The Invisible Wall, by Anna McClure Sholl

Fairy Tales of Weir

On the edge of the Dark Wood dwelt for a time a Wizard, whose life had been spent in the acquirement of many wonderful arts. As a young man he had wandered over Europe from university to university, until one day he became aware of the true secret of education and burnt his books.

Then he dwelt for many years in the mountains, gazing into the dark mirror of his heart, plumbing the blue ocean of the sky until the hour for which he longed arrived, bringing Wisdom, who appeared to him as a young, fair being in the twilight.

Leaving his hut he came forth to meet her. "I had thought to greet you at noonday," said he.

"That is because you live in an age which thinks that to know is to be wise; but only those see who shut their eyes. Not in the glare of noon, but at twilight will you find me."

"You are a beautiful maid, Wisdom," said he who was on his way to be a wizard. "But why do you wear coarse linen who should be clothed in satins?"

"To travel light," she replied.

"And why do you smile who should look sad?"

"To be wise is to be happy."

"And what will you have me do?"

"Remove from here to the village that is near the Dark Wood. Go through all the countryside proclaiming that King Theophile will shortly make war upon the inhabitants, but bid them feel no terror; only they are to build an invisible wall."

"By the books that I burned, that is a strange command!" cried the
Wizard. "Of what materials is this wonderful wall to be built?"

"Of their sacrifices, their renouncements, their good deeds," replied Wisdom.

"But they will call me mad," cried the Wizard.

Wisdom smiled. "Did you expect to be really wise, and yet thought sane?" she made answer. "Have the courage of all great follies and you will yet save The Kingdom of the Dark Wood, which is the fairland of the Princess Myrtle."

Upon which the Wizard took heart, for he knew that to be fearless is to be in the class of masters, and to be fearful is to be in the class of slaves; and the whole world is divided into these two classes, nor is there other aristocracy, or dependency.

"Sweet Wisdom, I will play the fool for your sake," he answered.

Then she smiled and blessed him and vanished into the shadows of the forest. The Wizard was not of those who say, "To-morrow I will do thus and thus"; but being truly wise he put all his power into the present moment. So he took his flask of water and his loaf of bread, for like Wisdom, he would travel light, and he set forth for The Kingdom of the Dark Wood.

There he rented a little cottage in the village near the wood, and set up a shoemaker's bench, for he knew how to make shoes—and good ones, too. Being a Wizard he knew that if he showed people he could do one thing well, they would be the more ready to listen to his words. A fine, comfortable shoe is a wonderful argument, so the Wizard set to work. The dewy dawns found him at his bench, and when the air at evening was full of heliotrope mists and homeward flying birds his little candle burned yellow to light his labors.

Soon all the inhabitants had comfortable foot-wear, which put them all in fine humor. Then the Wizard began to proclaim a great war and the coming of King Theophile. He stood on the green, near the town-pump, and at first only the geese listened to him, stretching out their long necks and opening their red bills. But this did not discourage the Wizard, for he knew that after geese come men.

[Illustration: THE WIZARD'S FIRST AUDIENCE]

"What's this! What's this!" cried the tailor who was the first to get the message, "A war? I must run right home and polish up my old gun."

"Nay," said the Wizard. "But go home and kiss your wife—for you haven't kissed her in five years."

"If she would comb her hair and look attractive I might kiss her," growled the tailor.

"If you'd buy her a ribbon occasionally," advised the Wizard, "she might have the desire to make herself look pretty."

"What has all this to do with war?" inquired the tailor.

"Your kiss will make a stone in the invisible wall which is to keep out the enemy," the Wizard answered. "And if you stop your everlasting work and take your poor wife on an outing, that will be another stone. Every sacrifice you make, every good deed you do, will be a guarding stone in the wall."

The tailor rubbed his ear. "Am I crazy, or are you?"

"Am I asking you to do much for your country?" demanded the Wizard. "Think how mean you would feel if the invisible wall got built without one stone of your donating."

"I'll go right home and kiss Matilda," said the tailor with a skip; and off he ran. In a few minutes he was back again. "She blushed so and looked so pretty and pleased that I kissed her three times, and to-morrow we are going to see her mother. Put me down for four stones."

"Good!" said the Wizard.

By this time quite a crowd had collected, all anxious to hear about the war. A rich miller took the news very seriously, because his mills lay to the eastward, from which horizon King Theophile would appear. He sent to the bank for bags of gold and laid them at the feet of the Wizard. "These will buy much gunpowder," he said.

"The wall will never be built of gold," replied the Wizard. "There is no gold minted that will overcome an enemy, or keep him out if he wants to get in, or put mercy into his heart when vengeance is flaming there. The real weapons are unseen. If you wish to help build the invisible wall, stop grinding the faces of the poor and charging famine prices for your grain."

