Maid Myrta’s Children
Once upon a time there was a woman named Maid Myrta. She was small and slight, with gentle, patient eyes and a way of walking that made her appear to be weightless. Her small cottage was on a hill some distance above the village, and thus its inhabitants rarely made the climb up to it.
The villagers thought Maid Myrta ought to have a shriveled appearance, with bitter, hungry eyes and a heavy, trudging gait, for when she passed through the village they said of her “There goes Maid Myrta. I would not be her for anything; she has no children or even a husband and lives high on a lonely hill.” On account of these afflictions, they were surprised that she remained so buoyant and serene.
All the villagers said of Maid Myrta was true: she lived a solitary, quiet life that to everyone else seemed empty, and she did indeed desire very much to have children she could care for and teach and love, and receive many gifts in return from their innocence and sweet purity. Yet, to the villagers’ wonder, she remained soft and light, never dragged down by her desire, though every so often, as she sat in her silent cottage reading or sewing—for she earned her living by sewing the village children’s clothes—she would sigh a wistful sigh and imagine several of them, all her own, sitting around her in play or reverie.
Now one day as Maid Myrta busily sewed, a peddler toiled up the hill to her cottage with his full cart rattling and tinkling behind the white pony that drew it. Maid Myrta had already risen and opened her door when he reached it. She and the peddler greeted one another cordially, and Maid Myrta, out of politeness, looked over the wares in his cart.
When she had seen everything she said with regret “Peddler, you have many fine things here, though I regret I have not the money to buy even one of them, for I am but a poor seamstress for the village. And there is really only one thing I desire of life: children of my own.” Few people who encountered Maid Myrta ever heard her speak half as many words as she spoke to the peddler, and to none other had she named her greatest desire. There was something kindly in the peddler’s face that drew the words from her lips.
The peddler, in turn, was touched by Maid Myrta’s honesty and wistfulness. He thought for a moment, gazing at her down-turned face. Then he disappeared into the cart and after a moment emerged from it holding a black wooden cupboard about the size of a small oven and which had a door in the front of it with a long curved handle. He held the cupboard out to Maid Myrta.
“This cupboard gives its possessor what she wishes for,” he said. “I offer it to you with no cost, maid, for those who reveal with honesty their desires are the first to receive them. Though I cannot reveal from whence I came by it, I entreat you to accept it from me.”
“I will, of course,” was Maid Myrta’s gracious reply, “For I could not believe it to contain harm coming from a good-willed man such as yourself.” She took the black cupboard into her hands, expecting it be heavy; but it was light as air.
“Open it thrice, once each morning,” the peddler instructed her. “No more and no less, for its power does not exceed three blessings.” Then he doffed his cap to Maid Myrta, climbed atop his cart of wares, and betook his way past her cottage and away down the other side of the hill.
Maid Myrta returned to her cottage with the black cupboard, laughing a little to herself. Though she would not for the world have refused the good peddler’s gift, she doubted very much that it could give her children, whatever magic it may contain. Nevertheless, she carried it upstairs and placed it beside her bed, resolving to open it the following morning when she woke and see what it yielded, if anything at all. She wholly doubted that the peddler would have willfully swindled her. He had no reason to, as he had demanded no payment for the article.
Once again Maid Myrta became absorbed in her work, and thought no more of the peddler’s gift until she woke the next morning, while shadows of children, born of wistful dreams, danced about her.
The first thing that met Maid Myrta’s waking eyes the next morning was the black cupboard.
“I may as well open it as the peddler bid me,” she thought mildly as she rose from her white bed.
When Maid Myrta enclosed the rounded iron handle in her small hand it grew warm, and a single note, like the first beckoning of a lovely tune, sounded. The door swung open, and Maid Myrta caught her breath.
Curled into the low space of the cupboard was a child made entirely of dark green leaves, looking up at her with bright yellow eyes and a warm smile. With an entreating gesture that utterly won Maid Myrta’s heart, the child raised her hands up to hers. Maid Myrta took them and drew her from the cupboard, quite mesmerized by the creature’s wild yet trusting yellow eyes that gazed steadily up into hers.
“I think you are the most beautiful child I have ever beheld, and all of them are beautiful,” said Maid Myrta in her quiet, half-hesitant voice. “Bless the peddler who gave me that black cupboard! He was not lying when he said it would grant my wish, though he hardly warned me of what form it would take. Child of leaves, I know not how you stand here with me, but do you think I and my cottage would be to your liking?” Inwardly she trembled that the strange child would wish to go elsewhere, for already Maid Myrta felt that she belonged to her.
The child did not look away from Maid Myrta before answering. “Yes. They already are. I am yours, and you are mine!”
Maid Myrta’s eyes filled with joyful tears. “So it is!” she said, cradling the smiling creature’s head in one hand. The leaves that covered it were soft and pliant. “At last, a child—my own child.”
The two went downstairs hand in hand, and Maid Myta quickly came to know the leaf-child very well. She needed neither food nor drink, but appeared to subsist entirely upon sitting near Maid Myrta, her mother; and when she moved and walked the leaves of her body made a soft rustling sound. Her smile stretched across her green face as widely as any contented child, her orb-like eyes giving Maid Myrta the impression that she was to the leaf-child an exceedingly wise and caring mother.
