Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 76.djvu/569

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.



AFTER our boyish occupation of following cows home from pasture, along brambly ways where delay was often invited by some untimely mocker in the shape of a bird that lured us into pursuit, we would go up in the gathering dusk to the house on the hill and listen through the hour before supper to the stories in the Indian Fairy Book. Stillness and an autumnal glimmer of western light; crisp air laden with the smoke of smouldering brush fires—these ever after to be blent, by the subtle alchemy of memory, with the tales of an ancient people. Beyond the sunset light lay the land where these stories had been wrought, yet a country that none might reach by traveling in mortal fashion, for, like the old Phæacian land, it belonged in those dim regions of the past that only the eye of fancy may behold. We had mapped it out in our minds—its lakes and wide prairies, its farthest verge of forest—but no explorer we knew would ever find it. He might stand on the marge of some far western lake, never before seen by a white man, and gaze across its waters, yet this elusive land would ever be another day's journey beyond his last camp fire.

In this Indian Fairy Book were gathered the folk tales of aboriginal America—Algonquin and Dakota legends, that might fairly hold a place with those old Celtic tales—the Mabinogion—that have come to us out of so remote a past. Indeed, they have many points in common. Magic weaves its web through the adventures of the men and women who seem more than mortal beings and who yet give to the wonder tales in each of the two groups their vital human interest. In each also there are great personages, cast in heroic mould. There is the same overcoming of evil influences, the same mystical union of men with natural things. Both are of that Juventus Mundi—that far away period over which a strange, dim light broods. It is this effect of subdued light, the strange half light, half dark of a shadowy world, that a reader of these aboriginal tales feels most. A "twilight" effect, Mr. Havelock Ellis calls it in writing of the Celtic tale, which lends a peculiar "glamour." And, as this writer has further shown, the effect of "remoteness" as to time and place, of being very far removed from the present or even the medieval world, is another element that adds to this glamour of the old Celtic stories. Sidney Lanier says:

I think it curious indeed to note how curious those old romances, or Mabinogion, seem to us in spite of the long intimacy and nearness between Welsh and English. They impress most readers with a greater sense of foreign-