Then the miller grew red in the face, and took up his bags of gold and went away. But next day everyone bought wheat at a lower price than it had been for many a long year, so that people knew the Wizard's words had taken effect. This made him very popular, and when he again proclaimed the danger of war and the necessity of building an invisible wall nearly all the village came forward to ask him what they could do to insure a stone in that guarding structure. Some of them whispered in his ear, because they hated to have their secret faults proclaimed to their neighbors.

Old Peter was among those who made inquiry as to what sacrifice they should offer to avert the threatening danger. "I have," said he, "a pet bird that pines in his cage. If I give him his liberty will that help build up the wall?"

"Yes, Peter," said the Wizard. "For no good man keeps anything captive that has the desire for freedom."

Some people paid their debts to help build the wall. Others began to go to church after staying away for years and years. Others made up long-standing quarrels with their relatives and old-time friends, and these stones of reconciliation were, the Wizard proclaimed, the strongest of all, since unity and love are the only impregnable fortresses.

Of course, there was some doubt about the wall, since nobody could prove that it really existed. But the Wizard declared he saw it to the eastward growing ever stronger and wider; and he traveled up and down the land prophesying war and the necessity of making the invisible wall strong and high by good works. He met with greatest success in the villages and towns, but when he entered the region of the high castles, where the knights and ladies dwelt, he was much laughed at and some would have had him locked up at once.

Now, being a Wizard, he knew how powerful fashion is in this world, and how a wandering breath may bring it into being, so he said to himself: "I will go direct to the court of the Princess Myrtle, who has married the Prince Merlin, and will gain her ear. When she knows the invisible wall is to protect her kingdom, she will be gracious and set the fashion of providing stones."

So he journeyed all day and all night and came at last to the grim city of green stones with towers like aged fingers of gnarled wood in the midst of which the Princess Myrtle held her court in an old red castle set about with small, stiff trees. Now the Princess had not long been married to the Prince Merlin. So full of love were they for each other that for them many days had drifted away like the dreams of a night; and so sweet was their converse, and so softly the minstrels sang that all the court lived in a kind of trance.

The day the Wizard reached the castle it was drowsy noon; and the golden-woven curtains were softly swaying in the breeze; while upon the dim walls the greenish tapestries looked like mysterious forests. The Prince and Princess sat upon their thrones like painted figures, and all around them sat their courtiers in their golden dreams while the minstrels sang:

"The waves are beating on the yellow sands,
  The moon in a black vault rides white and high.
Let us go forth, from these most desolate lands,
  Led by the spirit's cry."

"You are quite right," said the Wizard. "Your lands will be desolate unless you help build the invisible wall."

At that all the courtiers whose eyelids had been drooping with the summer heat and with dreams of romance, looked up, and the Princess Myrtle withdrew her gaze from Prince Merlin, and fastened her sweet eyes upon the Wizard. "You must not care what the minstrels sing," she said. "We are all so happy here, that we love songs of sorrow."

"Sweet Princess," said the Wizard, "King Theophile intends to make war upon you, and I have come to tell you that already your subjects have built a fine invisible wall of good deeds and sacrifices; but they must not perform all the labor and have all the pain while the nobles jest and feast. For the wall must have a stone in it from every kind of man, rich or poor, high or low, else it will not endure. And you, the Princess, must put in the strongest stone of all, since the ruler of a country must be its protector."

All the courtiers smiled at this, but the Princess did not smile, because she was as wise as she was fair. She looked down at her peach-colored robe of satin and her little slippers embroidered with seed-pearls, and she drew a long-stemmed rose from the jade bowl near her throne to pass back and forth across her lips, as was her manner when thinking.

"Prince Merlin," she said at last, "if this strange tale be true, what stone wilt thou place in the invisible wall?"

"I will go for a month to the Council Chamber instead of lingering near thee while the minstrels sing," replied her husband.

"Spoken like a prince!" cried the Wizard. "And what wilt thou do,
Princess?"

"I will go to the Council Chamber with milord," she answered. "And read most heavy papers of State; for if he shares my play I must share his work."

"To attend to the duties of sovereignty instead of listening to minstrels in a scented room is a fitting stone for the Princess to place in the invisible wall," commented the Wizard; then he looked around at the courtiers.

Now after the manner of courtiers they wanted to imitate their Prince and Princess, but they thought this invisible wall a great joke not worth making sacrifices for. The Wizard read their thoughts and said to them: "If the ruler works alone, he is like a bird with a crippled wing. He can only rule wisely and well if all the wisest and best help him. You are placed high that you may serve. Give me each his vow of sacrifice that the wall may be strong!"

