FOLK TALES: courtesy of Mary Mark Ockerbloom, A Celebration of Women Writers

"Godfrey, the Little Hermit." by Lilian Gask (1865-)
From: Folk Tales From Many Lands. retold by Lilian Gask (1865-). Illustrations by Willy Pogany (1882-1955). New York, T.Y. Crowell & Company [1910] pp. 36-53.

FROM MANY LANDS: courtesy of Mary Mark Ockerbloom, A Celebration of Women Writers


Godfrey the little Hermit

G ODFREY'S father was very poor, for though he worked hard the summer through, tending the fields of his richer neighbours, and, since he lived by the seashore, mended the fishermen's nets for them when it was too cold to go a-fishing, it was only by the thrift and good management of his wife that the big family in the little cottage had enough to eat. Godfrey helped his father to work in their own garden, where they grew fruit and vegetables, and many a golden marrow or sweet potato reached their frugal table as the result of his industry.

The boy was bright and intelligent, but he liked play better than work, and his father was touched when he noticed that Godfrey's affection for himself and his mother had overcome his distaste for drudgery.

"You have pleased me greatly this last week, my son," he said one day, "and I am going to give you some pleasure in return. If to-morrow be fine, I will take you to the Green Island, where my father lived in days gone by."

Godfrey had often longed to visit this Green Island, which on a clear day he could see from the shelving beach, where he loved to play with his small brothers and sisters. He had often heard his father speak of the walnut-trees that grew there and the drooping willows which would give them such a good supply of cane for making their baskets. He was, therefore, delighted at the suggestion, and could scarcely sleep that night for excitement.

Very early next morning, when the sky was still pink with dawn clouds, he was up and astir. A faint grey haze over the distant hills gave a hint of rain, but as the sun rose high in the heavens, this melted into the blue, and his fears of a storm as quickly vanished. The moment breakfast was over, he would have started full speed for the boat, but this his father would not allow.

G ENTLY, my boy!" the good man cried, "you have several things to carry." As he spoke he pointed out a long thick winter cloak, various stores of bread and meat, two choppers, a big iron pot, a coil of rope, and two large baskets.

Godfrey looked at them in dismay.

"Why, Father!" he cried, "what do you want with all these things? The day is too warm for your winter cloak, and as for the food, one loaf, and half that meat, would be sufficient."

His father smiled indulgently.

"It is well to be prepared for all things, my son," he remarked. "Last time I was on the island a storm blew up, and I was glad enough of my thick cloak to shelter me during the night, for I had to remain there until morning." And in spite of Godfrey's conviction that his father was making too much of a danger unlikely to happen, each article was carefully carried down to the boat.

The sea was very calm. Godfrey and his father each took an oar, and soon their little cottage became but a tiny speck in the distance, while the Green Island grew larger and larger, until at last Godfrey could see the splendid grove of walnut-trees which gave it its emerald hue. Springing on to the shore, he made the boat fast with the rope, and though Godfrey would have preferred to start nutting at once, his father said he must wait for this until they had cut a good supply of willows. It was hot work, even with their sharp choppers, and when dinner-time came the sun was high in the sky.

Godfrey brought the iron pot from the boat, and his father showed him how to set light to the heap of dry wood they had collected, by rubbing two sticks together until these became so hot that they burst into flame. When this was accomplished, the iron pot was slung over the centre by means of two boughs, and a portion of the meat was quickly cooked. Godfrey had never enjoyed a meal so much before, and when it was finished his thoughts flew off to the walnuts.

"Not so fast, my son," his father said, as the boy picked up the baskets. "These things must first be taken back to the boat."

Godfrey obeyed unwillingly, but not until all had been replaced was he permitted to go to the walnut-groves.

Once there, he quickly forgot his vexation. His father climbed high up in the trees, and, as he shook the branches, there fell a shower of fine, ripe nuts. Time after time, Godfrey refilled the baskets, emptying them, when they threatened to overflow, into the stern of the boat.

