Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Jewel Princesses.....a Christmas fairy tale from The Jewel Box

"There is no gem like virtue,no wealth like happiness,no treasure like faith, and no jewel like love." -Matshona Dhliwayo
 Excerpts from THE JEWEL PRINCESSES by Margaret Emma Faith Irwin(1889-1967) from "The Jewel Box" (circa 1920-1929) This book is a first edition owned by my mother. One of her favourite books.  It went thru a fire, and survived, though quite fragile, but all the pages and illustrations are intact.  Every Christmas we would read the "Jewel Princesses".I thought it would be rather neat  to  do some excerpts from a long forgotten fairy tale....
 Seven King's daughters were playing at ball under the apple trees. The ball was gold, and it flashed thru the green branches in the sunlight.On the head of each of the King's daughters was a narrow band of gold with a precious stone set in it. The jewel in the eldest daughter's band was a diamond, the second had a ruby, the third a sapphire, the fourth an emerald, the fifth a turquoise, the sixth an amethyst, and the seventh a pearl. They threw the ball over the orchard wall. Pearl ran to go find it.She carried her daisy chain with her.
 There lay the ball in the road below. A Swineherd was coming along, driving six black pigs. They squealed and grunted and flapped their ears. Pearl thought they looked horrible. She asked the boy to throw up the ball. The swineherd looked up. He was very ragged. "What will you give me if I throw up the ball? I don't want money. Will you give me your daisy chain?" Pearl shrugged and threw him the daisies. He threw up the ball.
 Pearl explained to her sisters that she had given him her daisy chain for the ball. The sisters forgot about the swineherd, and they eventually went into the castle and to their long white room where they slept. About midnight, the youngest princess was wakened by something pulling at her neck. She sat up, lit her lamp, and noticed that it was a daisy chain pulling at her. It had grown very long and could not be broken. She called to her sisters. All the princess got up put on their royal garments with their jewels, and followed Pearl. 
 The daisy chain pulled her forward. Down the staircase to a little passage, lit with lamps.Sapphire rubbed her eyes and said she was sleepy. Diamond saw no use in going on, and Amethyst was sure the passage led nowhere. But Pearl still felt the daisy chain pulling her gently onward.After hours of walking, the daisy chain led them into the open air. The bright midnight stars twinkled above them, and all round the wild, bare hills of their country swept away into the distance.
 In front was a huge rock, with the Swineherd sitting on top. He was playing pan pipes, and his six black pigs were dancing on their hind legs, their great ears flopping over their eyes. Sometimes they danced in a ring, touching noses. The moon shone clear and  the daisy chain pulled Pearl forward right into the middle of the circle, and her sisters followed close. The Pipes, soft and dreamy, called them all to dance with the pigs, and so they did , for hours under the waning moon. Then there was a sound like a thunder-clap. 
 Pearl gasped in amazement. They were back in their room. Safe and sound. No pigs. No swineherd. No music playing. "What a strange dream I had," said Amethyst, rubbing her eyes. Turquoise sat up with a start. "Oh how I have dreamt!" All the princesses agreed they had the same awful dream. But then they checked their shoes. Their dainty slippers were torn and muddy. They were aghast that they had been dancing with pigs, and they searched for new slippers.  "He has enchanted Pearls' daisy chain and has power over us," said Diamond.  "I don't suppose it will happen again," said Turquoise.
 BUT IT DID! Every night , as the clock struck twelve, Pearl would be wakened by the soft pulling of the daisy chain, and she and her sisters would join the swineherd and his rotund pigs  and dance the night away. Every morning, when they woke, their pretty silk shoes would be muddy and torn to shreds by their night of dancing.The King, their father, got seriously annoyed with it all.But his daughters would not tell him anything about it.Pearl decided to go talk to the swineherd, and they rode their white horses out to visit him, at his hut, at the edge of the forest.
 When they reached his hut, they saw the pigs digging with their snouts in the dirt, and the swineherd whittling away outside of the hut door. He got up when he saw Pearl coming towards him in her soft, pearl coloured robes. "Good afternoon," said Pearl. "Good afternoon," said the swineherd. "Won't you come in and take a seat." Pearl sat on a log bench inside the hut."I want you to give me back my daisy chain," she said. "What will you give me if I give it back to you," said the Swineherd. Pearl tried to give him coins, but he refused.