The knights and nobles looked at each other, then at the Princess Myrtle; and she bowed her head and thus addressed them:

"If our weapons against an enemy must be our unity, our mutual love and service, instead of roaring guns and flaming cannon, surely it is easy to provide them. Nevertheless," she added, turning to the military commander, "see that the army is made ready."

The Wizard smiled. "Well and good, if you remember, dear Princess, that an army can never be greater or stronger than the nation back of it. For every gun manufactured there must be a noble desire forged, or a high ideal realized; or else the weapons will be but a mask of courage on a weak face."

The military commander shrugged his shoulders. "I'll go and see if the gunpowder is dry," he commented, "as my contribution to yon stranger's invisible wall."

Then one by one the nobles at the command of the Princess Myrtle came forward to register each his vow of sacrifice. One said that he would write no more poetry for a year; another that he would eat no truffles for a fortnight; a third proclaimed that he would sell his jeweled sword to buy bread for the poor.

The Wizard listened and shook his head. "This layer of stones is going to be very weak," he said. "Why don't you all stop and think, while the ladies make their vows?"

The maids-of-honor crowded forward like a nose-gay of sweet-scented flowers, eager to do better than the knights in the construction of this invisible wall; for being women they were quicker than their brothers and husbands to understand what the Wizard meant. Yet they, too, were not quite clear in their minds, for one said she would wear linen instead of satin; another that she would give up perfumes for six months; another that she would read no novels for that time.

The Wizard began to look discouraged. At last a beautiful young girl came forward to register her vow. "I don't care enough about jewels and scents and satins to give them up, Sir Stranger," she said; "but I should like to win the love of the poor; so I will visit them, and be as one of them."

At this the Wizard clapped his hands. "This stone is most strong," he said. "Now, Sir Knights, return and make new vows."

Then the knights came forward. "I will be reconciled with my brother," said one. "I will build a new cottage for an aged tenant," proclaimed another; while a third, who was in love with the beautiful girl who wanted the love of the poor, said, "I will make a great supper for the hungry and will feast with them."

"Ah," cried the Wizard, "that will be, indeed, a great feast! The bread of charity chokes the receiver because the hand that gives it will not break it with him. We must have communion, not patronage; or the invisible wall will never be built."

The Princess Myrtle listened as one who hears a new gospel; and she remembered that she had never broken bread with the poor, but only bestowed benefits upon them, which is no way to become acquainted. And she sighed—a little sigh of love and regret and hope of doing better, which the Wizard said afterwards became one of the strongest stones in the invisible wall.

Such a change in the kingdom! People making up quarrels that had withered hearts for generations. Court ladies running with warm loaves to the cottages and staying to eat some of the bread. Knights helping old men with the harvest; minstrels sent to sing to the bedridden instead of to an assemblage of bored ladies and gentlemen in a tapestried gallery. Much less talk of love and many more loving deeds. People wild to serve each other instead of themselves. All the land silent and helpful, instead of chattering and selfish! Such a change in the kingdom!

The Wizard was everywhere, for the wall was beginning to be a real defense, and he spared no pains to see that every stone was strong.

Now the fame of this wall reached King Theophile—for this was in the days of his warring—and he laughed on his throne and said, "Oh, little Nation, I will make mincemeat of thee, for I have every kind of weapon that is made, and many officials who do nothing all day but spy on other people and brandish their swords. What have you to oppose to such strength? Little kingdom, you will be but a road to my glory."

So he made great preparations for war, and gathered together all the weapons that shed blood. There were many of these and he prided himself upon them, but in all his arsenal was not one instrument that could put shed blood back again into the veins of a man, which shows that ironworkers do not know everything.

One fine day the King and all his armies came across the rocking waves and drove their boats upon the shores of The Kingdom of the Dark Wood which lay fair before them like a green and purple map edged with white where the breakers drove high. The land wind brought to their senses the odors of grapes, and the scent of apples and ripe grain. And the soldiers said to each other, "We will kill, then we will feast."

They were impatient to overrun the land. Now the air-spies reported that but a small army had massed to meet the intruders, and that back of their ranks the inhabitants were peacefully at work gathering in the harvest. This seemed incredible. Then King Theophile gave his command to the army, "March forward"; and to the air-spies, "Fly on and drop burning brands on the fields."

The army immediately set out. Far away the air-spies were seen beating the air like black rooks, but strangely enough they always remained in sight and seemed to get no further. At last they went high up into the clouds and disappeared.

But the soldiers pressed on joyfully, for the sweet odors of vineyard and garden grew ever more ravishing; and now the land lay at their feet in a shimmering haze, through which the forests rose like deep cool islands with here and there a red roof, or a white church spire to tell of human habitation. And up through the haze like released spirits in paradise came with soft, steady motion, phalanxes of soldiers smiling.

