The Child’s Story

The Child’s Story

Once upon a time, a good many years ago, there was a traveler who set out on

a journey. It was a magic journey and was to seem very long when he began it

and very short when he got halfway through.

He traveled along a rather dark path for some little time without meeting anything

until, at last, he came to a beautiful child.

So he said to the child, “What do you do here?”

And the child said, “I am always at play. Come and play with me!”

So, he played with that child the whole day long, and they were very merry.

The sky was so blue, the sun was so bright, the water was so sparkling, and the leaves

were so green, the flowers were so lovely, and they heard such singing birds and saw

so many butteries that everything was beautiful. This was in fine weather.

When it rained, they loved to watch the falling drops and smell the fresh scents.

When it blew, it was delightful to listen to the wind and fancy what it said as it came

rushing from its home—where was that, they wondered!—whistling and howling,

driving the clouds before it, bending the trees, rumbling in the chimneys, shaking

the house and making the sea roar in fury. But, when it snowed, that was best of all;

for they liked nothing so well as to look up at the white flakes falling fast and thick,

like down from the breasts of millions of white birds; and to see how smooth and deep

the drift was, and to listen to the hush upon the paths and roads.

They had plenty of the finest toys in the world and the most astonishing picture- books:

all about scimitars and slippers and turbans, and dwarfs and giants and genii

and fairies, and blue-beards and bean stalks and riches and caverns and forests

and Valentines and Orsons: and all new and all true.

But, one day, of a sudden, the traveler lost the child. He called him over and over again

but got no answer. So, he went upon his road and went on for a little while without

meeting anything until, at last, he came to a handsome boy.

So, he said to the boy, “What do you do here?”

And the boy said, “I am always learning. Come and learn with me.”

So he learned with that boy about Jupiter and Juno, and the Greeks and the Romans,

and I don’t know what and learned more than I could tell—or he either, for he soon

forgot a great deal of it. But, they were not always learning; they had the merriest

games that ever were played. They rowed upon the river in summer and skated

on the ice in winter; they were active afoot and active on horseback; at cricket,

and all games at the ball, at prisoner’s base, hare and hounds, follow my leader,

and more sports than I can think of; nobody could beat them. They had holidays too,

and Twelfth cakes, and parties where they danced till midnight, and real Theatres

where they saw palaces of real gold and silver rise out of the real earth and saw all

the wonders of the world at once. As to friends, they had such dear friends

and so many of them that I want the time to reckon them up. They were all young,

like the handsome boy, and were never to be strange to one another all their lives.

Still, one day, in the midst of all these pleasures, the traveler lost the boy as he had lost

the child and, after calling to him in vain, went on upon his journey.

So he went on for a little while without seeing anything until, at last, he came

to a young man.

So, he said to the young man, “What do you do here?”

And the young man said, “I am always in love. Come and love with me.”

So, he went away with that young man, and presently they came to one of the prettiest

girls that ever was seen—just like Fanny in the corner there—and she had eyes like

Fanny, and hair like Fanny, and dimples like Fanny’s, and she laughed and colored

just as Fanny does while I am talking about her. So, the young man fell in love directly—

just as Somebody I won’t mention, the first time he came here, did with Fanny.

Well! he was teased sometimes—just as Somebody used to be by Fanny;

and they sometimes quarreled—just as Somebody and Fanny used to quarrel;

and they made it up and sat in the dark, and wrote letters every day, and never

were happy asunder and were always looking out for one another and pretending

not to, and were engaged at Christmas time and sat close to one another by the fire,

and were going to be married very soon—all exactly like Somebody I won’t mention,

and Fanny!

But, the traveler lost them one day, as he had lost the rest of his friends, and,

after calling to them to come back, which they never did, went on upon his journey.

So, he went on for a little while without seeing anything until, at last, he came

to a middle-aged gentleman.

So, he said to the gentleman, “What are you doing here?”

And his answer was, “I am always busy. Come and be busy with me!”

So, he began to be very busy with that gentleman, and they went on through the wood

together. The whole journey was through a wood, only it had been open and green

at first, like a wood in spring, and now began to be thick and dark, like a wood

in summer; some of the little trees that had come out earliest were even turning brown.

The gentleman was not alone but had a lady of about the same age with him,

who was his Wife, and they had children, who were with them too. So, they all went

on together through the wood, cutting down the trees, making a path through

the branches and the fallen leaves, carrying burdens, and working hard.

Sometimes, they came to a long green avenue that opened into deeper woods.

Then they would hear a very little, distant voice crying,

“Father, father, I am another child! Stop for me!”

And presently, they would see a very little figure, growing larger as it came along,

running to join them. When it came up, they all crowded around it and kissed

and welcomed it; and then they all went on together.

Sometimes, they came to several avenues at once, and then they all stood still,

and one of the children said, “Father, I am going to sea,” and another said,

“Father, I am going to India,”

and another, “Father, I am going to seek my fortune where I can,”

and another, “Father, I am going to Heaven!”

So, with many tears at parting, they went, solitary, down those avenues, each child

upon its way; and the child who went to Heaven rose into the golden air and vanished.

Whenever these partings happened, the traveler looked at the gentleman and saw him

glance up at the sky above the trees, where the day was beginning to decline

and the sunset to come on. He saw, too, that his hair was turning grey. But, they never

could rest long, for they had their journey to perform, and it was necessary for them

to be always busy.

At last, there had been so many partings that there were no children left, and only

the traveler, the gentleman, and the lady went upon their way in company.

And now the wood was yellow; and now brown; and the leaves, even of the forest trees,

began to fall.

So, they came to an avenue that was darker than the rest and was pressed forward

on their journey without looking down when the lady stopped.

“My husband,” said the lady. “I am called.”

They listened, and they heard a voice a long way down the avenue say,

“Mother, mother!”

It was the voice of the first child who had said, “I am going to Heaven!”

and the father said, “I pray not yet. The sunset is very near. I pray not yet!”

But, the voice cried, “Mother, mother!” without minding him, though his hair was now

quite white, and tears were on his face.

Then, the mother, who was already drawn into the shade of the dark avenue

and moving away with her arms still around his neck, kissed him and said,

“My dearest, I am summoned, and I go!” And she was gone. And he and the traveler

were left alone together.

And they went on and on together until they came to very near the end of the wood:

so near that they could see the sunset shining red before them through the trees.

Yet, once more, while he broke his way among the branches, the traveler lost

his friend. He called and called, but there was no reply, and when he passed out

of the wood and saw the peaceful sun going down upon a wide purple prospect,

he came to an old man sitting on a fallen tree.

So, he said to the old man, “What do you do here?”

And the old man said with a calm smile, “I am always remembering. Come and remember with me!”

So the traveler sat down by the side of that old man, face to face with the serene

sunset, and all his friends came softly back and stood around him.

The beautiful child, the handsome boy, the young man in love, the father, the mother,

and children: every one of them was there, and he had lost nothing.

So, he loved them all, and was kind and forbearing with them all, and was always

pleased to watch them all, and they all honored and loved him.

And I think the traveler must be yourself, dear Grandfather, because this is what

you do to us, and what we do to you.

The End