When good Queen Zurline had touched the golden chalice with her fair lips an_t had passed around the circle in honor of the travelers' return, the Maste_oodsman of the World, who had not yet spoken, turned his gaze frankly upo_laus and said:
The boy understood, and rose slowly to his feet beside Necile. Once only hi_yes passed around the familiar circle of nymphs, every one of whom h_emembered as a loving comrade; but tears came unbidden to dim his sight, s_e gazed thereafter steadfastly at the Master.
"I have been ignorant," said he, simply, "until the great Ak in his kindnes_aught me who and what I am. You, who live so sweetly in your forest bowers,
ever fair and youthful and innocent, are no fit comrades for a son o_umanity. For I have looked upon man, finding him doomed to live for a brie_pace upon earth, to toil for the things he needs, to fade into old age, an_hen to pass away as the leaves in autumn. Yet every man has his mission,
which is to leave the world better, in some way, than he found it. I am of th_ace of men, and man's lot is my lot. For your tender care of the poor,
forsaken babe you adopted, as well as for your loving comradeship during m_oyhood, my heart will ever overflow with gratitude. My foster-mother," her_e stopped and kissed Necile's white forehead, "I shall love and cherish whil_ife lasts. But I must leave you, to take my part in the endless struggle t_hich humanity is doomed, and to live my life in my own way."
"What will you do?" asked the Queen, gravely.
"I must devote myself to the care of the children of mankind, and try to mak_hem happy," he answered. "Since your own tender care of a babe brought to m_appiness and strength, it is just and right that I devote my life to th_leasure of other babes. Thus will the memory of the loving nymph Necile b_lanted within the hearts of thousands of my race for many years to come, an_er kindly act be recounted in song and in story while the world shall last.
Have I spoken well, O Master?"
"You have spoken well," returned Ak, and rising to his feet he continued: "Ye_ne thing must not be forgotten. Having been adopted as the child of th_orest, and the playfellow of the nymphs, you have gained a distinction whic_orever separates you from your kind. Therefore, when you go forth into th_orld of men you shall retain the protection of the Forest, and the powers yo_ow enjoy will remain with you to assist you in your labors. In any need yo_ay call upon the Nymphs, the Ryls, the Knooks and the Fairies, and they wil_erve you gladly. I, the Master Woodsman of the World, have said it, and m_ord is the Law!"
Claus looked upon Ak with grateful eyes.
"This will make me mighty among men," he replied. "Protected by these kin_riends I may be able to make thousands of little children happy. I will tr_ery hard to do my duty, and I know the Forest people will give me thei_ympathy and help."
"We will!" said the Fairy Queen, earnestly.
"We will!" cried the merry Ryls, laughing.
"We will!" shouted the crooked Knooks, scowling.
"We will!" exclaimed the sweet nymphs, proudly. But Necile said nothing. Sh_nly folded Claus in her arms and kissed him tenderly.
"The world is big," continued the boy, turning again to his loyal friends,
"but men are everywhere. I shall begin my work near my friends, so that if _eet with misfortune I can come to the Forest for counsel or help."
With that he gave them all a loving look and turned away. There was no need t_ay good by, by for him the sweet, wild life of the Forest was over. He wen_orth bravely to meet his doom—the doom of the race of man—the necessity t_orry and work.
But Ak, who knew the boy's heart, was merciful and guided his steps.
Coming through Burzee to its eastern edge Claus reached the Laughing Valley o_ohaho. On each side were rolling green hills, and a brook wandered midwa_etween them to wind afar off beyond the valley. At his back was the gri_orest; at the far end of the valley a broad plain. The eyes of the young man,
which had until now reflected his grave thoughts, became brighter as he stoo_ilent, looking out upon the Laughing Valley. Then on a sudden his eye_winkled, as stars do on a still night, and grew merry and wide.
For at his feet the cowslips and daisies smiled on him in friendly regard; th_reeze whistled gaily as it passed by and fluttered the locks on his forehead;
the brook laughed joyously as it leaped over the pebbles and swept around th_reen curves of its banks; the bees sang sweet songs as they flew fro_andelion to daffodil; the beetles chirruped happily in the long grass, an_he sunbeams glinted pleasantly over all the scene.
"Here," cried Claus, stretching out his arms as if to embrace the Valley,
"will I make my home!"
That was many, many years ago. It has been his home ever since. It is his hom_ow.