A Tale for Halloween
Babette and Antone were the children of a very poor woodcutter. They lived in a little cottage on the side of a steep mountain, and the mountain looked upon a great forest. Now though their father toiled in this forest from dawn until dark, he could earn but little. Wood in that region was plentiful, and woodcutters were numerous. Their mother made fine laces which Antone carried to the market to sell; but in spite of all their efforts, the poor parents seldom could give their children more than bread and broth to eat. Often indeed the broth was lacking if the woodcutter found no hare in the traps he set. Babette and Antone, however, were happy little children and never thought of their poverty. But it worried the woodcutter that Antone was ten years old and had not yet gone to school. Antone's mother taught him to read and write, that the other boys and girls would not be too far beyond him, and Antone studied his lessons diligently. Often as he sat doing his sums on the hearthstone, with a bit of charcoal for a pencil, his mother would sigh sadly. Antone did not like his mother to be sad, and so he always laughed to cheer her.
"Never fear, Mother," he would say. "Soon I shall send myself to school. My vegetable patch does finely. Then, when I am a great scholar, you shall be poor no longer. My father shall have a team of oxen and you a fine satin gown; Babette shall have a dozen real dollies instead of the turnip dollies she now rocks in her dolly cradle."
"Ah, Antone, my son," his mother would answer with a sigh, "unless you make your fortune as a maker of toys, I fear you will have no fortune at all. Your fingers are as clever as a wizard's even now; and though you are past ten, we cannot spare you to go to school."
It was true, as she said. Antone made boats from bits of cedar wood, and when he had fitted them with sails you could not tell them from any that had come out of a shop. He carved a doll's cradle from a pine knot, and for a dolly painted the white face of a turnip until one would think it was the face of some fair maiden,—so blue were this turnip dolly's eyes and so pink her cheeks, her hair of golden corn silk fell in such waves and her robe of young cabbage leaves was so green and beautiful. Then as often as this turnip dolly faded and began to shrivel, Antone made another, which Babette declared was always more beautiful than the one before. Babette had never been to the village and therefore knew nothing of real dollies. She loved her turnip babies tenderly indeed; she always carried them in her arm when she went with Antone to meet their father and sang them little songs as she rocked them to sleep.
Now it happened one night in the season of Halloween that Antone sat carving jack-o'-lanterns to sell in the village. Babette, who was rocking her dolly to sleep, sat watching him. Being but six, she knew nothing about the fun which comes with Halloween, and so she listened round-eyed with wonder to Antone, who knew all things about jack-o'-lanterns. When she heard that boys and girls dressed like goblins and witches frolicked in the village streets, Babette made up her mind to frolic too.
"How fine it must be!" she cried, clapping her hands. "Halloween must be quite like Christmas!"
"Not quite so fine as Christmas, Babette," answered Antone, as he carved the teeth in the last jack-o'-lantern, "but Halloween is very fine nevertheless. It is comical to see the jack-o'-lanterns bobbing up and down with their faces grinning in the candle light. And on Halloween the boys and girls play pranks on their elders that they would be well switched for at any other time; but every one laughs and is gay on that night." Antone finished the jack-o'-lantern and piled it with a dozen more in his little cart. He would sell them all in the village when he took his vegetables to market the next day; no one else could carve such splendid pumpkin faces as Antone.
"Then let us go and play pranks in the village too, Antone," cried Babette. "Mother will make us goblin dresses, and there is still one great pumpkin in your garden for a jack-o'-lantern. Oh, what a frolic we shall have!"
"Babette!" exclaimed Antone in astonishment. "Wherever did you get such a notion? The frolic in the village is not for us. Mother has no time to make us goblin dresses, and if she did, she has no goods; besides, how should we find our way home through the forest?"
"You know the way through the forest, Antone," insisted Babette, "and if Mother cannot make us goblin dresses, we can go without. It will be dark and our jack-o'-lantern will be as fine as any. Do come," she begged, "I have never been to a Halloween frolic."
"Now, Babette, I tell you we cannot go to the village to-morrow night," answered Antone. "I could not find my way home through the forest after dark, and we would both be lost. Be a good girl and do not tease any more."
