Now every night we light the grate
And I sit up till _really_ late;
My Father sits upon the right,
My Mother on the left, and I
Between them on an ancient chair,
That once belonged to my Great-Gran,
Before my Father was a man.
We sit without another light;
I really, truly never tire
Watching that space, as black as night,
That hangs behind the fire;
For there sometimes, you know,
The dearest, queerest little sparks,
Without a sound creep to and fro;
Sometimes they form in rings
Or lines that look like many things,
Like skipping ropes, or hoops, or swings:
Before you know what you're about,
They all go out!
My Father says that they are gnomes,
Beyond the grate they have their homes,
In a tall, black, and windy town,
Behind a door we cannot see.
Often when it's time for bed
The children run away instead,
Out through the door to see our fire,
Then their angry parents come
With every candle in the town,
The beadle with his lantern too,
And search and rummage up and down,
To catch the children as they play,
Between the rows of new-mown hay,
And bring them home;
(They must be, O, so very small,
How do they capture them at all?
But then they must be very _dear_);
When they can find no more
They blow a horn we cannot hear,
And march with the beadle at their head,
Right through the little open door,
Then close it tight and go to bed.
My Mother says that may be so;
(They both agree they're _gnomes_, you know).
She says, she thinks that every night,
The gnomes have had a fearful fight;
Their valiant General has been slain,
And all the soldiers leave the camp
To dig his grave upon the plain;
They drag the General on a gun;
Every bandsman has a lamp
And there's a torch for every one,
They dig his grave with bayonets
And wrap him grandly in his flag,
Then they gather in a ring,
The band plays very soft and low,
And all the soldiers sing.
(Of course we cannot hear, you know,)
Then some one calls 'The enemy comes!'
They muffle up their pipes and drums;
Every soldier in a fright
Puts out his light.
Then hand in hand, and very still,
They clamber up the dark, dark hill
And hold their breath tight--tight.
(I'd like to know which tale is right.)
O! there is something I forgot!
Sometimes one little spark burns on
Long after the rest have gone.
My Father says that lamp is left
By a little crooked, crotchety man,
Who cannot find his wayward son;
When the horn begins to blow,
He has to drop his light and run.
Of course he limps so slow
He squeezes through the very last,
When he is gone the naughty scamp
Jumps up and puff! out goes the lamp.
My Mother says that is the light,
Borne by the very bravest knight;
He is so very, very brave,
He would not leave his General's grave,
And when the Enemy General tries
To make him tell where his General lies,
He answers boldly, 'I--will--not!'
Then they shoot him on the spot,
And give a horrid, dreadful shout,
And then of course his light goes out.
I sit and think when they are through,
Which tale I like best of the two.
Sometimes I like the _Father_ one;
It is such fun!
But then I love the _Mother_ one,
That dear brave soldier and the rest:--
_Now which one do you like the best?_