The Fairy Ring, a story written to introduce children to Romania, is one chapter in the book Friends in Strange Garments written and illustrated by Anna Milo Upjon. Queen Marie appears as one of the characters.
WHEN we go into foreign countries we eagerly look for those things that differ from our own, and if we do not find oddities in dress, food, buildings, and customs we are disappointed. But we are also disappointed if we do not meet, in the people, the honesty and kindliness that we expect from friends. We look for differences in surroundings, but for likenesses in people. We wish to find in people the traits that will make us feel at home among strangers in a strange land. We wish to find friends even though they are in strange garments.
The pictures in this book were drawn with the purpose of showing differences in externals among peoples of different nations. The stories were written to bring home to us the likeness in heart among the boys and girls of the world. A young Arab pommels his donkey’s sides for joy because he is going on a holiday in Jerusalem. A girl of Italy shares her Easter cake with a friend who has none. An orphan boy with younger brothers and sisters dependent upon him does his very best for them in Poland as in the United States.
If most of the pictures were made from children in poor circumstances, or from those living in rural districts, it is because the war left the countries of Europe greatly impoverished, and because the beautiful old costumes and habits are rapidly passing from city life and are to be found only in out-of-the-way places. More and more the differences among the children of the world are vanishing, while the likenesses are growing.
The year 1916 found Miss Upjohn, artist of child life and author of these stories, in Europe as a volunteer relief worker. She once remarked that the only time in her life when she had enough children to suit her was when she was daily serving breakfast to four hundred soldier boys in a Red Cross canteen in London. Later she served in France with the Fraternité Américaine and with the Fund for War Devastated Villages. While with the latter, during the German offensive of March, 1918, she helped to evacuate villages in the Canton of Rossiëres, near Montdidier, Somme. For her service in this connection she was decorated by the French Government. But there are memories which the author treasures even more than this—of the day, for example, when, after two years’ absence, she went back to one of those villages in the Somme and arrived to find the entire population celebrating a requiem for their fallen. Slipping into the church, she took a seat on a bench near the door, but the curé, recognizing her, came forward from the altar and asked her to come up among them because of all that they had been through together. ‘Such things made me feel,’ said Miss Upjohn, ‘that they regarded me as one of themselves, in sympathy at least.’
During the stress of this time, when often the inhabitants left their villages from one side while the opposing forces were entering from the other, she was deeply impressed by the pluck and helpfulness of the French children. A year later, while she was with the Red Cross Commission in Czecho-Slovakia, the same spirit among the Czech children, coupled with an active sympathy on their part for others in distress, revealed to her the latent power for peace in the children of the world, needing only the threads of contact to bring about widespread understanding.
No wonder, then, that when, in 1920, she was asked to enter the service of the American Junior Red Cross, she accepted. She was commissioned first to portray child life in those European countries which had been beneficiaries of the service of the children of America. She has since remained continuously with this organization, traveling widely, indeed encircling the globe, in behalf of world-wide understanding among children. The work of her pen and brush has been an important factor in the development of that children’s ‘league of friendship’ which now includes in its membership ten million boys and girls in the schools of forty nations.
The stories in this book do not tell of children’s sufferings. They bring before our eyes the children of many nations in their everyday surroundings, everywhere bravely and hopefully living and learning. Some of the stories are quite true; and all of them have a kernel of truth around which the artist-author, with the help of very real children, has built them.
Wherever it was known that the drawings were to take some message or story to the children of America, there was a scramble to get into the picture. Often a poor child would refuse to take payment for posing: ‘No, no, I want to do it for Them!’ Perhaps a boy had received a Christmas box or a letter; perhaps a girl had known the unfamiliar comfort of hot food or warm shoes during the pinched days of the war; or perhaps they had simply heard that other children of their country, poorer than themselves, had been helped.
‘It was a stirring thing to find,’ said Miss Upjohn, ‘that even in remote spots of the Balkans there existed an image of American school-children as something bright, kind, and companionable. In the heart of many a growing boy and girl in Albania or France or Czecho-Slovakia the sympathy of American children is being repaid a thousandfold in the golden gift of Friendship.’
ARTHUR W. DUNN
CHAPTER 11 - THE FAIRY RING
THE FAIRY RING
IT was a hot and thirsty day. In the hollow a curving wellsweep stood guard over a cottage with a thatch, which, like a rough cap, was pulled down to the two little eyes of the house. Behind it the hill rose sharply, steeped in sunshine.
A boy, leading a spotted cow, toiled up the slope, an empty basket slung over his shoulder. After him stumbled a girl with a chubby baby in her arms. They gained the top slowly and sat down under a beech that spread its horizontal branches close to the ground.
‘He gets more and more heavy every day,’ said the girl as she rolled the baby over on the grass. The boy grunted but said nothing. He was lying on his back gazing idly up into the tree while the spotty cow trailed her rope through the weeds. The girl rubbed her tired arms and fanned herself with her apron, scanning the ground with a practiced eye, for mushrooms.
‘Why, Stefano!’ she exclaimed in an awestruck voice, ‘just look at that!’