"We shall have a splendid supply for the winter," they said to each other, as they worked away, too happily occupied to notice the clouds that were gathering overhead. These drifted at first in twos and threes; then they gathered together in huge battalions, until the sun was hidden, and the seagulls flew low over the waves, uttering strange shrill cries.

Godfrey happened to be in the boat emptying his baskets for the fourth time, when his attention was suddenly aroused by a big wave, which dashed it from its moorings so violently that the rope gave way.

"Father! Father!" he cried, but amidst the roar of the sea his voice was lost, and though he did his best to steady the boat with a heavy oar, it was swiftly carried away from the land on the strong current. Not until he was beyond help did his father come down to the shore.

The boat was carried swiftly on, tossed from side to side by big green waves, which, try as they would, could not overturn it. Stricken with terror, Godfrey crouched at the bottom, and when at length the motion of the sea grew calmer, and the rain ceased to beat on his shrinking form, he could scarcely believe that the storm was over. A little while later, and the keel of the boat struck on a rock. The planks shivered, but did not break, and he was thrown out upon dry land.

When the first shock was over he sat up tremblingly, and looked about him. Greatly to his surprise, for he had often heard his father say that the Green Island was the only one on that coast, he found himself upon a plateau of land. Wherever he looked there was nothing but rocks and sea and sky, and the scene was so desolate in its loneliness that he burst into tears.

"What shall I do?" he cried, gazing wildly round him. The doleful calls of the seagulls were his only answer, and wrapping himself in his father's coat, he sobbed himself to sleep.

When he awoke it was morning, and the troubled sea of the night before was a sheet of golden ripples, With renewed courage he made a meal on some of the bread and meat which had escaped a wetting. and as he did so he remembered how, but for his father's insistence the day before, he would now have no food at all. As he was very thirsty, he started to explore the little island, hoping to find some stream or spring, but for long he searched in vain. His throat was parched and dry, and his lips burning, when he heard the murmur of trickling water. Following this he came to a deep ravine, at the bottom of which ran a little steam.

H OW thankful he felt as he slaked his thirst, and bathed his face in its sparkling shallows! When he had rested a little, he climbed a hill from whence he could see a long way round him, but though the white sails of several vessels were clearly visible against the distant coastline of the Green Island, his frantic signals failed to reach them, and they soon passed out of sight. Godfrey supped that night on bread and nuts, and then, wrapping himself once more in the big cloak, said his prayers and fell asleep.

Meanwhile his parents suffered agonies of distress. His mother watched all through the night, and when morning came without any sign of her dear ones' return, she hastened to implore the help of a rich neighbour.

"Do not weep!" he said to her very kindly. "Most likely their boat has been carried away by the storm, and they are in safe shelter. I will seek them at once."

Without a moment's delay, he started for the Green Island in his fine new sailing vessel, and before long Godfrey's parents were weeping in each other's arms. When the mother heard what had happened to her boy, she was almost brokenhearted, and his brothers and sisters were overwhelmed with grief.

HE SOON HOOKED A FISH

W E shall never see him again!" they sobbed, and little Elsa, who loved him best of all, no longer sang when she played with her dolls, or helped her mother put the little ones to bed.

As the days went on, and no one came to his rescue, Godfrey began to realise that if he wished to live he must bestir himself. The stock of food that he had brought with him in the boat was soon exhausted, and since it was only in the crevices of the rocks that plants could grow on that island, he found few berries to satisfy his hunger. The sight of fish in the deep pools left by the tide naturally suggested that he should catch them; the pretty green ribbon that Elsa had pinned round his hat the morning he left home made an excellent line, with a pin at one end, and a rod of willow at the other. After a long search he found a worm, and casting the rod into a pool, he soon hooked a fish. This he cooked in the iron pot over a fire of dried moss.

"What a good thing," he thought, "that Father made me carry all these things down to the boat. If I had left them under the tree when we had finished our meal, what should I have done now? Father was quite right; order is a very good thing."

Godfrey did not stop at catching the small fish in the pools. With the help of a sharp-pointed stone, he made a larger hook, and so caught big ones. He found a little salt, too, in a chink in the rocks, and this greatly improved their flavour. Mussels and limpets were now added to his usual fare, and when he discovered some eatable seaweed he felt that he was fortunate indeed.