 "Give me the grass ring you have wound around your  finger." , he said. "Is that all?" said Pearl. She gave him the grass ring, and he threw the daisy chain over her neck. Then she left. Her sisters were glad it was over, and homewards they went. When they got home, Pearl went to see her father, the King and told him all was well. "That's good news," said the King." I have been making a new law this afternoon, and that is always hard work." "What is that?" said Pearl. " Well, it is to settle about betrothal, " said the King. " I have made it a law that if any maiden give a man a ring from off her finger , she is betrothed to him, and must marry him."
 Pearl got very upset and ran off before the King could see how startled she was. She ran to see her sisters, who were so surprised to see Pearl so wild-eyed.  "The King has made it a law," she said, " that whoever gives a ring from off her finger to a man, must marry him. And this very afternoon I have given the swineherd the grass ring I twisted around my finger." Her sisters said there was no way that a swineherd should have the insolence to dream of marrying a princess, and other such  things. They were more comforted that night, that the night was quiet. No magic chain drew them forth at midnight to dance upon the heath. And for many nights after that the days and nights were quiet. 
 By the afternoon of the third day Pearl had quite forgotten her foolish fears, and was sitting with her sisters around her father's throne. The King's court was round him, and there was going to be a great banquet that evening. Everyone wore their most gorgeous clothes. Sunlight thru the windows streamed on such masses of sparkling jewels and gleaming cloth of gold and silver that it was really too dazzling to look at.The festival was in honour of Pearl's birthday. She stood by the King with her hand on her tall, slender wolf-hound dog.Every so often it looked up into her face with its melancholy brown eyes.
 The great doors opened, and in marched the dirty Swineherd and his horrid pigs. "King, I have come to claim the hand of Pearl." The courtiers laughed.The Swineherd extended his finger to show a grass ring.  The courtiers mocked him. Pearl and her sisters shivered in horror. The King turned to his youngest and asked her if it was true. She nodded. "Then you must marry him for the betrothal law is binding and the ring binds you." Her sisters all rustled near. The King called for a priest and they were married on the spot,while the courtiers and guests stared in silence at the strange turn of affairs. "Will you have your wedding feast here? It is all ready," said the King. "No, thank you," said the Swineherd. " I will lead my wife to my own house for the wedding feast."
 The princesses vowed to follow Pearl. Out they marched, the black pigs in front .The Princesses held each other's hands as they went along. The Swineherd whistled merrily  the while."We must break our journey somewhere and get supper," said one of the princesses. "There is a farmhouse over the next hill," said the Swineherd. Soon they came to it. The door was opened by an old woman. "What do you want?" said she. "Supper and rest for the night," said the Swineherd. She told them they could sleep in the kitchen, she would give them a bowl of soup and a hunk of bread. They had to drink the soup from the bowl. And because they were real King's daughters they did not spill. They rested for a while, before the Swineherd stirred them all so they could go on their journey.
 The house was locked up and the old woman had the key. The Swineherd told them to leave behind some of the jewels from their dresses to pay for their time at the farmhouse. The Swineherd cut off his last button and left it with the jewels gathered by the princesses. All of the old woman's housework would be done for her as if by magic if she kept that button.  The Swineherd told each princess to climb onto the back of the black pigs. Pearl he took in hand,  and his walking stick flew them up the chimney with the six pigs flying behind them. "Soon we shall touch the  stars," cried Pearl. On they flew, over the long, low sweep of the desolate hills, over cities dark and silent.
 The moon had sunk behind a bank of clouds...only the scattered stars twinkled in the blackness above and were reflected in the blackness below. At last dawn broke, pale and chill, and the waters below turned silver grey .All that day they flew over a great ship, with her white sails spread and shining in the sunlight.The sailors below, wondered what those great birds were in the sky. One believed them to be Birds of Paradise. No one guessed they were really seven King's daughters flying from their home with a swineherd and his pigs. Their journey seemed to never end.
