Have you heard of the great
Forest of Burzee? Nurse used to sing of it when I was a child. She
sang of the big tree-trunks, standing close together, with their
roots intertwining below the earth and their branches intertwining
above it; of their rough coating of bark and queer, gnarled limbs;
of the bushy foliage that roofed the entire forest, save where the
sunbeams found a path through which to touch the ground in little
spots and to cast weird and curious shadows over the mosses, the
lichens and the drifts of dried leaves.
The Forest of Burzee is mighty
and grand and awesome to those who steal beneath its shade. Coming
from the sunlit meadows into its mazes it seems at first gloomy,
then pleasant, and afterward filled with never-ending
For hundreds of years it has
flourished in all its magnificence, the silence of its inclosure
unbroken save by the chirp of busy chipmunks, the growl of wild
beasts and the songs of birds.
Yet Burzee has its
inhabitants—for all this. Nature peopled it in the beginning with
Fairies, Knooks, Ryls and Nymphs. As long as the Forest stands it
will be a home, a refuge and a playground to these sweet immortals,
who revel undisturbed in its depths.
Civilization has never yet
reached Burzee. Will it ever, I wonder?
2. The Child of the Forest
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 and grace.
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 guard.
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
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 loved.
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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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 meal."
"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 the group.
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 depths.
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 content.
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 paths.
3. The Adoption
The Master Woodsman suddenly
rose, with knitted brows. "There is a strange presence in the
Forest," he declared. Then the Queen and her nymphs turned and saw
standing before them Necile, with the sleeping infant clasped
tightly in her arms and a defiant look in her deep blue eyes.
And thus for a moment they
remained, the nymphs filled with surprise and consternation, but
the brow of the Master Woodsman gradually clearing as he gazed
intently upon the beautiful immortal who had wilfully broken the
Law. Then the great Ak, to the wonder of all, laid his hand softly
on Necile's flowing locks and kissed her on her fair
"For the first time within my
knowledge," said he, gently, "a nymph has defied me and my laws;
yet in my heart can I find no word of chiding. What is your desire,
"Let me keep the child!" she
answered, beginning to tremble and falling on her knees in
"Here, in the Forest of Burzee,
where the human race has never yet penetrated?" questioned
"Here, in the Forest of Burzee,"
replied the nymph, boldly. "It is my home, and I am weary for lack
of occupation. Let me care for the babe! See how weak and helpless
it is. Surely it can not harm Burzee nor the Master Woodsman of the
"But the Law, child, the Law!"
cried Ak, sternly.
"The Law is made by the Master
Woodsman," returned Necile; "if he bids me care for the babe he
himself has saved from death, who in all the world dare oppose me?"
Queen Zurline, who had listened intently to this conversation,
clapped her pretty hands gleefully at the nymph's answer.
"You are fairly trapped, O Ak!"
she exclaimed, laughing. "Now, I pray you, give heed to Necile's
The Woodsman, as was his habit
when in thought, stroked his grizzled beard slowly. Then he
"She shall keep the babe, and I
will give it my protection. But I warn you all that as this is the
first time I have relaxed the Law, so shall it be the last time.
Never more, to the end of the World, shall a mortal be adopted by
an immortal. Otherwise would we abandon our happy existence for one
of trouble and anxiety. Good night, my nymphs!"
Then Ak was gone from their
midst, and Necile hurried away to her bower to rejoice over her
Another day found Necile's bower
the most popular place in the Forest. The nymphs clustered around
her and the child that lay asleep in her lap, with expressions of
curiosity and delight. Nor were they wanting in praises for the
great Ak's kindness in allowing Necile to keep the babe and to care
for it. Even the Queen came to peer into the innocent childish face
and to hold a helpless, chubby fist in her own fair hand.
"What shall we call him, Necile?"
she asked, smiling. "He must have a name, you know."
"Let him be called Claus,"
answered Necile, "for that means 'a little one.'"