The summer days slipped quickly by, and the stars smiled down on him through the friendly darkness in the dusk of evening. Although alone, he was not frightened until once more a heavy storm broke over the island, drenching his cloak with rain and making fishing impossible. He felt cold and wet, and very miserable, as he wondered what would happen to him when winter came.

"It will soon be here," he sighed. "It is autumn now, and the nights are getting colder. I must find a cave, or I shall be frozen to death."

It was not easy to do this, but at last he discovered a snug little shelter behind some bushes, and very close to the stream at which he slaked his thirst. He collected a big heap of moss, and took it inside to serve him as a bed. Opposite this he placed his precious chopper and iron pot, and the few planks which were all that now remained of his father's boat.

His next task was to chip a deep hole in a rock close by, so that he might fill this with water, and use it as a little reservoir in which to keep a supply of fish. Some of the planks he cut up for firewood, and the rest formed the roof of the stone kitchen he built between two rocks, since it was impossible for him to have a fire inside the cave on account of the smoke. As time went on, he thought of many other contrivances for his comfort, and became quite skilled in fashioning tools from the rough materials at his command, using his chopper as a hammer, and a large stone as an anvil. Before long he had quite a brave show of fishing-tackle, and if once the sea had been cruel to him, he found it now his kindest friend. It provided him with sufficient food to keep him alive through the dreary winter, and although he often went hungry to bed, when spring came he was strong and well, and the eggs of the sea-birds that built their nests on the island soon afforded him a pleasant change from so much fish.

A S the days grew longer, and white sails crossed and recrossed the calm blue waters, he hoped once more that some one might see his signals. But all in vain! His poor little flag fluttered sadly in the breeze, for the distant sailors, if they saw it at all, thought it only some homing sea-bird on the wing.

One evening, when the wind blew high, and the waves that dashed on the rocky island threw up great clouds of spray, the sound of most exquisite singing broke upon his ears; it seemed to come from a little bay where the waters were always calm. He hurried towards this, full of wonder, and there, on the edge of a steep black rock, he fancied he saw the most lovely mermaid, her white neck decked with ropes of pearls, and her glistening form half hidden in a veil of red-gold hair. She held out her arms to him entreatingly.

"Come to me, come!" she chanted, "and the treasures of the deep shall be yours for ever. Hunger and thirst shall trouble you no more, and your sleep shall be sweet and dreamless."

Godfrey would have flown to her embrace, for her voice was sweeter than the song of birds, but there flashed across his memory the warning, "Beware of merfolk," that he had once heard from his mother's lips. So he shook his head and resolutely turned away. The dulcet tones of the mermaid's voice changed to a shriek of anger, and tearing asunder her necklace of gleaming pearls, she plunged into the sea.

All that night through he dreamt of the scattered gems.

"If I could find them," he thought wistfully, as he made his way down to the shore, "my father would be rich."

Then he remembered that it was very unlikely that he would ever see his father and mother again, and when he reached the bay, his eyes were filled with tears. No mermaid sang there now, and he could find no pearls: but the sea had tossed up delicate branches of pink and red coral, and many shells. After a while he noticed a bed of oysters at the foot of the rock, and taking some of these back to the cave with him, he made a delicious breakfast. To his great delight he found inside each oyster. shell an exquisite round pearl, and he placed these with the coral in a little bag he had woven out of coarse grasses, to while away the time. Day by day, as he ate more oysters, he added to his shining store, and it saddened him to think that he could not send them home.

"I wish that the seagulls would carry them, if I may not go myself," he sighed. But the seagulls flew over his head in happy unconcern of all his troubles, and the night wind whispered patience.

Godfrey had been on the island now for a whole year. His clothes were quite worn out, and but for the big winter cloak that had been his father's, he would have had nothing to wear. With much ingenuity he cut it into a long coat, and when he had donned it he looked so like a monk or an old hermit that he laughed as he saw himself mirrored in the stream.