Antone spoke sternly, and Babette burst into tears. She was very fond of her own way, and when she could not have it, sometimes she was a very naughty little girl. She sobbed and wept so piteously that Antone found it hard to refuse her. However, he dared not go to the village at night, as he feared to lose his way in the forest. So Antone trotted Babette on his knee and whispered that he would buy her chocolate; but she only wept the harder.
"Now, Babette!" cried Antone at last, when Babette showed no signs of stopping, "I cannot take you to the village; but if you are a good girl and stop crying at once, I will make a little Halloween frolic just for you and me. Now promise me you will not cry any more."
Babette dried her eyes and promised. She wished a Halloween frolic, but whether she frolicked at home or in the village mattered not at all.
"Will we wear goblin dresses or ghost dresses, Antone?" she asked.
Antone puzzled a moment before he answered. "Oh, ghost dresses, I think," said he.
The next day Babette was very good. She helped Antone gather his vegetables for market, and when he returned sat beside him quietly while he carved the last pumpkin from his garden. When the jack-o'-lantern was finished, Antone lighted the candle just for one second so that she might see it grinning in the light. Babette clapped her hands; but he held up a warning finger. The Halloween frolic was to be a secret. After supper the children went to bed as usual, but instead of undressing, they pulled their white nightdresses over their heavy coats.
"They will do for ghost dresses," whispered Antone when all was still, and they crept softly out. In the moonlight the jack-o'-lantern was grinning broadly to greet them.
"Pumpkin is smiling at us," laughed Babette. She was very happy, for her frolic was about to begin.
Antone struck a match to light the candle, but there was no candle in the jack-o'-lantern.
"I put the candle in; I know I did," said he in surprise. He searched in the dark, and Babette stopped her laughing. Antone looked about, and there beneath the bench lay the remainder of his precious candle. It was chewed to bits, and the wick was in shreds.
"Oh, Babette!" cried he. "A wicked rat has stolen our candle, and I paid a whole penny for it too!"
"Oh, the bad rats!" cried Babette, bursting into tears. She stamped her foot and sent the jack-o'-lantern rolling off the bench. It struck the earth with a bump and dented its nose a trifle.
"Now, Babette, what a baby you are! See what you have done!" cried Antone. He stooped to pick up the pumpkin, but the pumpkin was too quick for him.
"Oh, no, you don't," laughed Pumpkin in a thick throaty sort of voice. "Babette smashed my nose a little, but that's no matter on a Halloween night. Good-by, boys and girls," he called airily and rolled swiftly down the hill.
"You come back here; you're my pumpkin," cried Antone and started after the runaway. Babette followed, weeping and crying aloud.
"Oh, my Halloween frolic! Oh, my Halloween frolic!" she mourned. "Now we have no jack-o'-lantern and no candle either."
"But just you wait until he rolls down into the vegetable garden," shouted Antone, as he chased the swiftly rolling pumpkin. "He'll have to stop at the hedge." He took his little sister's hand that she might run faster. Pumpkin rolled along just in front of them but always just out of their reach. When he reached the hedge, he gave a great leap and landed directly in the vegetable patch.
"Come on, you Turnips! Come on, you Carrots!" called Pumpkin, as he rolled along. At his words the Carrots and Turnips tore themselves from their beds and followed after him, shouting.
"Come on! Come on!" called Pumpkin, and Parsnips and Beets followed the Carrots and Turnips.
"Look at Antone following us," yelled Pumpkin, and all his vegetable followers turned and laughed in derision.
"Ordinary nights you may be master, Antone," cried they, "but not on Halloween. This is our night."
"Well, you wait until I catch you and then see how hard you'll laugh," called Antone angrily. To see his vegetable patch laid waste made him furious.
"But you'll wait until you catch us before you punish us, won't you, Antone?" they answered mockingly.
"Oh, it's Halloween! It's Halloween!" sang Pumpkin, turning handsprings as he rolled along, and the rest of the vegetables did cartwheels as they went careering after him. They looked like a dozen market stalls upset on the hillside, and poor Antone nearly wept when he thought of his loss. He followed them with determination. Antone was not a lad to give up easily.