 The sea grew dark in the twilight, and finally they saw land. Seagulls screamed in the wind. Th eland was wild and desolate. They landed there on the rocky shore till they came to a little hut under the cliff. The pigs ran among the rocks and munched the seaweed. "Is this your home?" Pearl asked. "Yes," said the Swineherd. "One can generally catch fish and the pigs live on seaweed." He brought them to a little hut and threw open the door.  It creaked.It had one room, with a rough table made of uneven planks in the middle, and a stool with a broken leg.
 "Now for the wedding feast," said the Swineherd.  He pulled open a little cupboard and brought out a piece of salt fish and half a loaf of dry black bread. He set the wretched food in front of the princesses, and then brought out a jug of  water and one cracked cup.
 "We will drink to the happiness of our wedded life," said the Swineherd, and pouring water into the cup, he handed it to Pearl. She raised it to her lips. No sooner had she drunk than she saw the walls of the hut melt and whirl around her. Everything seemed to be changing...vanishing...she clutched at the rough boards of the table in front of her, but it felt hard and smooth, and she saw it was of marble.
 The hut had grown into a great palace hall, like the one she had left in her father's home...the table she sat at had grown long and wide and covered with dishes of jewelled gold and silver. Her sisters still sat at either side, but at the end sat a young man in kingly robes, with a crown upon his head. He smiled at her, and she knew his face. "Yes, I am the Swineherd," he said, " and look at my pigs."
 Pearl looked. They had turned into young  princes and were standing behind her sisters' seats. "You have broken the enchantment," said the King who had been a Swineherd. 
 "Seven years ago I was king of this land, these princes are my brothers. A wicked Enchanter, who had a grudge against my father, revenged himself by turning me into a Swineherd and my brothers into black pigs. Nothing could break the spell unless I, as a Swineherd, married a King's daughter, and brought her home to the wedding feast in that hovel. The minute that she should taste of that feast, we would be free. Now you have broken the spell and rescued the whole land, for the land and all my subjects have lain as dead under the spell."
 Even as he spoke, courtiers, pages, ladies in jewels and silks came in through the great arches at the ends of the hall and thronged round them. The King sat on his golden throne at the end of the table.

 His new queen sat opposite him, and the wedding feast began in good earnest.  His six brothers sat by the six princesses, and it may well be told now that there was very soon  another great banquet in honour of six more royal weddings....
 "THE JEWEL BOX" It was published in London by Henry Frowde Hodder and Stoughton, the book contains many stories compiled by Mrs. Herbert Strang ( a pseudonym).
 Photographs 2017

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Christmas Again......

 "The perfect Christmas tree? All Christmas trees are perfect."
                                         -Charles N. Barnard
 Lately, I've had a LOT of company. I love having people over at Christmas.  When I was growing up my mother would have people over for sherry and shortbread, fruit cake and hot mincemeat tarts, so hot your fingers would burn! Mostly  sitting by the fire, tea in an treasured teapot and candles flickering by.I remember my violin teacher, Frona, so comfortable in the old  chair by the fire that she fell asleep......                                                                    
 One of my favourite stories of all time is the "House Without a Christmas Tree". It is a low budget movie, done in 1972. The story itself was set in Nebraska, 1946. Nothing flashy here. If you have never seen it, I suggest you do, or read the story by Gail Rock.  At one point I thought we should have done it as a play with my theatre group. It is a gentle and simple story with a sweet message .
 Like the characters in the story, we were not flashy, growing up. My mother was older, and had retired by 1974. Christmas  always came and went though. We never missed it. Even though we didn't have a lot of money.
 Like in the movie, my mother would find a way to make Christmas happen.  Would buy only just so much butter and sugar and flour. Dole it out. For  shortbread, fruit cake and tarts. And use her old china to serve them on.
     But we both knew that   Christmas was more, IS more that that.
 "The message  of Christmas is the message of HOPE..." 
                                   -Craig D. Lounsbrough
 She lived on her pension most of my life.  At Christmas she was always  pinching pennies to make sure the bills were paid,and that there was something of Christmas in the house. And something to put in the offering plate for the homeless. Yes, there are always others who need us.....
 No royal icing for her gingerbread men. Just  a glaze and raisins stuck in their bellies and eyes. Half the time, they would lose their raisins. And like in the movie, I would bite off their heads and enjoy the stickiness of the frosting.
