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.