"Follow me! Follow me!" sang Pumpkin, as he led the way to a tiny door that opened beneath the forest. Turnips and Carrots squeezed through, and Antone, fearing to be left behind, caught up Babette and ran faster. Just as he reached the little door, a rough Potato tried to slam it in his face. But Antone was too quick for him. He ran through and climbed down the hole into the underground forest. There he continued the chase, but the ground here was springy and elastic, and with each step Antone began to gain on the vegetables. Babette's fatigue left her, and she shook herself free of Antone's hand.
"We'll catch up to them," declared Antone as they ran along. Even as he spoke, Potato stubbed his toe, and Babette caught him. She held him firmly, although he squirmed and tried his best to get free.
"Help! Help!" bawled Potato, when he saw he was a prisoner. "Oh, Pumpkin, wait for me!" he cried. The tears streamed from every one of his eyes, and he looked truly sad. At his cries Pumpkin turned around, and all the vegetables followed their leader.
"Come now, Antone," began Pumpkin in a persuasive voice. "You might let us have one night off, you know. Halloween is our night." Somewhere on his run, Pumpkin had picked up two twigs, and on these he now balanced himself rather unsteadily and thrust his leaves in the place where his pockets would have been if he had had pockets. He looked so very jolly and his grin was so very broad that Antone was inclined to give up the prisoner; but just then he thought of the ruined vegetable garden and grew angry again.
"It is all very well for you to be polite, Pumpkin, and try to beg off your friend," said Antone, "but this is the very fellow that tried to slam the door in my face not two seconds ago."
"Oh, Antone," cried Potato, "that's wrong. It was three seconds ago as true as I live. I looked at my watch just as I was trying to pinch your nose in the underground door, and it's quite three seconds ago; maybe it's four."
"Oh, hush up!" cried Pumpkin. "That's no way to talk when you are trying to beg off. Let him off for my sake, Antone," he continued in a most winning voice. "You'd get everlastingly tired of being in bed yourself; you know you would. See if you wouldn't take the first chance to kick up your heels if you could get it."
"But, Pumpkin," replied Antone, "think of my vegetable garden; it is ruined. I was saving all my vegetable money to go to school, and now I cannot go for ever and ever so long. Besides, how could I know you got tired of being in a bed? You never spoke to me before."
"Well, I speak to you now," replied Pumpkin, "and as for your vegetable patch, we'll all make that up to you, won't we, boys?"
"We will! We will!" called the vegetables in chorus, and the Potato in Babette's little fist yelled the loudest of all.
"There, now, you see we mean no harm," declared Pumpkin, "so let Potato go. Then you can both join us in our Halloween frolic."
At the magic words "Halloween frolic," Babette put Potato down at once. She was bound to have her fun, and, after all, the vegetables seemed to be a jolly lot. So peace was made, and the children followed the bobbing Turnips and Onions. Then shouts were heard, and Pumpkin ordered a halt. Presently they were joined by a dozen or more Cabbages.
"You're nice ones!" panted the Cabbages. "There we sat in the storeroom waiting for you to call us, and the first thing we knew we saw you pelting off down the hill like mad things."
"My gracious!" said a very stout Cabbage, who was terribly out of breath, "I'll have to take off my outer leaves before I go another step. I feel as though I were boiled."
Antone recognized the Cabbages at once. "You are Father Minette's cabbages, are you not?" he inquired politely as they marched along.
"Why, if it isn't little Antone, the woodcutter's son!" exclaimed the very stout Cabbage. "Yes, we come from Minette's farm. Mother Minette saved us for pickle, but we fooled her and slipped out of the storeroom when she was not looking. Oh, we Cabbages are not so green as we look!" The Cabbages all laughed, and Antone was surprised to find that he laughed too.
As they went marching on, Pumpkin sang and danced in the lead, and Onions and Carrots echoed his hearty songs. Presently great black cats with shining yellow eyes stepped from behind the trees, and each cat was soon joined by its mistress, who was no other than a real witch in tall peaked hat and carrying a broomstick. The Cabbages, who were a friendly lot, introduced Antone and Babette to these witches, and the witches seemed pleased to meet the children.
"They do not seem to be wicked witches, do they, Antone?" whispered Babette.
"Oh, my dear," replied a witch who overheard, "we are not a bit wicked on Halloween, you know. Any other night, I would probably do you a mischief. It is my nature, you know." She reached in her bag and handed Babette a peppermint. Babette, who was very fond of peppermint, ate it up with all haste.
