Once, so long ago our great-grandfathers could scarcely have
heard it mentioned, there lived within the great Forest of Burzee a
wood-nymph named Necile. She was closely related to the mighty
Queen Zurline, and her home was beneath the shade of a
widespreading oak. Once every year, on Budding Day, when the trees
put forth their new buds, Necile held the Golden Chalice of Ak to
the lips of the Queen, who drank therefrom to the prosperity of the
Forest. So you see she was a nymph of some importance, and,
moreover, it is said she was highly regarded because of her beauty
When she was created she could not have told; Queen Zurline
could not have told; the great Ak himself could not have told. It
was long ago when the world was new and nymphs were needed to guard
the forests and to minister to the wants of the young trees. Then,
on some day not remembered, Necile sprang into being; radiant,
lovely, straight and slim as the sapling she was created to
Her hair was the color that lines a chestnut-bur; her eyes were
blue in the sunlight and purple in the shade; her cheeks bloomed
with the faint pink that edges the clouds at sunset; her lips were
full red, pouting and sweet. For costume she adopted oak-leaf
green; all the wood-nymphs dress in that color and know no other so
desirable. Her dainty feet were sandal-clad, while her head
remained bare of covering other than her silken tresses.
Necile's duties were few and simple. She kept hurtful weeds from
growing beneath her trees and sapping the earth-food required by
her charges. She frightened away the Gadgols, who took evil delight
in flying against the tree-trunks and wounding them so that they
drooped and died from the poisonous contact. In dry seasons she
carried water from the brooks and pools and moistened the roots of
her thirsty dependents.
That was in the beginning. The weeds had now learned to avoid
the forests where wood-nymphs dwelt; the loathsome Gadgols no
longer dared come nigh; the trees had become old and sturdy and
could bear the drought better than when fresh-sprouted. So Necile's
duties were lessened, and time grew laggard, while succeeding years
became more tiresome and uneventful than the nymph's joyous spirit
Truly the forest-dwellers did not lack amusement. Each full moon
they danced in the Royal Circle of the Queen. There were also the
Feast of Nuts, the Jubilee of Autumn Tintings, the solemn ceremony
of Leaf Shedding and the revelry of Budding Day. But these periods
of enjoyment were far apart, and left many weary hours between.
That a wood-nymph should grow discontented was not thought of by
Necile's sisters. It came upon her only after many years of
brooding. But when once she had settled in her mind that life was
irksome she had no patience with her condition, and longed to do
something of real interest and to pass her days in ways hitherto
undreamed of by forest nymphs. The Law of the Forest alone
restrained her from going forth in search of adventure.
While this mood lay heavy upon pretty Necile it chanced that the
great Ak visited the Forest of Burzee and allowed the wood-nymphs
as was their wont—to lie at his feet and listen to the words of
wisdom that fell from his lips. Ak is the Master Woodsman of the
world; he sees everything, and knows more than the sons of men.
That night he held the Queen's hand, for he loved the nymphs as
a father loves his children; and Necile lay at his feet with many
of her sisters and earnestly harkened as he spoke.
"We live so happily, my fair ones, in our forest glades," said
Ak, stroking his grizzled beard thoughtfully, "that we know nothing
of the sorrow and misery that fall to the lot of those poor mortals
who inhabit the open spaces of the earth. They are not of our race,
it is true, yet compassion well befits beings so fairly favored as
ourselves. Often as I pass by the dwelling of some suffering mortal
I am tempted to stop and banish the poor thing's misery. Yet
suffering, in moderation, is the natural lot of mortals, and it is
not our place to interfere with the laws of Nature."
"Nevertheless," said the fair Queen, nodding her golden head at
the Master Woodsman, "it would not be a vain guess that Ak has
often assisted these hapless mortals."
"Sometimes," he replied, "when they are very young—'children,'
the mortals call them—I have stopped to rescue them from misery.
The men and women I dare not interfere with; they must bear the
burdens Nature has imposed upon them. But the helpless infants, the
innocent children of men, have a right to be happy until they
become full-grown and able to bear the trials of humanity. So I
feel I am justified in assisting them. Not long ago—a year, maybe—I
found four poor children huddled in a wooden hut, slowly freezing
to death. Their parents had gone to a neighboring village for food,
and had left a fire to warm their little ones while they were
absent. But a storm arose and drifted the snow in their path, so
they were long on the road. Meantime the fire went out and the
frost crept into the bones of the waiting children."
"Poor things!" murmured the Queen softly. "What did you do?"
"I called Nelko, bidding him fetch wood from my forests and
breathe upon it until the fire blazed again and warmed the little
room where the children lay. Then they ceased shivering and fell
asleep until their parents came."
"I am glad you did thus," said the good Queen, beaming upon the
Master; and Necile, who had eagerly listened to every word, echoed
in a whisper: "I, too, am glad!"
"And this very night," continued Ak, "as I came to the edge of
Burzee I heard a feeble cry, which I judged came from a human
infant. I looked about me and found, close to the forest, a
helpless babe, lying quite naked upon the grasses and wailing
piteously. Not far away, screened by the forest, crouched Shiegra,
the lioness, intent upon devouring the infant for her evening
"And what did you do, Ak?" asked the Queen, breathlessly.
"Not much, being in a hurry to greet my nymphs. But I commanded
Shiegra to lie close to the babe, and to give it her milk to quiet
its hunger. And I told her to send word throughout the forest, to
all beasts and reptiles, that the child should not be harmed."
"I am glad you did thus," said the good Queen again, in a tone
of relief; but this time Necile did not echo her words, for the
nymph, filled with a strange resolve, had suddenly stolen away from
Swiftly her lithe form darted through the forest paths until she
reached the edge of mighty Burzee, when she paused to gaze
curiously about her. Never until now had she ventured so far, for
the Law of the Forest had placed the nymphs in its inmost
Necile knew she was breaking the Law, but the thought did not
give pause to her dainty feet. She had decided to see with her own
eyes this infant Ak had told of, for she had never yet beheld a
child of man. All the immortals are full-grown; there are no
children among them. Peering through the trees Necile saw the child
lying on the grass. But now it was sweetly sleeping, having been
comforted by the milk drawn from Shiegra. It was not old enough to
know what peril means; if it did not feel hunger it was
Softly the nymph stole to the side of the babe and knelt upon
the sward, her long robe of rose leaf color spreading about her
like a gossamer cloud. Her lovely countenance expressed curiosity
and surprise, but, most of all, a tender, womanly pity. The babe
was newborn, chubby and pink. It was entirely helpless. While the
nymph gazed the infant opened its eyes, smiled upon her, and
stretched out two dimpled arms. In another instant Necile had
caught it to her breast and was hurrying with it through the forest