‘What?’ asked Stefano, sitting up sleepily. Ileana was pointing to something on the ground not far from the beech tree. A flash of intelligence came into the boy’s eyes. ‘A fairy ring!’ he exclaimed, ‘what luck!’
Among the dead leaves and short grass a circle of white toadstools had sprung up in the night. It was what the children called a ‘fairy ring.’ Whatever one wished for, as he stood inside it, was sure to come true.
Stefano sprang to his feet. ‘I’m going to wish,’ he cried, and carefully stepped over the edge of the circle. He laid his finger on his lips, thinking intently. Then he shut his eyes. ‘I’ve wished,’ he cried, exultantly, and leaped out again. ‘Now you go in, Ileana.’
Ileana was flustered by the great opportunity. ‘Oh! I can’t think,’ she said excitedly. ‘Yes, I know, now; I’ve got it!’ She stood with her bare feet close together, her hands behind her, and wished solemnly. Then she threw herself on the grass beside the baby. ‘It’s all about you,’ she whispered, kissing him. Stefano did not hear, but the baby caught one chubby foot in his hand and laughed delightedly.
‘You’d be surprised if you knew what I wished for,’ said Stefano.
‘What was it?’ asked Ileana, full of curiosity. ‘I shan’t tell.’
‘It’s something you’d never think of.’
‘Is it something to do or something to have?’ queried Ileana.
‘Something to do, right now, today,’ said Stefano; ‘something you never did in your life.’
‘Oh, please, Stefano, tell me; go on, do!’
‘And I wished it for you, too, Ileana,’ said Stefano, tantalizingly.
‘Oh, how good of you, Stefano. What was it?’ Ileana was standing breathlessly in front of him now.
‘Well,’ he said, thinking only how pleased she would be, ‘I wished we might both ride in an automobile!’
‘Oh, Stefano!’ cried Ileana in dismay, ‘now you’ve told, and it won’t come true! How could you!’
‘What did you ask me for, then?’ cried Stefano angrily. ‘Now you’ve made me lose my wish while you’ve kept yours.’
‘Well, I won’t keep it,’ said Ileana generously; ‘I’ll tell you what it was. I wished that the baby could walk, so I shouldn’t have to carry him all the time.’
‘Stupid!’ cried Stefano scornfully. ‘How could you wish such a silly thing as that, and all for yourself, too, when you might have wished for a bag of gold and we could have bought everything in the world!’
‘I was in such a hurry,’ said Ileana contritely. ‘It was the first thing that came into my head. But let’s wish over again,’ she added brightly.
Eagerly they turned to the circle, but while they had been disputing the spotty cow had trampled it into the earth.
‘Now see what you’ve done!’ cried Stefano grimly. ‘And we might have had such a lucky day!’
‘But I didn’t do it,’ said Ileana indignantly. ‘The cow did it.’ She was really very hot and tired, and everything seemed to be going wrong.
‘Well, come on,’ said Stefano, beginning to feel ashamed of himself. ‘Perhaps we shall find another.’ He picked up his basket and whacking the cow on the flank, moved on. With a sigh Ileana gathered up the baby and followed. His little curls and bright eyes bobbed over her shoulder as she walked. Ileana was devoted to the baby. Every morning before she went to school she washed and dressed and fed him and then laid him in his swinging cradle, which hung from the ceiling just over the end of his mother’s bed. On holidays he was seldom out of her arms, though her slender, growing body often ached with the weight of him.
Following the footpath through the trees, Stefano and Ileana soon came upon Branko sitting among the mullen stalks making melancholy music with the boojum. The boojum was a great wooden horn, so long that Branko had to sit and rest one end of it on the ground. Its notes were sad and heavy, a little like the bellow of a cow. Branko loved it and blew out his cheeks until they were crimson. Whenever he came to a brook or a spring he poured water through the boojum, to make it louder and sweeter. ‘Hello!’ he cried, as the children came in sight. ‘Where are you going?’
‘To pick plums, if you will take care of Gemma.’
‘All right,’ said Branko, ‘I will bring her down with the other cows.’
Stefano and Ileana spread themselves on the grass and told Branko about the fairy ring.
‘I’ve never seen one,’ said Branko wistfully; ‘what a chance!’
‘What would you wish for if you did find one?’ asked Stefano.
‘I don’t know,’ said Branko slowly, ‘but I think I’d wish for a house.’
Branko was an orphan. He lived with the schoolmaster and swept the schoolhouse, besides ringing the church bells and guarding cattle on holidays. At noon he always went home with Stefano and Ileana, and shared their dinner of hot corn on the cob. The great copper dish of corn stood on the porch and whoever was hungry came and got some. But though Branko was welcome everywhere he had no home of his own. So now, sitting on the hilltop with Stefano and Ileana and looking down on the thatched cottages, each with its golden patch of corn or pumpkins and its haze of smoke, he felt that a home counted for more than anything else.
They could see the big house at the end of the village, its gardens and orchards, and below them the schoolhouse. Not every village in Roumania has its school, and the children were proud of theirs, though they wished the lady who lived in the big house, and who had built the school, would not come so often to see if they were really in the classroom.