"You shouldn't do that, my dear," reproved the witch. "It is seldom witches give peppermints, and when they do the peppermints should be treasured. Here is another to keep for your pocket, and then you will never be without a peppermint when you want one." And she handed Babette another. Babette curtseyed so prettily that the witch was charmed and took her to ride on her broomstick.
It was the gayest company one ever could imagine, as they marched along. Every vegetable was singing a different Halloween song in a different key, and they all had voices that sang out of tune by nature. Babette, her little white nightdress flying in the breeze, was riding on the witch's broomstick and singing loudly as the rest. When they reached the dancing-floor it was lighted with millions and millions of glowworms, and an orchestra of ten thousand frogs hummed lively tunes in their throats. Pumpkin seized a handful of glowworms and put them in his head. Then with his features all aglow he cried out:
"Ready for the dance!"
Instead of taking partners, the vegetables just plunged on to the floor and began to jump about like mad. If they fell down they did not jump up at once but rolled around the floor most good-naturedly. They looked so like vegetables boiling about in a great soup kettle that Antone thought he should die of laughing. The witches took their brooms and began a sort of "ladies-change" figure while they chased their cats around the edge of the circle. Babette danced hardest of all. She knew no more of dancing than any Carrot or Parsnip, but she capered wildly, singing at the top of her voice.
"Come and dance too, Antone," called Babette, as she went jumping past her brother, but he shook his head and laughed.
"I am too big for such nonsense," said he. "I am ten, you know."
"What nonsense!" cried a witch who was chasing her cat close by. "Ten is exactly the right age to have fun." She raised her broom playfully, and before he knew it, she swept Antone into the middle of the dance. Pumpkin, his grinning features all aglow, went flying past and made Antone feel proud. Pumpkin was certainly the handsomest vegetable of the lot. As the night grew later, the frogs hummed faster, but hum as fast as they would, they could not keep up with the frisky vegetables. Beets and Cauliflowers continued to bob up and down like mad; Cabbages from Minette's farm lost leaf after leaf; Carrots and Onions grew battered from much tumbling about, and the merry din of song and laughter grew louder and louder.
"Let's play Blind Man's Buff," called Antone. "I'll be 'it' and show you how to play." He tied the handkerchief over his eyes, and the witches and their black cats went darting hither and thither. The vegetables were so pleased with this new game that they would play nothing else. They might have been playing it yet had not a cock crowed suddenly.
"Good gracious me!" cried a witch. "The glowworms are all gone out. It's nearly morning. All who are going back to the vegetable patch had best be on their way."
"Not I!" cried Pumpkin. "I've done with vegetable patches forevermore."
"Not we," exclaimed the Cabbages. "We're going to turn savage and be wild cabbages for the rest of our days! We shan't go back to Mother Minette's pickle jars." Straightway every vegetable began to raise its voice and declare it would not go back to Antone's patch.
"Oh, hush, all of you!" cried the witch. "Stay in the woods for the rest of your life if you like. It is nothing to me; but what of Antone and Babette? Who is to take them home?"
"Well, ma'am," replied Pumpkin with a low bow, "we thought that you might be good enough to give them a ride home on your broomstick."
"But Pumpkin!" cried Antone in dismay, "you promised to make it up to me if I let Potato go, and I think you should all return with me. I shall not have any vegetables if you all remain in the woods."
"Never worry about that, Antone," replied Pumpkin with a lordly air. "Here is a purse for each of you, and if you take good care never to lose them, you will have plenty of gold forever. Isn't that true, boys?"
"True as we're not going back to the farm," cried the Cabbages. "You had best hurry and plant yourself before it grows daylight, Pumpkin," they warned and began to dig holes in the earth. Before Antone and Babette had mounted the witch's broomstick, all the Carrots and Turnips and even Pumpkin were all tucked up in their sandy beds. They called a faint good-by as the children sailed off with the witch.
"Oh, what a beautiful Halloween frolic," sighed Babette as she leaned her head on Antone's shoulder and fell fast asleep.
The broomstick flew with the swiftness of an eagle, and the witch warned Antone to hold Babette with a firm grasp. One by one the stars went out as they sped across the sky. The black cat steered and seemed to know the exact way to the woodcutter's cottage, for just as the dawn was breaking the broomstick glided down to Babette's window. The witch shook hands with Antone, and the black cat politely jumped off to help Antone with his little sister. Before the good creature could mount again, the broomstick was off like whirlwind, and it was left behind.