"By my sword that never sleeps," cried King Theophile, "their faces shall be gray ere nightfall, and they shall smile no more."

Then all his soldiers made their swords sing and flash like waving grain of death; and they chanted together a song without joy. Suddenly the black dam of their war fury broke and, with the wild roar of an untamed cataract, they swept forward towards these still and smiling knights, with King Theophile on a high dark horse at their head.

In his rage of conquest he dug his golden spurs into his horse's side, and the beast with quivering nostrils, leaped through space, then suddenly paused, quivering; nor could cry, or whip, or spur move him. Then King Theophile leaped down and rushed forward to see what was frightening the animal; and all at once he crashed against something hard, and his broken right arm fell to his side. He grew gray, not with pain but with sheer terror, for he could see nothing, yet his arm had been broken upon a substance that felt like granite.

As he gazed wildly about him, he saw the first phalanx of his army pitch back with bleeding foreheads; and their eyes rolled in amazement, for they could see nothing, yet they had driven themselves against stones.

"On! On!" cried King Theophile, for he trusted again to his senses which revealed only a peaceful landscape and in the distance, haloed with the mists, a calm army waiting and smiling. That smile of the foe was like poison in the King's veins, and again he rushed forward, this time to bruise and cut his head, so that the blood poured over his white mantle.

Then he grew faint with fear as he beheld his soldiers clawing the empty airs and turning horror-stricken countenances to him. "Sire," they whispered, "something is holding us back. Something is here that we do not see!"

At that moment the air-spies dropped to the ground like tired birds. "The wind holds us back," cried one. "No!" exclaimed another, "we broke our machines against a wall miles in the air! This is a bewitched country."

"We will wait and try again," said King Theophile.

So they encamped on the spot, and far off in the haze they saw the other army pitch its tents, and they heard the soldiers singing. All night their banners waved in the wind and the faint music continued.

At dawn King Theophile's army was astir, and those air-spies whose vehicles were still unbroken, began their flight violently—and were as violently pitched back. The phalanxes were ordered to advance, but some fell dead with horror as they drove their limbs against an unseen barrier. For the limpid air revealed only the placid fields; and in the distance among the golden shadows, men smiling like the still saints in paradisal meadows. "These be happy warriors," sighed the King, and for once in his life he longed to call the foe "brother" and ask how the harvest went; and to pillow his head on the same knapsack with a soldier, and so sleep sweet and brotherly.

But the wall which shut out his hate, now shut out also his love, so that he could not walk across the fields and embrace those smiling warriors waiting in the sunshine for a battle that was never to take place.

So sadly one day he turned his army back to the sea-strand, and the rocking boats, and away from the vision of calm eyes gazing at him through golden shadows, where the land lay fair and open.

Now when the last of the fleet had disappeared below the horizon the people of the Dark Wood kingdom went mad with joy; and the Wizard was escorted to the palace by all the army. The Princess Myrtle and Prince Merlin met him at the entrance to the throne-room, and pages scattered flowers beneath his feet.

"O Wise Man," cried the Princess, "how shall we reward thee for thy wisdom?"

"Only children crave rewards," replied the Wizard. "It will be pleasure enough for me to return to my little hut and to hear the woodpeckers in the eaves; and to see the white owls fly when the stars glow above the dark forest branches."

Now the Military Commander was the only person in the kingdom who was not sharing the general joy. He was grumpy because he had lost all the honor of winning a bloody battle. Even the sight of all his army alive and well could not soothe the wound to his vanity; so when the Princess and the Wizard were exchanging the last courtesies, he strode forward, bowed, and said:

"Your Highness, this invisible wall is all very well, but how will our people reach the seacoast through this perpetual barrier? Can this mighty Wizard destroy what he has erected?"

Then all the court looked at the Wizard, who asked to be led at once to the great concourse where the people were assembled. "This is a question to be settled by the nation and not by the court," he averred.

So the knights and ladies moved like living flowers to the concourse where the people were assembled—the pure grain of the kingdom. And the Wizard called in a loud voice to them, "Men and women, is it your will that your good deeds be destroyed or remain in everlasting remembrance? For this wall will never keep any true soul from the sea, nor any honest man; but he that is a rogue will beat in vain against it!"

Then the people shouted, "We will keep this wall which we have built with our good deeds."

So the wall stood forever, but the Wizard journeyed home, and knew the joy of the tired traveler who sees his own little nook again. That night he ate his bread and drank his draught of water on his own doorstone; and watched the white owls fly, hoping that Wisdom would let him be quiet awhile in the arms of the forest before she sent him out again to teach the restless hearts of men.