at last they came to the country of the gnomes, a country piled with huge rocks overgrown with moss and gray lichens and the red barberry. There were two little gnomes gathering lichens and putting them into a large basket. The gnomes wore red jerkins and red shoes which were so long that the toes had to be tied to their belts.
The little chickens felt rather stiff and tired after their long journey, and they were a little afraid of the gnomes too. But the gnomes took off their caps politely and asked them what they wished, so they gave the letter of introduction the rook had written for them, and asked for some of the red barberries that grew upon the rocks.
"Certainly," said the gnomes, "but you must gather them for yourselves, and you must be sure to make your wish while you are eating them."
So the little chickens went joyfully to work, and in a few minutes became snowy white, beautiful chickens, the pride of the poultry yard. When the crows came back, the rook asked them all about it.
"Just to think," he said; "they might have been nightingales or even eagles, and they are still just nothing but chickens after all."
There were dozens of these delightful tales--the Witch Book, Fairy Tales for a Fairy God-Daughter, and many more--for Aunt Eva seldom tired, and the children, never. Her gift as a story teller proved a most useful asset in all of her long life work with children. There were many religious tales, St. Ursula and her Cloak, How the White Christ came to Norway, and hundreds of her story sermons to her own large household of children when every Sunday morning they might expect some new and charming tale in some way connected with the Bible lesson--yet excitingly different. These were never written, but I think one of the Sisters had a quick long hand in which she took many of them down. These came later, but as we are considering her gift of expression I am tempted to add one or two of these little children's sermons. I choose them at random from many quaint and charming, because they are short.
Ash Wednesday. THE CHRISTIAN YEAR--LENT
Children, once when I was little, perhaps on Christmas, perhaps it was some other day, a queer toy was given to me. It was such a strange toy. It was a kind of tube in which were bits of colored glass. One turned it around as one looked into it and saw such wonderful things, always beautiful and always different. This toy had a queer name. Some of you can guess its name, perhaps. It was called a kaleidoscope. I wanted to know why they gave it such a hard name and asked someone to write it out for me. I never thought I knew a word until I could spell it.
Then the person who gave me the toy--and I do not remember now who it was--told me that the kaleidoscope was one of the oldest toys in the world. Its name was made up of two Greek words, and it meant "seeing the beautiful." After that I always remembered, and thought it was a lovely name for a lovely toy. I liked to take the tube into my hands, and, then looking in, be transported to another world and see things beautiful and always changing.
That is what our Mother Church puts into our hands when she gives us the Christian Year, wherein we see beautiful things. It fills our lives with constantly changing beauty. There are the great bright feasts of Christmas and Easter, which you all can enjoy. But all the seasons are beautiful, and as you grow older you become able to appreciate each part. There is beauty in change. The little pieces of glass in the kaleidoscope were always the same, but the shapes I saw changed. There was never confusion but always an arrangement of harmonious lines. So it is with the Christian Year. There is no confusion in it, though some of the changes are very sudden. There is none more sudden than the solemn season of Advent changing into the joyous Christmas, except the deep grief of the Good Friday turning into the great gladness of Easter. Yet there are gradual changes. After the joy of Christmas and the gladness of the Epiphany, we come by degrees into the shadow of Septuagesima when we think of ourselves as exiles on a weary march.
Now today, which one little girl explained was not a holiday but Ash Wednesday showing she had already begun to see the difference between a holiday and a holy day, today we must think what we should learn from this season. Of course we should be holy in our gladness, holy at all times. But this is a holy day of obligation. There are some holy days which we are not compelled to observe, but others we must keep, and this is one of them. We must set aside our business which was so important in order to worship God. We must stop doing things for ourselves, our school, our play, all the things that keep us so busy. The one great thing in the world is to worship God--and sometimes we must worship Him in sorrow and in penitence. The worship the angels pay to Him has no sorrow in it because they have not sinned. But it is a part of our human worship to bewail our sins, and to plead the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ in our behalf.
We have come to the season of Lent. Now Lent means, not fast, as you might think, but spring. Its original meaning was slow, because the spring was so slow in coming, the buds so slow in opening, the sunshiny, warm days so few. In your gardening in spring you think it never will come because there is so little sunshine. It is the season of gardening in souls, too, and it is such a slow work. You cannot see the graces grow. The seed of good resolution is covered up in the soil of the heart, but it is a long time before we can see any results. But, as I have told you before, let the seed take plenty of time to send out good roots, for no strong tree can grow up without first having good roots. Do not try to hurry the Spirit of God. In some few souls the growth seems to be instantaneous, but in most of us it is very slow.
The Apostles had been with our Lord three years, learning of Him, so on the Day of Pentecost they could stand the coming of the rushing, mighty wind. Only very strong souls can support such a sudden change. We are feeble and frail. The Spirit comes to us in gentle, hardly perceptible breathings. Our weak resolutions would be uprooted by the mighty wind.
