THE UNDER-WORLD





"How dark it is here, and how difficult for one to make his way through

the thick atmosphere!" so thought little Alba, as he pushed and pushed

slowly into the soft mud. Presently a busy hum sounded all about him;

and, becoming accustomed to the darkness, he could see little forms

moving swiftly and industriously to and fro.



You children who live above, and play about on the hillsides and in the

woods, have no idea what is going on all the while under your feet; how

the dwarfs and the fairies are working there, weaving moss carpets and

grass blades, forming and painting flowers and scarlet mushrooms,

tending and nursing all manner of delicate things which have yet to grow

strong enough to push up and see the outside life, and learn to bear its

cold winds, and rejoice in its sunshine.



While Alba was seeing all this, he was still struggling on, but very

slowly; for first he ran against the strong root of an old tree, then

knocked his head upon a sharp stone, and finally, bruised and sore,

tired, and quite in despair, he sighed a great sigh, and declared he

could go no farther. At that, two odd little beings sprang to his side;

the one brown as the earth itself, with eyes like diamonds for

brightness, and deft little fingers, cunning in all works of skill.

Pulling off his wisp of a cap, and making a grotesque little bow, he

asked, "Will you take a guide for the under-world tour?"--"That I will,"

said Alba, "for I no longer find myself able to move a step."--"Ha, ha!"

laughed the dwarf, "of course you can't move in that great body, the

ways are too narrow; you must come out of yourself before you can get on

in this journey. Put out your foot now, and I will show you where to

step."--"Out of myself?" cried Alba. "Why, that is to die! My foot, did

you say? I haven't any feet; I was born in a cradle, and always lived in

it until now, and could never do any thing but rock and roll."



"Ha, ha, ha!" again laughed the dwarf, "hear him talk! This is the way

with all of them. No feet, does he say? Why, he has a thousand, if he

only knew it; hands too, more than he can count. Ask him, sister, and

see what he will say to you."



With that a soft little voice said cheerfully, "Give me your hand, that

I may lead you on the upward part of your journey; for, poor little

fellow, it is indeed true that you do not know how to live out of your

cradle, and we must show you the way!" Encouraged by this kindly speech,

Alba turned a little towards the speaker, and was about to say (as his

mother had long ago taught him that he should in all difficulties),

"I'll try," when a little cracking noise startled the whole company;

and, hardly knowing what he did, Alba thrust out, through a slit in his

shiny brown skin, a little foot reaching downward to follow the dwarf's

lead, and a little hand extending upward, quickly clasped by that of the

fairy, who stood smiling and lovely in her fair green garments, with a

tender, tiny grass-blade binding back her golden hair. Oh, what a thrill

went through Alba as he felt this new possession,--a hand and a foot! A

thousand such, had they not said? What it all meant he could only

wonder; but the one real possession was at least certain, and in that he

began to feel that all things were possible.



And now shall we see where the dwarf led him, and where the fairy, and

what was actually done in the underground tour?



The dwarf had need of his bright eyes and his skilful hands; for the

soft, tiny foot intrusted to him was a mere baby, that had to find its

way through a strange, dark world; and, what was more, it must not only

be guided, but also fed and tended carefully: so the bright eyes go

before, and the brown fingers dig out a roadway, and the foot that has

learned to trust its guide utterly follows on. There is no longer any

danger: he runs against no rocks; he loses his way among no tangled

roots; and the hard earth seems to open gently before him, leading him

to the fields where his own best food lies, and to hidden springs of

sweet, fresh water.



Do you wonder when I say the foot must be fed? Aren't your feet fed? To

be sure, your feet have no mouths of their own; but doesn't the mouth in

your face eat for your whole body, hands and feet, ears and eyes, and

all the rest? else how do they grow? The only difference here between

you and Alba is, that his foot has mouths of its own, and as it wanders

on through the earth, and finds any thing good for food, eats both for

itself and for the rest of the body; for I must tell you, that, as the

little foot progresses, it does not take the body with it, but only

grows longer and longer and longer, until, while one end remains at home

fastened to the body, the other end has travelled a distance, such as

would be counted miles by the atoms of people who live in the under-

world. And, moreover, the foot no longer goes on alone: others have come

by tens, even by hundreds, to join it; and Alba begins to understand

what the dwarf meant by thousands. Thus the feet travel on, running some

to this side, some to that; here digging through a bed of clay, and

there burying themselves in a soft sand-hill, taking a mouthful of

carbon here, and of nitrogen there. But what are these two strange

articles of food? Nothing at all like bread and butter, you think.

Different, indeed, they seem; but you will one day learn that bread and

butter are made in part of these very same things, and they are just as

useful to Alba as your breakfast, dinner, and supper are to you. For

just as bread and butter, and other food, build your body, so carbon and

nitrogen are going to build his; and you will presently see what a fine,

large, strong body they can make. Then, perhaps, you will be better able

to understand what they are.



Shall we leave the feet to travel their own way for a while, and see

where the fairy has led the little hand?





THE UGLY DUCKLING THE UNFRUITFUL TREE. facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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