That summer he was never idle, storing up moss and drift-wood for fuel, and drying fish in the hot sun for winter use. He was very lonely, but the wind told him tales of far-off lands, and the summer breezes told him to hope on still.

"Something will happen soon," they murmured, and Godfrey tried to believe them.

One morning he set off early to collect driftwood, for the tide had been high the night before, and the beach was strewn with the wreckage of a great ship that had gone down far away. He had left a small fire burning in his little kitchen, and on his return he was horrified to see that the wind had blown it into a great one, and that its flames had caught the wooden ceiling. His stock of fuel and fishing-tackle were also burning fiercely–even his table and bench had not been spared; and when he saw that he would have nothing left, he fell on his knees in utter despair.

"I must die now," he sobbed. "The winter is coming, and I shall have neither food nor warmth, since I cannot fish without my tackle, and my fuel has all gone." And though the sun streamed down on him very kindly, and a soft little breeze tried to tell him that all was not yet lost, he would not be comforted.

Now it happened that on that very morning it had come into his father's head to visit the Green Island. His stock of willows was at an end, and despite his wife's forebodings, he set off with two of the children, promising faithfully that neither of them should get into the boat without him. The poor woman watched him pull off sorrowfully; she was thinking of Godfrey, whom she never expected to see again, and her tears fell fast as she went about her work.

T HE little party reached the island safely, and while the father busied himself in cutting willows, the children played on the shore. When his task was done they begged him to take them up the hill that they might catch a glimpse of their cottage.

"How small it looks!" cried little Elsa, as they gazed far over the sea. "Look yonder, Father!" she added presently, "isn't that a wreath of smoke?"

"Yes," he replied; "very likely it is a ship on fire."

"I think it's a volcano," said his small son, who had been reading about one at school. But his father did not heed him.

"It's very curious," he said, "but I fancy I can see two hills. If so, that must be another island. I never heard of it before."

"If it's an island," cried Elsa, "perhaps it is inhabited, and Godfrey may be there."

The father had just the same thought, and it made him tremble.

"It is possible," he said. "Let us go back as quickly as we can, and I will speak to our neighbour. He is a kind man, and will lend me his sailing boat."

When they reached home their mother was told what they had seen, and her heart beat with a new hope. The neighbour consented gladly to lend his boat.

"To-morrow," he said to Godfrey's father, "if the weather is favourable, we will go, and perhaps neighbour John will accompany us."

The men set off early the following morning, but when they reached the plateau of rocks where Godfrey had found a refuge, they saw no signs of any dwelling, nor of a human being.

"It is an uninhabited island!" neighbour John said sadly.

"Let us explore it carefully," cried Godfrey's father. "Perhaps we shall discover something that once belonged to my poor boy."

Suddenly they caught sight of a slender figure in a long garment, and took it to be that of a monk. As they hastened towards it with eager questions, the figure turned, and sprang into the father's arms with a cry of joy. It was no monk he found, but Godfrey himself.

By this time the sun was setting, and the sea was a field of gold. As they sat together in the peaceful twilight, for they could not leave the island until dawn, Godfrey told his rescuers how he had contrived to live through the long winter, and of his despair when the fire destroyed his few possessions.

I THOUGHT that I was quite forsaken," he said, and his father drew him yet closer to his side.

"No, my son," he told him gravely, "you were not forsaken. It was the smoke from that fire that made me think there was an island here, and but for this we should never have come to save you."

No words can describe his mother's joy when Godfrey was restored to her, and his brothers and sisters would hardly let him out of their sight. The kindly neighbour made a feast for him, and his friends gathered round from far and near to listen to the story of his adventures. The courage and perseverance that he had shown under such great difficulties made them look upon him as a little hero, but what pleased him most was the fact that his father would be poor no longer. For the pearls and corals in Godfrey's little bag fetched so large a sum that he and his wife lived in comfort for the rest of their days, and were able to give their children a good education, which they could not do before.

Godfrey was taught many things at school, but the lessons of patience and trust and perseverance, which he had learnt on that lonely island, were more precious to him than all.

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FROM MANY LANDS: courtesy of Mary Mark Ockerbloom, A Celebration of Women Writers