This is the day of good resolutions. It has long been a custom of this house for every one in it, even the smallest girl, to make her resolution on Ash Wednesday. People excuse themselves from making good resolutions in many ways. Some say it is not worth while to make them. Some say it is written in a book that hell is paved with good resolutions which have been broken. Well, do you not think those poor souls in hell are glad to have something to stand on? Part of hell is a bottomless pit! If you are going to choose evil instead of good, choose not absolute loss, but try for the lesser evil. But then you do not need to break your good resolutions. Remember not to make those you cannot keep. I sometimes read over prayers and litanies which are not suited to our Sisterhood and so I discard them. Never pray for a grace you cannot use, for one you do not need. Do not pray for the grace of humility that will endure. Rather pray for grace which will prevent your making an angry retort, for grace to overcome laziness or disobedience. Take that very thing, laziness, and resolve to jump out of bed in the morning the minute the gong rings. Or resolve not to call any one bad names, or not to steal a bit of bread, or take anything which has not been given you, or not to be greedy. If such a resolution is kept, you have had a good Lent. Make your resolution along the line of your own weakness--and keep it.
Oh, yes, some people ask why one should make a good resolution only for Lent and not for all time. We make a mould and pour something soft into it until the soft substance hardens, then we break away the mould. Here we see the reason for having a rule. In little children character is soft and unformed and must be put into a mould to "set." Little girls who conform to the rules become good girls. When you leave this home, will you be under these rules? Not at all. Even those who grow up here and remain are no longer under your rules. Their characters are formed, so the mould has been broken away. But you say the Sisters have a rule under which they must always live. And so they do, but that is because they are trying to form a spiritual character, which takes a long time, and their rule can be thrown away only at death. A rule well kept makes a good mould. If the mould has bubbles in it, if you say to yourself, "I will not keep my resolution this one time," or "it does not mean this," if you begin to make exceptions, there will be bad bubbles, and when the mould is broken off there will be marred places in the statue and it will have to be thrown away. Have your habit so well formed that you will not need the rule any longer. If it has become a habit to speak kindly, not to be greedy, you will never think of doing otherwise, and a rule to make you do this is unnecessary.
In the first lesson which I read to you this morning, Isaiah emphasized these things. The Hebrews had had a great revival of religion in his day, but after it the people had sunk down into formalism. They fasted to save money. They did not give the food saved to the poor, but kept it in their cupboards and used it the next day. They had the right kind of rule, but they did not pour into it the living spirit of prayer. Isaiah did not mean it was wrong to fast and to keep all the observances of the law. But he did mean that it was useless to do these things unless they poured into them their real selves.
Let us begin this Lent by making a good resolution. I hope no one will fail to think of what she most needs, and make a resolution accordingly, to strengthen that weak point. Through the long six weeks be forming something to set in a Christlike form. Let it be a form of beauty, not marred in any way. Then you will have kept a good Lent. Then Lent will be a happy time though it seems to be sad, it will be a most beautiful time, though it seems to come in tears.
THE KING'S BEES
Children, I am going to tell you about a bee. He was a young bee, or rather she was--for all the working bees, you know, are feminine--and she had never been out of the hive before. She had passed a happy childhood in the warm, fragrant hive, as a baby wrapped in soft white wool and fed with the sweetest honey milk. Then the little one intended for the new queen was carefully separated from the rest, to be fed differently, cared for more extravagantly. But this was to be just a little worker bee, so she, with a great many others, was fed on the plain, substantial bee bread and was allowed to play with the others, and stretch herself and use her wings about the hive, and was taught the simple little things.
Every worker bee must learn while she is young to build wax cells six sided, not round or square, and to keep everything spotlessly clean, shown how she must dust herself off with her wings and how to use her wings to sweep every particle of dirt out of the hive. Just think! To use wings for such common work as that! But that is just what taught her how to use her wings. Have you never cleaned with your wings? Well, some girls do not. I have seen the dirty rags they use left behind on the front porch. But if you are ever to use your wings to fly with--fly from star to star, as a bee flies from flower to flower, you must learn to use them now to sweep and dust with. And bees are the very cleanest of all God's creatures. They die if they are dirty.
But at last this bee had grown large enough to be trusted to fly out of the hive and gather honey, and she was very excited. She had never seen the great world before. Now because this was her first flight she had a wise old bee with her--a sort of governess bee, who would tell everything she needed to know.
"First of all," said the wise old bee, "don't try to look at anything but the yellow spot on my tail. Follow that, for you must try your wings, and it will take all your attention to keep up at first."
So she did as she was told, and followed the old bee as she flew three times around the hive, seeing only the yellow spot on the old bee's tail. But how wonderful it was, balancing oneself on gossamer wings and actually flying! How different from the fluttering in the hive, how intoxicating the motion was!
And then they came to a stop and rested awhile on the ledge in front of the hive.
"Now you may look about you," said the old bee.
