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Chapter 1 The Laughing Valley

  • When Claus came the Valley was empty save for the grass, the brook, th_ildflowers, the bees and the butterflies. If he would make his home here an_ive after the fashion of men he must have a house. This puzzled him at first,
  • but while he stood smiling in the sunshine he suddenly found beside him ol_elko, the servant of the Master Woodsman. Nelko bore an ax, strong and broad,
  • with blade that gleamed like burnished silver. This he placed in the youn_an's hand, then disappeared without a word.
  • Claus understood, and turning to the Forest's edge he selected a number o_allen tree-trunks, which he began to clear of their dead branches. He woul_ot cut into a living tree. His life among the nymphs who guarded the Fores_ad taught him that a live tree is sacred, being a created thing endowed wit_eeling. But with the dead and fallen trees it was different. They ha_ulfilled their destiny, as active members of the Forest community, and now i_as fitting that their remains should minister to the needs of man.
  • The ax bit deep into the logs at every stroke. It seemed to have a force o_ts own, and Claus had but to swing and guide it.
  • When shadows began creeping over the green hills to lie in the Valle_vernight, the young man had chopped many logs into equal lengths and prope_hapes for building a house such as he had seen the poorer classes of me_nhabit. Then, resolving to await another day before he tried to fit the log_ogether, Claus ate some of the sweet roots he well knew how to find, dran_eeply from the laughing brook, and lay down to sleep on the grass, firs_eeking a spot where no flowers grew, lest the weight of his body should crus_hem.
  • And while he slumbered and breathed in the perfume of the wondrous Valley th_pirit of Happiness crept into his heart and drove out all terror and care an_isgivings. Never more would the face of Claus be clouded with anxieties;
  • never more would the trials of life weigh him down as with a burden. Th_aughing Valley had claimed him for its own.
  • Would that we all might live in that delightful place!—but then, maybe, i_ould become overcrowded. For ages it had awaited a tenant. Was it chance tha_ed young Claus to make his home in this happy vale? Or may we guess that hi_houghtful friends, the immortals, had directed his steps when he wandere_way from Burzee to seek a home in the great world?
  • Certain it is that while the moon peered over the hilltop and flooded with it_oft beams the body of the sleeping stranger, the Laughing Valley was fille_ith the queer, crooked shapes of the friendly Knooks. These people spoke n_ords, but worked with skill and swiftness. The logs Claus had trimmed wit_is bright ax were carried to a spot beside the brook and fitted one upo_nother, and during the night a strong and roomy dwelling was built.
  • The birds came sweeping into the Valley at daybreak, and their songs, s_eldom heard in the deep wood, aroused the stranger. He rubbed the web o_leep from his eyelids and looked around. The house met his gaze.
  • "I must thank the Knooks for this," said he, gratefully. Then he walked to hi_welling and entered at the doorway. A large room faced him, having _ireplace at the end and a table and bench in the middle. Beside the fireplac_as a cupboard. Another doorway was beyond. Claus entered here, also, and sa_ smaller room with a bed against the wall and a stool set near a small stand.
  • On the bed were many layers of dried moss brought from the Forest.
  • "Indeed, it is a palace!" exclaimed the smiling Claus. "I must thank the goo_nooks again, for their knowledge of man's needs as well as for their labor_n my behalf."
  • He left his new home with a glad feeling that he was not quite alone in th_orld, although he had chosen to abandon his Forest life. Friendships are no_asily broken, and the immortals are everywhere.
  • Upon reaching the brook he drank of the pure water, and then sat down on th_ank to laugh at the mischievous gambols of the ripples as they pushed on_nother against rocks or crowded desperately to see which should first reac_he turn beyond. And as they raced away he listened to the song they sang:
  • "Rushing, pushing, on we go!
  • Not a wave may gently flow—
  • All are too excited.
  • Ev'ry drop, delighted,
  • Turns to spray in merry play
  • As we tumble on our way!"
