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For a time I had no desire save to spend my life with the Little Ones. But soon other thoughts and feelings began to influence me. First awoke the vague sense that I ought to be doing something; that I was not meant for the fattening of boors! Then it came to me that I was in a marvellous world, of which it was assuredly my business to discover the ways and laws; and that, if I would do anything in return for the children’s goodness, I must learn more about them than they could tell me, and to that end must be free. Surely, I thought, no suppression of their growth can be essential to their loveliness and truth and purity! Not in any world could the possibility exist of such a discord between constitution and its natural outcome! Life and law cannot be so at variance that perfection must be gained by thwarting development! But the growth of the Little Ones was arrested! something interfered with it: what was it? Lona seemed the eldest of them, yet not more than fifteen, and had been long in charge of a multitude, in semblance and mostly in behaviour merest children, who regarded her as their mother! Were they growing at all? I doubted it. Of time they had scarcely the idea; of their own age they knew nothing! Lona herself thought she had lived always! Full of wisdom and empty of knowledge, she was at once their Love and their Law! But what seemed to me her ignorance might in truth be my own lack of insight! Her one anxiety plainly was, that her Little Ones should not grow, and change into bad giants! Their “good giant” was bound to do his best for them: without more knowledge of their nature, and some knowledge of their history, he could do nothing, and must therefore leave them! They would only be as they were before; they had in no way become dependent on me; they were still my protectors, I was not theirs; my presence but brought them more in danger of their idiotic neighbours! I longed to teach them many things: I must first understand more of those I would teach! Knowledge no doubt made bad people worse, but it must make good people better! I was convinced they would learn mathematics; and might they not be taught to write down the dainty melodies they murmured and forgot?
The conclusion was, that I must rise and continue my travels, in the hope of coming upon some elucidation of the fortunes and destiny of the bewitching little creatures.
My design, however, would not so soon have passed into action, but for what now occurred.
To prepare them for my temporary absence, I was one day telling them while at work that I would long ago have left the bad giants, but that I loved the Little Ones so much—when, as by one accord, they came rushing and crowding upon me; they scrambled over each other and up the tree and dropped on my head, until I was nearly smothered. With three very little ones in my arms, one on each shoulder clinging to my neck, one standing straight up on my head, four or five holding me fast by the legs, others grappling my body and arms, and a multitude climbing and descending upon these, I was helpless as one overwhelmed by lava. Absorbed in the merry struggle, not one of them saw my tyrant coming until he was almost upon me. With just one cry of “Take care, good giant!” they ran from me like mice, they dropped from me like hedgehogs, they flew from me up the tree like squirrels, and the same moment, sharp round the stem came the bad giant, and dealt me such a blow on the head with a stick that I fell to the ground. The children told me afterward that they sent him “such a many bumps of big apples and stones” that he was frightened, and ran blundering home.
When I came to myself it was night. Above me were a few pale stars that expected the moon. I thought I was alone. My head ached badly, and I was terribly athirst.
I turned wearily on my side. The moment my ear touched the ground, I heard the gushing and gurgling of water, and the soft noises made me groan with longing. At once I was amid a multitude of silent children, and delicious little fruits began to visit my lips. They came and came until my thirst was gone.
Then I was aware of sounds I had never heard there before; the air was full of little sobs.
I tried to sit up. A pile of small bodies instantly heaped itself at my back. Then I struggled to my feet, with much pushing and pulling from the Little Ones, who were wonderfully strong for their size.
“You must go away, good giant,” they said. “When the bad giants see you hurt, they will all trample on you.”
“I think I must,” I answered.
“Go and grow strong, and come again,” they said.
“I will,” I replied—and sat down.
“Indeed you must go at once!” whispered Lona, who had been supporting me, and now knelt beside me.
“I listened at his door,” said one of the bigger boys, “and heard the bad giant say to his wife that he had found you idle, talking to a lot of moles and squirrels, and when he beat you, they tried to kill him. He said you were a wizard, and they must knock you, or they would have no peace.”
“I will go at once,” I said, “and come back as soon as I have found out what is wanted to make you bigger and stronger.”
“We don’t want to be bigger,” they answered, looking very serious. “We won’t grow bad giants!—We are strong now; you don’t know how much strong!”
It was no use holding them out a prospect that had not any attraction for them! I said nothing more, but rose and moved slowly up the slope of the valley. At once they formed themselves into a long procession; some led the way, some walked with me helping me, and the rest followed. They kept feeding me as we went.
“You are broken,” they said, “and much red juice has run out of you: put some in.”
When we reached the edge of the valley, there was the moon just lifting her forehead over the rim of the horizon.
“She has come to take care of you, and show you the way,” said Lona.
I questioned those about me as we walked, and learned there was a great place with a giant-girl for queen. When I asked if it was a city, they said they did not know. Neither could they tell how far off, or in what direction it was, or what was the giant-girl’s name; all they knew was, that she hated the Little Ones, and would like to kill them, only she could not find them. I asked how they knew that; Lona answered that she had always known it. If the giant-girl came to look for them, they must hide hard, she said. When I told them I should go and ask her why she hated them, they cried out, “No, no! she will kill you, good giant; she will kill you! She is an awful bad-giant witch!”
I asked them where I was to go then. They told me that, beyond the baby-forest, away where the moon came from, lay a smooth green country, pleasant to the feet, without rocks or trees. But when I asked how I was to set out for it, “The moon will tell you, we think,” they said.
They were taking me up the second branch of the river bed: when they saw that the moon had reached her height, they stopped to return.
“We have never gone so far from our trees before,” they said. “Now mind you watch how you go, that you may see inside your eyes how to come back to us.”
“And beware of the giant-woman that lives in the desert,” said one of the bigger girls as they were turning, “I suppose you have heard of her!”
“No,” I answered.
“Then take care not to go near her. She is called the Cat-woman. She is awfully ugly—and scratches.” As soon as the bigger ones stopped, the smaller had begun to run back. The others now looked at me gravely for a moment, and then walked slowly away. Last to leave me, Lona held up the baby to be kissed, gazed in my eyes, whispered, “The Cat-woman will not hurt you,” and went without another word. I stood a while, gazing after them through the moonlight, then turned and, with a heavy heart, began my solitary journey. Soon the laughter of the Little Ones overtook me, like sheep-bells innumerable, rippling the air, and echoing in the rocks about me. I turned again, and again gazed after them: they went gamboling along, with never a care in their sweet souls. But Lona walked apart with her baby.
Pondering as I went, I recalled many traits of my little friends.
Once when I suggested that they should leave the country of the bad giants, and go with me to find another, they answered, “But that would be to not ourselves!”—so strong in them was the love of place that their country seemed essential to their very being! Without ambition or fear, discomfort or greed, they had no motive to desire any change; they knew of nothing amiss; and, except their babies, they had never had a chance of helping any one but myself:—How were they to grow? But again, Why should they grow? In seeking to improve their conditions, might I not do them harm, and only harm? To enlarge their minds after the notions of my world—might it not be to distort and weaken them? Their fear of growth as a possible start for gianthood might be instinctive!
The part of philanthropist is indeed a dangerous one; and the man who would do his neighbour good must first study how not to do him evil, and must begin by pulling the beam out of his own eye.