"Rather let him be called
Neclaus,"** returned the Queen, "for that will mean 'Necile's
The nymphs clapped their hands in
delight, and Neclaus became the infant's name, although Necile
loved best to call him Claus, and in afterdays many of her sisters
followed her example.
Necile gathered the softest moss
in all the forest for Claus to lie upon, and she made his bed in
her own bower. Of food the infant had no lack. The nymphs searched
the forest for bell-udders, which grow upon the goa-tree and when
opened are found to be filled with sweet milk. And the soft-eyed
does willingly gave a share of their milk to support the little
stranger, while Shiegra, the lioness, often crept stealthily into
Necile's bower and purred softly as she lay beside the babe and fed
So the little one flourished and
grew big and sturdy day by day, while Necile taught him to speak
and to walk and to play.
His thoughts and words were sweet
and gentle, for the nymphs knew no evil and their hearts were pure
and loving. He became the pet of the forest, for Ak's decree had
forbidden beast or reptile to molest him, and he walked fearlessly
wherever his will guided him.
Presently the news reached the
other immortals that the nymphs of Burzee had adopted a human
infant, and that the act had been sanctioned by the great Ak.
Therefore many of them came to visit the little stranger, looking
upon him with much interest. First the Ryls, who are first cousins
to the wood-nymphs, although so differently formed. For the Ryls
are required to watch over the flowers and plants, as the nymphs
watch over the forest trees. They search the wide world for the
food required by the roots of the flowering plants, while the
brilliant colors possessed by the full-blown flowers are due to the
dyes placed in the soil by the Ryls, which are drawn through the
little veins in the roots and the body of the plants, as they reach
maturity. The Ryls are a busy people, for their flowers bloom and
fade continually, but they are merry and light-hearted and are very
popular with the other immortals.
Next came the Knooks, whose duty
it is to watch over the beasts of the world, both gentle and wild.
The Knooks have a hard time of it, since many of the beasts are
ungovernable and rebel against restraint. But they know how to
manage them, after all, and you will find that certain laws of the
Knooks are obeyed by even the most ferocious animals. Their
anxieties make the Knooks look old and worn and crooked, and their
natures are a bit rough from associating with wild creatures
continually; yet they are most useful to humanity and to the world
in general, as their laws are the only laws the forest beasts
recognize except those of the Master Woodsman.
Then there were the Fairies, the
guardians of mankind, who were much interested in the adoption of
Claus because their own laws forbade them to become familiar with
their human charges. There are instances on record where the
Fairies have shown themselves to human beings, and have even
conversed with them; but they are supposed to guard the lives of
mankind unseen and unknown, and if they favor some people more than
others it is because these have won such distinction fairly, as the
Fairies are very just and impartial. But the idea of adopting a
child of men had never occurred to them because it was in every way
opposed to their laws; so their curiosity was intense to behold the
little stranger adopted by Necile and her sister nymphs.
Claus looked upon the immortals
who thronged around him with fearless eyes and smiling lips. He
rode laughingly upon the shoulders of the merry Ryls; he
mischievously pulled the gray beards of the low-browed Knooks; he
rested his curly head confidently upon the dainty bosom of the
Fairy Queen herself. And the Ryls loved the sound of his laughter;
the Knooks loved his courage; the Fairies loved his
The boy made friends of them all,
and learned to know their laws intimately. No forest flower was
trampled beneath his feet, lest the friendly Ryls should be
grieved. He never interfered with the beasts of the forest, lest
his friends the Knooks should become angry. The Fairies he loved
dearly, but, knowing nothing of mankind, he could not understand
that he was the only one of his race admitted to friendly
intercourse with them.
Indeed, Claus came to consider
that he alone, of all the forest people, had no like nor fellow. To
him the forest was the world. He had no idea that millions of
toiling, striving human creatures existed.
And he was happy and
** Some people have spelled this
name Nicklaus and others Nicolas, which is the reason that Santa
Claus is still known in some lands as St. Nicolas. But, of course,
Neclaus is his right name, and Claus the nickname given him by his
adopted mother, the fair nymph Necile.