  • Next Claus searched for roots to eat, while the daffodils turned their littl_yes up to him laughingly and lisped their dainty song:
  • "Blooming fairly, growing rarely,
  • Never flowerets were so gay!
  • Perfume breathing, joy bequeathing,
  • As our colors we display."
  • It made Claus laugh to hear the little things voice their happiness as the_odded gracefully on their stems. But another strain caught his ear as th_unbeams fell gently across his face and whispered:
  • "Here is gladness, that our rays
  • Warm the valley through the days;
  • Here is happiness, to give
  • Comfort unto all who live!"
  • "Yes!" cried Claus in answer, "there is happiness and joy in all things here.
  • The Laughing Valley is a valley of peace and good-will."
  • He passed the day talking with the ants and beetles and exchanging jokes wit_he light-hearted butterflies. And at night he lay on his bed of soft moss an_lept soundly.
  • Then came the Fairies, merry but noiseless, bringing skillets and pots an_ishes and pans and all the tools necessary to prepare food and to comfort _ortal. With these they filled cupboard and fireplace, finally placing a stou_uit of wool clothing on the stool by the bedside.
  • When Claus awoke he rubbed his eyes again, and laughed, and spoke aloud hi_hanks to the Fairies and the Master Woodsman who had sent them. With eage_oy he examined all his new possessions, wondering what some might be use_or. But, in the days when he had clung to the girdle of the great Ak an_isited the cities of men, his eyes had been quick to note all the manners an_ustoms of the race to which he belonged; so he guessed from the gifts brough_y the Fairies that the Master expected him hereafter to live in the fashio_f his fellow-creatures.
  • "Which means that I must plow the earth and plant corn," he reflected; "s_hat when winter comes I shall have garnered food in plenty."
  • But, as he stood in the grassy Valley, he saw that to turn up the earth i_urrows would be to destroy hundreds of pretty, helpless flowers, as well a_housands of the tender blades of grass. And this he could not bear to do.
  • Therefore he stretched out his arms and uttered a peculiar whistle he ha_earned in the Forest, afterward crying:
  • "Ryls of the Field Flowers—come to me!"
  • Instantly a dozen of the queer little Ryls were squatting upon the groun_efore him, and they nodded to him in cheerful greeting.
  • Claus gazed upon them earnestly.
  • "Your brothers of the Forest," he said, "I have known and loved many years. _hall love you, also, when we have become friends. To me the laws of the Ryls,
  • whether those of the Forest or of the field, are sacred. I have never wilfull_estroyed one of the flowers you tend so carefully; but I must plant grain t_se for food during the cold winter, and how am I to do this without killin_he little creatures that sing to me so prettily of their fragrant blossoms?"
  • The Yellow Ryl, he who tends the buttercups, made answer:
  • "Fret not, friend Claus. The great Ak has spoken to us of you. There is bette_ork for you in life than to labor for food, and though, not being of th_orest, Ak has no command over us, nevertheless are we glad to favor one h_oves. Live, therefore, to do the good work you are resolved to undertake. We,
  • the Field Ryls, will attend to your food supplies."
  • After this speech the Ryls were no longer to be seen, and Claus drove from hi_ind the thought of tilling the earth.
  • When next he wandered back to his dwelling a bowl of fresh milk stood upon th_able; bread was in the cupboard and sweet honey filled a dish beside it. _retty basket of rosy apples and new-plucked grapes was also awaiting him. H_alled out "Thanks, my friends!" to the invisible Ryls, and straightway bega_o eat of the food.
  • Thereafter, when hungry, he had but to look into the cupboard to find goodl_upplies brought by the kindly Ryls. And the Knooks cut and stacked much woo_or his fireplace. And the Fairies brought him warm blankets and clothing.
  • So began his life in the Laughing Valley, with the favor and friendship of th_mmortals to minister to his every want.