 My father had one last Christmas in 1966. Those Christmases afterwards I would find my mother sitting by the low embers of the fire, in his old chair, with a cup of untouched tea by her side.
 The piano on the other side of her would be laden with cards and bowls of peppermint candies. She would  be looking at the Christmas tree. She would always splurge for a tree if she could.  
 "15 dollars for a tree," she would say every year. "Highway Robbery! But I guess we have to have one." Every year we toddled down to a greenhouse tucked away beside the coin shop and printers. It disappeared a few years later. But those early years you could still get a tree there, down by Christ Church Cathedral, and hear the bells pealing at the same time.

 Trees stacked like toothpicks by height and weight. The owner  knew my mother so well. He would happily haul out trees for us to see. But they had to be $15 or less. In 1972 that was just what my mother could afford.We would eventually find the perfect tree, one that smelled of pine  and pitch.
In the light of day, the sun streaming down on us,  we would carry it home. Just like in the movie. Every time I see that scene, I'm reminded that my mother never brought  the car . We would take turns carrying either the front or back end, and we would march home with our prize. Pedestrians would wish us a Merry Christmas. The walk home was about an hour. We even did it in the rain.....
 Once the tree was propped up in a laundry tub  ( from the farm), and piles of rocks it was time to get ready for the only real  Christmas party that we had. 
 My mother would budget money for a party for my friends every year.  She would tell me there wouldn't be much under the tree, but there would be food on the table. My father used to LOVE parties at the house. Christmas music flowing, food brimming over. Everyone happy to be together.
"God cupped the  hands of my soul and poured in the warmth of Christmas." -Craig D. Lounsbrough
 And on a designated night, there would be my friends, dressed to the nines, food brimming over and carols playing, dinner served with home baked treats, on the antique plates and cake stands. And it would happen every year, for years to come. And I have remembered this..........
 One year, the  money was very tight.  My mother made shortbread, of course, but she counted every single piece that she placed in the large glass jar. In the small hours, I would sneak  ones from the bottom,and add more pieces of wax paper to make it look full. But she knew.She always knew but never said much.  She would bring forth  another block of butter, and extra one,  and make more shortbread. 
 That was the year we couldn't afford a tree. As if on cue, there was a huge wind storm the week before Christmas and tops of massive pine trees came crashing into our yard. We tied up two of them into the laundry bucket with rocks, and there was a tree, festooned with lights and the Angel with the big felt feet, fastened to the  top.
 That was the year my friends and I did  a  huge night of carolling, going house to house. Back then it wasn't weird or scary to have about 30 people show up in the dark and sing "O Christmas Tree" into the night. Those were the days when people answered their door without peering out tentatively. They would come out on the front steps, throwing on coats and wraps, to be part of it.
"Christmas embodies everything I need." -C.D. Lounsbrough.
In the story "House Without a Christmas Tree" there's one point when the kids all show up to sing carols. They sing "O Xmas Tree"....the little girl in the story wants a tree so bad , wants Christmas so much, and makes a point of looking straight at her  father who has been refusing to get a tree, because of his memories. ( You'll have to watch the movie and find out what happens)...
 "Christmas is NOT about the Christmas trees or the elaborate meals served in decorated homes.Christmas is the season of the Immanuel.We celebrate the good news! " K. J. Walden
 Kindred Spirits. Joy.  Home. Family. Faith.  Strung together with everything...
 My old Bear sits in a place of honour. The one my dad gave me  so long ago. 
"The sure path to tomorrow was plotted in a manger. Christmas is a promise that  I can walk through this world and never get lost....." 
                     -Craig D. Lounsbrough
And the Tree,probably bigger than the tree in the movie, but artificial (sorry!), festooned with  decorations from long ago and  not so long ago. At the top , the ancient Angel with her big felt feet.The one my mother and father used from the late 1940's. I've given her a new dress and sewed up  her wings just so she can see another Christmas. Home made. Mended and mended again. And I can't help but wonder how many people she has surveyed from her perch, all these years........and how many Christmases that The Story never fades, and never grows old and just brings love over and over.
 "Christmas may be only one day....but LOVE is for 365 days of the year." -Anthony Hicks