And the young bee looked, first at the great golden sun in the blue heavens, and at the lovely warm light that fell upon her from it. Bees love the warmth and brightness of sunshine as much as we do. And then she looked about her. How beautiful the green grass was, and "Oh! what were these lovely bright spots of color?"
"Those are flowers," said the old bee. "Come with me and I will show them to you closer."
As they came closer, the young bee exclaimed:
"Oh, what is this sweetness all about me? I feel as if I am flying in ethereal honey."
"That is just what you are doing," said the old bee. "That is the fragrance that comes from the honey chambers in the flowers. The flowers are always glad to have us come--in fact they make themselves beautiful to attract us, for they know we love beauty. But they have one disagreeable trait. While we are getting their honey, they shed their pollen dust all over us. You must be sure never to bring any of the flower dust into our hive or let it get into your honey bag, but always dust yourself off carefully at each flower."
"But what is that enormous thing on that flower?" said the young bee. "I am afraid."
"It won't hurt you, silly," said the old bee, "that is a humming bird. Selfish thing, it eats all the honey for itself. You must not be like that. You must put all your honey in that neat, pretty bag I gave you this morning."
"But why?" said the young bee. "There is enough honey now in the hive to feed a hundred queens. Why should we store so much?"
"It is our Queen's orders," said the old bee. "I think," she added dreamily, "it is for the great King. You know this is King Solomon's garden, and yonder is the great hive he lives in--he calls it a palace--and he loves honey, so I've heard say."
They were busy for a while, filling their bags, and then the young bee exclaimed:
"Oh look! Look! there is a flower flying about as we are."
"Pooh!" said the old bee, "that is only a butterfly. Vain thing! Instead of carrying a honey bag to gather and store honey in, she puts all the colors she can gather from the flowers on her wings, decorating them with feathers dipped in flower dyes. Plain wings are good enough for us. Don't ever waste time decorating yourself. We are the King's bees, and are the only creatures in his garden that can turn the sweetness of the flowers into honey for his table."
In the palace of the king a strange thing was happening. Solomon was sitting on his throne of ivory as white as the wax that the bees made their comb of. And the throne was set very high, with steps to it, and two golden lions on every step. Down at the other end of the throne room was the Queen of Sheba. Two Sheban ladies stood behind her, with large peacock tail fans just touching over her head, and two Sheban men came forward at her nod, each bearing a potted plant in full bloom, and set them down before her.
"O wisest of Kings," she said, "in my far country I have heard of your wisdom, and also of your love for flowers. So I have brought you one that I am sure is not in your garden, for it is rare even with us."
"No," said the King, "I have never seen a flower like it. And how rich and exotic the fragrance. I thank you, fair lady."
"Not yet," said the Queen, "you see two plants here, but really there is only one. The other is a carefully made imitation. Of your wisdom, O King, tell me without coming nearer than you are now, which of the two is the real flower and which the false?"
He looked at the two carefully and they were exactly alike, and the fragrance wafted toward him by the peacock fans seemed to come from both equally. Then he stepped down from his throne between the rows of golden lions, and going to the window, threw wide the casement. And in flew a bee, our bee. It was no longer its first day. It was quite used to making honey by this time, and it had been to every flower in the garden, and now, as it was resting on the window sill, it detected a new scent, a delicious fragrance not in the garden, that seemed to come from the palace itself. So when the King threw open the window the bee was ready to fly in. It hovered for a moment over the two plants, and then suddenly darted down and buried itself in the heart of one of them in a rapture of delight.
"That is the real flower, fair Queen," said King Solomon. And the Queen of Sheba knelt before him. "Surely the half of thy wisdom was not told me in my own country. Thou art the Master, O wisest of men and greatest of Kings."
"The wisdom you admire, Lady," he said, "was not mine, but yonder little bee's. Mine was but the wisdom of humility. As I looked at yonder flowers, I said to myself, which of all my servants loves flowers more than I do? For this is a case where reason may fail, but love cannot ever. And I bethought me of my bees, which turn the fragrance of the flowers into honey. Love is, after all, the great wisdom, Lady."
Children, does this story mean anything to you? Have you seen into the heart of it? Last night during Vigil as I was wondering what I should talk about to you, I opened a little devotional book at my place and came across this quaint little rhyme:
"The bees are the smallest of fowls with wings,
And their fruit is the sweetest of all sweet things."
And I said to myself, This is my text for tomorrow; for we all are the King's honey bees, and He has set us in this world of various beauties to make honey out of the flowers of the earth, the pleasures and pains of circumstance. We are the only creatures in the world who can do it. Angels cannot; the animals cannot. Only we can make the honey that our King and Master loves and longs for.
Are you going to use it all for yourself? Are you going to be a mere reflection of the color beauty of the flowers without their fragrance, storing no honey? Are you going to spoil your honey with careless gathering, letting it become soiled, are you going to waste your time on imitation flowers that have no honey? Or are you going to the very heart of the best blossoms, gathering and storing the sweetest and rarest honey for the King?
"With honey out of the stony rock have I satisfied thee, O Son of God, my King and my Lord."