Across the valley there was a gap in the bare hills, like a piece notched out. That was the Pass. On the other side of it lay a beautiful mountain country in which was the king’s palace; but beyond their own valley the children had never gone.
‘Well, come on,’ said Stefano, at last, ‘let’s look for plums.’
They came out on the highway, which was lined with plum trees thick with fruit. It lay on the ground in purple-blue patches, so that it was not necessary to shake the trees or to climb them in order to get a basketful.
The children could see the road as far as the Pass. It disappeared for long stretches, coming into view again close to them. Over it there was a slow but continual passing. Flocks of sheep went by on little tapping hoofs, and gleaming geese, unruffled by the heat. There were also wicker carts with small wooden wheels, drawn by black buffaloes that stretched their flat heads far beyond their bodies and lifted dumb, sad eyes to the hot sky. Women with distaffs or painted water-buckets passed, and the dust rose in clouds about their feet.
But what was that flash? Something bright, like a great star, had shot through the Pass and disappeared in a dip of the road.
The children had filled their basket and prepared to start for home. Ileana popped a plum into her mouth and picked up the sleeping baby.
Noiselessly two pairs of bare feet fell on the dust, and the sun wove halos around Stefano with his basket and Ileana with the baby over her shoulder. A mellow note sounded behind them. How different from that of the boojum! Could it be a horn, so soft and sweet? They turned to look, then scampered to the side of the road, as the wonderful blinding thing came toward them—an automobile, like something in a fairy tale, for it seemed to be of silver. Ileana, her eyes fastened on it, lost her footing, and as it flashed by them, fell headlong with the baby in her arms, into a bed of thistles. A shriek of indignation and fright went up from the baby. The car shot past them, stopped, then backed slowly.
‘Are they hurt?’ asked some one anxiously. A man jumped down from the front seat and came running toward them. Ileana scrambled to her feet and began patting and kissing the baby vigorously. All three of the children were scratched and frightened and covered with dust, but uninjured.
‘Where do you live?’ asked one of the ladies of Stefano, who stood his ground, gazing in stupefaction at the aluminum automobile.
Stefano pulled off his tall sheepskin cap and held it against his breast, for though the lady wore a bright knotted handkerchief over her head, as his mother did, she was different and he felt very shy. ‘We live in the village opposite the church,’ he said.
‘Help them in, Bonnat,’ said the elder of the two ladies, ‘we will take them home.’
So Stefano and Ileana, with the whimpering baby and the basket of plums, were lifted into the wonderful machine. They sat on the edge of the seat, their little bare toes just touching the carpet. One of the ladies held out her hands to the baby, but he clung to Ileana. The car started with hardly a quiver. Down the road they darted, the familiar trees and houses flying past them. Stefano and Ileana, almost forgetting the other occupants of the car, held hands, their eyes wide with excitement.
‘We wished for it!’ exclaimed Ileana, at last unable to keep silence any longer. ‘We wished for it this morning, and now it’s come true!’
‘Wished for what?’ asked the lady.
‘To ride in an automobile. Stefano wished it in the fairy ring.’
‘What is your name?’ asked the lady, as she smiled down at her.
‘Ileana; I was named for a princess,’ she explained proudly.
‘That is my little girl’s name, too,’ said the lady, and Ileana noticed that her eyes were laughing. She was a beautiful lady, dressed as the women of Ileana’s village dress when they go to church. The sleeves and the front of her white linen blouse were richly embroidered; her skirt was a piece of striped woven stuff, red, pale yellow, and green, brought together in front and lapped over a white petticoat. Around her waist was a bright girdle, shot with threads of gold, and on her head was a flowered kerchief knotted at the back of her neck. From under it peeped crisp little curls of gold, and her eyes were blue, like chicory blossoms when the sun shines through them.
As the car swept into the village the people came running to their gates
bowing and curtsying.
Their mother, washing clothes in the corner of the yard, looked up in consternation to see her dusty, disheveled children descending from the most wonderful car that had ever been seen in the village. Then, in a flash, the beautiful lady was gone, disappearing up the road that led to the big house.
‘Mother, mother, she gave us a ride! She was a nice lady! I got my wish!’ clamored the children, together.
But their mother rebuked them. ‘Don’t you know that that was the Queen?’ she said, ‘and you so dirty and bold!’
‘The Queen!’ they stammered. ‘But she wore a handkerchief over her head!’
‘And is that all you noticed? Would it make a queen of me to put on a crown?’
‘I told her I was named for a princess,’ said Ileana, ‘and all the time it was her own little girl, and she knew it!’ Then, catching a glimpse of the baby, ‘Oh, mother,’ she cried, ‘look at him!’ He stood between the doorstep and the rainwater tub, balancing himself on his little bare feet. Then he took a step forward, swerved, dipped, righted himself, took two steps more and clutched the edge of the tub triumphantly. His mother, forgetting the Queen, ran to catch him up and kiss him.
‘You see,’ said Ileana, wisely nodding at Stefano, ‘the fairy ring did work. If only Branko had wished, too, he might have his house!’
‘You and Stefano wished for small things,’ said their mother, ‘but for the big things of life you must work as well as wish. It is through work that Branko will find his home.’