Chapter 5 How Bessie Blithesome Came to the Laughing Valley
One day, as Claus sat before his door to enjoy the sunshine while he busil_arved the head and horns of a toy deer, he looked up and discovered _littering cavalcade of horsemen approaching through the Valley.
When they drew nearer he saw that the band consisted of a score of men-at- arms, clad in bright armor and bearing in their hands spears and battle-axes.
In front of these rode little Bessie Blithesome, the pretty daughter of tha_roud Lord of Lerd who had once driven Claus from his palace. Her palfrey wa_ure white, its bridle was covered with glittering gems, and its saddle drape_ith cloth of gold, richly broidered. The soldiers were sent to protect he_rom harm while she journeyed.
Claus was surprised, but he continued to whittle and to sing until th_avalcade drew up before him. Then the little girl leaned over the neck of he_alfrey and said:
"Please, Mr. Claus, I want a toy!"
Her voice was so pleading that Claus jumped up at once and stood beside her.
But he was puzzled how to answer her request.
"You are a rich lord's daughter," said he, "and have all that you desire."
"Except toys," added Bessie. "There are no toys in all the world but yours."
"And I make them for the poor children, who have nothing else to amuse them,"
"Do poor children love to play with toys more than rich ones?" asked Bessie.
"I suppose not," said Claus, thoughtfully.
"Am I to blame because my father is a lord? Must I be denied the pretty toys _ong for because other children are poorer than I?" she inquired earnestly.
"I'm afraid you must, dear," he answered; "for the poor have nothing else wit_hich to amuse themselves. You have your pony to ride, your servants to wai_n you, and every comfort that money can procure."
"But I want toys!" cried Bessie, wiping away the tears that forced themselve_nto her eyes. "If I can not have them, I shall be very unhappy."
Claus was troubled, for her grief recalled to him the thought that his desir_as to make all children happy, without regard to their condition in life.
Yet, while so many poor children were clamoring for his toys he could not bea_o give one to them to Bessie Blithesome, who had so much already to make he_appy.
"Listen, my child," said he, gently; "all the toys I am now making ar_romised to others. But the next shall be yours, since your heart so longs fo_t. Come to me again in two days and it shall be ready for you."
Bessie gave a cry of delight, and leaning over her pony's neck she kisse_laus prettily upon his forehead. Then, calling to her men-at-arms, she rod_aily away, leaving Claus to resume his work.
"If I am to supply the rich children as well as the poor ones," he thought, "_hall not have a spare moment in the whole year! But is it right I should giv_o the rich? Surely I must go to Necile and talk with her about this matter."
So when he had finished the toy deer, which was very like a deer he had know_n the Forest glades, he walked into Burzee and made his way to the bower o_he beautiful Nymph Necile, who had been his foster mother.
She greeted him tenderly and lovingly, listening with interest to his story o_he visit of Bessie Blithesome.
"And now tell me," said he, "shall I give toys to rich children?"
"We of the Forest know nothing of riches," she replied. "It seems to me tha_ne child is like another child, since they are all made of the same clay, an_hat riches are like a gown, which may be put on or taken away, leaving th_hild unchanged. But the Fairies are guardians of mankind, and know morta_hildren better than I. Let us call the Fairy Queen."
This was done, and the Queen of the Fairies sat beside them and heard Clau_elate his reasons for thinking the rich children could get along without hi_oys, and also what the Nymph had said.
"Necile is right," declared the Queen; "for, whether it be rich or poor, _hild's longings for pretty playthings are but natural. Rich Bessie's hear_ay suffer as much grief as poor Mayrie's; she can be just as lonely an_iscontented, and just as gay and happy. I think, friend Claus, it is you_uty to make all little ones glad, whether they chance to live in palaces o_n cottages."
"Your words are wise, fair Queen," replied Claus, "and my heart tells me the_re as just as they are wise. Hereafter all children may claim my services."
Then he bowed before the gracious Fairy and, kissing Necile's red lips, wen_ack into his Valley.
At the brook he stopped to drink, and afterward he sat on the bank and took _iece of moist clay in his hands while he thought what sort of toy he shoul_ake for Bessie Blithesome. He did not notice that his fingers were workin_he clay into shape until, glancing downward, he found he had unconsciousl_ormed a head that bore a slight resemblance to the Nymph Necile!
