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,"
"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
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 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
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
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
"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,
"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
"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
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
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
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 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
"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.