Saturday, December 22, 2012

Two Christmas-themed 19th century tales by Mrs. W.J. Hays

I haven't delved into the Project Gutenberg archives recently to present any old tales here.1 The weekend before Christmas is a good time for it!

In 1884, Harper & Brothers published "The Adventures of Prince Lazybones and Other Stories" by Mrs. W.J. Hays.

The book contains four tales, two of which have Christmas overtones.

The stories are too long to present here in their entirety. So I'll just give you a preview, and then you can go to Gutenberg for the rest, if your interest is piqued.

Mrs. W.J. Hays, whose maiden name was apparently Helen Ashe, was a children's writer whose other works included "The Princess Idleways," "A Loving Sister: A Story for Big Girls," "City Cousins: A Story for Children," "A Village Maid," and "Little Maryland Garden."

Here are excerpts from two tales within "The Adventures of Prince Lazybones and Other Stories":

Florio and Florella
(A Christmas Fairy Tale)
There was once a child named Florio, who had neither father nor mother, uncle nor aunt, and so it happened that he was adopted by a witch. He might have had a fairy godmother if anybody had remembered to ask one to the christening, but as no one took enough interest in him for that, it was neglected, and poor Florio became the property of a hideous, hateful old hag, who was never so happy as when she was making trouble. Of course Florio was compelled to do her bidding. Naturally inoffensive and gentle, he was continually obliged to do violence to his conscience by obeying the witch.

For instance, the witch — who was known by the name of Fussioldfuri, and lived in a miserable cavern when she was not travelling about — had great delight in spoiling any one's innocent amusement or upsetting his or her plans; she even started children quarrelling and disputing; indeed, she found this one of her particular pastimes when she was not engaged in annoying older people.

It was among children that she made Florio particularly useful — so useful, in fact, that he never had a friend. If she found him amusing himself with a happy little company, she made him do some selfish or ugly thing which at once put a stop to all the cheerfulness; and often, before he knew what he was about, he would be struggling and kicking and screaming and flinging himself upon one or the other of his comrades, while Fuss — as we must call her for convenience — laughed till she shook, and tears of joy ran down her ugly leathery cheeks. Then Florio, ashamed, miserable, and unhappy, would creep off to a corner and weep as if his little heart would break.

It was after one of these dreadful occurrences one day that Florio, hiding in the woods, heard a strange rustling among the bushes. He was so used to wandering about after old Fuss, and living anyhow and anywhere, that he was more like a little creature of the woods himself than anything else, and it took a good deal to frighten him. Patter, patter, patter it went. What could it be? He peered in and out and under the bush, but he saw nothing except a nest full of little blue eggs, which he would not touch for the world; no, he knew too well how pleased old Fuss would be to have him disturb this little bird family, and he concealed it again. As he did so, the sweetest little voice said,

"That's right."

Florio jumped as if a wasp had stung him.

Read the rest of the tale and discover what it has to do with Christmas here.

* * *

Boreas Bluster's
Christmas Present

It had been a hard, cold, cruel winter, and one that just suited old Frozen Nose, the Storm King, whose palace of ice was on the north shore of the Polar Sea. He had ordered Rain, Hail, and Snow, his slaves, to accompany Lord Boreas Bluster on an invasion of the temperate zone, and when they had done his bidding he harnessed up his four-in-hand team of polar bears and went as far south as he dared, just to see how well they had obeyed him. How he roared with laughter when he found nearly all vegetation killed, and the earth wrapped in a white mantle as thick as his own bear-skins piled six feet deep! There was no nonsense about that sort of work.

"Catch any pert, saucy little flowers sticking up their heads through such a blanket!" said Frozen Nose to himself. "No, no; I've fixed 'em for a few years, anyhow. They're dead as door-nails, and Spring with all her airs and graces will never bring them to life again. Ugh! how I hate 'em and all sweet smells! Wish I might never have anything but whale-oil on my hair and handkerchiefs for the rest of my life!"

"There's no fear but what you will, and stale at that," said the ugliest of his children, young Chilblain, giving his father's big toe a tweak as he passed, and grinning when he heard Frozen Nose grumble out,

"There's the gout again, I do believe!"

But Boreas Bluster, coming in just then, saw what was going on, and gave Chilblain a whack that sent him spinning out of the room.

Read the full story of Lord Boreas Bluster and Frozen Nose here.

Finally, here is the intriguing frontispiece from "The Adventures of Prince Lazybones and Other Stories":

1. Over the summer, I offered up three short, public-domain folk tales from Project Gutenberg. These are great for winter nights, too:

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