At once he became interested. Gathering more of the clay from the bank h_arried it to his house. Then, with the aid of his knife and a bit of wood h_ucceeded in working the clay into the image of a toy nymph. With skillfu_trokes he formed long, waving hair on the head and covered the body with _own of oakleaves, while the two feet sticking out at the bottom of the gow_ere clad in sandals.
But the clay was soft, and Claus found he must handle it gently to avoi_uining his pretty work.
"Perhaps the rays of the sun will draw out the moisture and cause the clay t_ecome hard," he thought. So he laid the image on a flat board and placed i_n the glare of the sun.
This done, he went to his bench and began painting the toy deer, and soon h_ecame so interested in the work that he forgot all about the clay nymph. Bu_ext morning, happening to notice it as it lay on the board, he found the su_ad baked it to the hardness of stone, and it was strong enough to be safel_andled.
Claus now painted the nymph with great care in the likeness of Necile, givin_t deep-blue eyes, white teeth, rosy lips and ruddy-brown hair. The gown h_olored oak-leaf green, and when the paint was dry Claus himself was charme_ith the new toy. Of course it was not nearly so lovely as the real Necile; but, considering the material of which it was made, Claus thought it was ver_eautiful.
When Bessie, riding upon her white palfrey, came to his dwelling next day, Claus presented her with the new toy. The little girl's eyes were brighte_han ever as she examined the pretty image, and she loved it at once, and hel_t close to her breast, as a mother does to her child.
"What is it called, Claus?" she asked.
Now Claus knew that Nymphs do not like to be spoken of by mortals, so he coul_ot tell Bessie it was an image of Necile he had given her. But as it was _ew toy he searched his mind for a new name to call it by, and the first wor_e thought of he decided would do very well.
"It is called a dolly, my dear," he said to Bessie.
"I shall call the dolly my baby," returned Bessie, kissing it fondly; "and _hall tend it and care for it just as Nurse cares for me. Thank you very much, Claus; your gift has made me happier than I have ever been before!"
Then she rode away, hugging the toy in her arms, and Claus, seeing he_elight, thought he would make another dolly, better and more natural than th_irst.
He brought more clay from the brook, and remembering that Bessie had calle_he dolly her baby he resolved to form this one into a baby's image. That wa_o difficult task to the clever workman, and soon the baby dolly was lying o_he board and placed in the sun to dry. Then, with the clay that was left, h_egan to make an image of Bessie Blithesome herself.
This was not so easy, for he found he could not make the silken robe of th_ord's daughter out of the common clay. So he called the Fairies to his aid, and asked them to bring him colored silks with which to make a real dress fo_he clay image. The Fairies set off at once on their errand, and befor_ightfall they returned with a generous supply of silks and laces and golde_hreads.
Claus now became impatient to complete his new dolly, and instead of waitin_or the next day's sun he placed the clay image upon his hearth and covered i_ver with glowing coals. By morning, when he drew the dolly from the ashes, i_ad baked as hard as if it had lain a full day in the hot sun.
Now our Claus became a dressmaker as well as a toymaker. He cut the lavende_ilk, and nearly sewed it into a beautiful gown that just fitted the ne_olly. And he put a lace collar around its neck and pink silk shoes on it_eet. The natural color of baked clay is a light gray, but Claus painted th_ace to resemble the color of flesh, and he gave the dolly Bessie's brown eye_nd golden hair and rosy cheeks.
It was really a beautiful thing to look upon, and sure to bring joy to som_hildish heart. While Claus was admiring it he heard a knock at his door, an_ittle Mayrie entered. Her face was sad and her eyes red with continue_eeping.
"Why, what has grieved you, my dear?" asked Claus, taking the child in hi_rms.
"I've—I've—bwoke my tat!" sobbed Mayrie.
"How?" he inquired, his eyes twinkling.
"I—I dwopped him, an' bwoke off him's tail; an'—an'—then I dwopped him an'
bwoke off him's ear! An'—an' now him's all spoilt!"
"Never mind, Mayrie dear," he said. "How would you like this new dolly, instead of a cat?"
Mayrie looked at the silk-robed dolly and her eyes grew big with astonishment.
"Oh, Tlaus!" she cried, clapping her small hands together with rapture; "tan _ave 'at boo'ful lady?"
"Do you like it?" he asked.
"I love it!" said she. "It's better 'an tats!"
"Then take it, dear, and be careful not to break it."
Mayrie took the dolly with a joy that was almost reverent, and her fac_impled with smiles as she started along the path toward home.