"This broomstick is so wild I cannot stop it," called the witch from the clouds. "Keep good care of my cat until next Halloween."
Antone put Babette in her little crib and made the black cat a comfortable bed in the kitchen. Then he lay down to sleep and dreamed of the Halloween frolic until he was wakened by his mother.
"Come, Antone!" she cried. "I have good news for you. Only look from the window and see the great black cat without a single white hair that sits washing his face in the sun. Such a cat coming to us on Halloween will surely bring us good luck! But come, my child, get up, for the sun is high, and it is time for you to dig your vegetables for market."
"My vegetables have gone wild in the forest," muttered Antone, "but it is no matter, for here is a bag of gold which they gave me. The cat is the black cat of the witch who brought us home on her broomstick; so let me sleep, Mother, for I am weary with dancing at the Halloween frolic." He closed his eyes and slept again, while his mother examined the leather bag.
"Antone, my son!" she screamed. "Here is gold yellow as a pumpkin! Where have you been to gather such wealth?" She shook him and gave him no peace until he waked fully and told the story. Even then his mother did not believe it, but threw up her hands and wept that her son should thus rave with fever.
The woodcutter and Babette came running to see what had happened, and at the sight of the second bag of gold the poor woman grew calmer. Babette showed the peppermint which the witch had given her, and the mother doubted no more.
"To receive a peppermint from a witch is surely a mark of great favor," said she, and began to laugh through her tears. "I thought I was dreaming or that Antone raved of fever, for never in my life had I seen so much gold."
"It is like the fairies to bless the children of the poor," said the woodcutter. "Now Antone will go to school, and Mother will have a handsome dress and shawl."
"And is it not as I said?" cried his wife. "A black cat coming on Halloween would bring us good luck, and here is the luck already!"
It would have been hard to find a happier family than the woodcutter's as they set out for the village that day. When it was told that the woodcutter was looking for a pair of oxen, some folk laughed outright. The woodcutter was too poor to feed a pair of canaries, they declared; but when it became known that the woodcutter's wife had bought a new dress and a golden ring, they began to wonder who had died and left the woodcutter a fortune. Antone told the tale of their wealth to those who questioned him, and straightway the village children ran to throw their jack-o'-lanterns from the roofs and high places. But their pumpkins broke or stayed on the ground below where they had fallen (it was no longer Halloween, remember). At noon, when the woodcutter and his family sat down to dinner in the village inn, the landlord threatened to charge a penny from all who stood gazing through the windows. Some folk scoffed openly and declared it was a tale to tell children and dullards; but there were the two leather bags filled with gold. The greatest marvel of all was, that no matter how much the woodcutter or his wife spent from these, the bags always remained brimful of gold!
Antone chose a pair of steel skates in the village shop and bought an armful of books for which he had longed. Babette, however, with her usual perverse ways, would have none of the dollies in the village toy shop. They were ugly, she declared, and their cheeks were not pink and beautiful as were the turnip dollies Antone made for her.
And ever after that the woodcutter and his wife were no longer poor folk. They had white bread and even butter every day of their lives, and on Sundays and holidays they had roasted fowl for their dinner. Antone went to school, and Babette had an embroidered frock which was the envy of every child in the village. Their mother no longer sighed as she went about her household tasks, and neither did she strain her eyes making fine laces for market. Instead she rode proudly on the seat of her husband's ox cart when he delivered wood in the village; sometimes she even drank tea with the mayor's wife! Visitors from far and near went to see the famous spot where Antone's vegetables all ran away one Halloween night; and to this day there lives not a man who can make grow on that land cabbages or turnips or any other vegetable, although in a spot in the forest, not far off, cabbages and pumpkins and all such vegetables grow wild.
Each year, as regularly as Halloween came to mark the harvest time, Antone and Babette mounted the broomstick with the witch and rode off to the Halloween frolic. There they always found Pumpkin grown rounder and jollier than the year before, and they always rode home across the sky just as the dawn was breaking. The black cat became so fond of Babette that it never again rejoined its rightful mistress, but remained with the woodcutter and his family and brought them good luck for the rest of their days.