The most striking thing about the leaf-child was that she sang, in a voice like the murmur of a breeze, both stories and wordless tunes alike, so beautiful that they made Maid Myrta’s heart ache, Magic and significance abounded in the most simple, common words when the leaf-child sang them. If she sang of a donkey grazing placidly in a field, Maid Myrta would be as enchanted by it as by ones concerning grand, exciting events and folk.
Maid Myrta would have liked to simply gaze upon the leaf-child and listen to her singing, but the leaf-child said “I will sing as you sew, dear mother, and so your work will be pleasure and pass with speed.” And so, the entire day, as Maid Myrta went about her tasks, the leaf-child sang and sang without tiring, and also paused to talk as a normal child would, asking questions about Maid Myrta, her cottage, her sewing, the children she made clothes for, and the village. Maid Myrta felt a tiny quiver of fear that her child would desire to leave the cottage to explore the world around her, to seek more company, but she seemed content—ecstatically so—to abide in the cottage to sing and talk for her mother whom she loved dearly already. And so Maid Myrta was reassured. Her heart seemed as if it would burst for happiness.
When darkness fell, Maid Myrta perceived that the leaf-child’s songs had grown drowsy, as had her yellow eyes, which began to close. Maid Myrta laughed and drew her into her arms. “My child, you have toiled all day for my benefit. Now you must rest!” She took the leaf-child up to the spare room beside her own, wondering what she would lay her on. But into the bare space had materialized a little green bed just the child’s size, and so Maid Myrta laid her in it, drew the covers snugly under her chin, and sat by her until she fell asleep. Even in sleep did her music continue in very faint notes, the long veil of leaves which was her hair spread over the pillow. Maid Myrta stroked it and went to her own room, forgetting the black cupboard that stood inside it. All she could think of was her child, whose music lulled her soundly to sleep.
When Maid Myrta awoke the next morning the first thing that met her eyes was again the black cupboard beneath the window.
“I see no use in opening it a second time,” she said to herself, for her thoughts were far from greedy. “I have a child of my own; my heart is full. But perhaps it holds something for her like the little green bed.” And so Maid Myrta grasped the curved handle a second time. It grew warm, with a brief quiver in the air like the movement of a nearly visible form. The door swung open, and Maid Myrta again caught her breath.
Curled into the low space of the black cupboard was a child made entirely of pink cloud. With her airy limbs and blue eyes, mellow as an afternoon haze, she seemed born of rosy dawn. She too put out her hands and smiled up at Maid Myrta with simple trust.
Maid Myrta drew her from the cupboard. “Another child!” she exclaimed in wonder. “I did not dare to think my wishes would come true a second time! My dear, if you will stay with me as my child, I shall be your mother, to love and care for you.”
“I will stay with you as your child,” said the cloud-child, looking earnestly up at her. Her voice was soft as a wisp of cloud in the sky.
“Then you must come to meet your sister, in the next room,” said Maid Myrta, her heart swelling further, and hand in hand they went to the bed of the leaf-child, who greeted and was greeted by the cloud-child with gladness.
The cloud-child’s person was soon revealed to Maid Myrta and the leaf-child. Her smile was a small dreamy one, she appeared to want nothing more than to be near Maid Myrta and the leaf-child, and she too needed neither food nor drink. Now as to her special ability. Every movement and glance the cloud-child made was like a graceful dance, all of them connecting into a single one and yet remaining separate, as unique as each cloud in the sky. If she opened a door twenty time in succession, the action would be lovely in a wholly different way each time. No movement of the cloud-child’s was sharp; each flowed.
Now, with her two remarkable children, Maid Myrta could hardly think of her work for staring at them. But the cloud-child said “I shall dance to my leaf-sister’s singing as you sew.”
And so, while Maid Myrta worked, she had her two children beside her, feeling as though she resided in paradise itself with their heavenly song and dance. The cloud-child spoke to Maid Myrta too, adding her soft comments and questions to the leaf-child’s lively ones. At dusk, when the cloud-child’s movements became slow and languid and the leaf-child’s song dwindled, Maid Myrta took them up to bed holding each of their hands, wondering where she would put the cloud-child, for she could not fit with the leaf-child into the little green bed. But when she reached the room there was a little pink one next to the green, and the cloud-child fit perfectly inside it, with the long veil of cloud which was her hair spread over the pillow. Maid Myrta stayed in the room until she and her sister slept, the cloud-child’s dance seeming to go on to the leaf-child’s music in her even breath, and then went to her own room and got into bed, where she was lulled to sleep, again having forgotten the black cupboard on the floor beside her bed.
When she awoke the next morning, the first thing her eyes met was, once more, the black wooden cupboard. “Even less do I see reason to open it again,” Maid Myrta laughed to herself. “I have all I could desire. One less blessed should be in my place to open the cupboard. Yet I will again open it. Perhaps inside will be a gift like the little beds for both my children.” And so for the third and last time she grasped the curved wooden handle, which grew warm as a small flash of bright light winked out from a corner of the cupboard like a promise of treasure. The door swung open, and Maid Myrta caught her breath.
Curled into the low space of the black cupboard was a child made entirely of glowing golden light. Even her eyes were golden, and though her lips did not smile, her eyes were very warm, so that they immediately struck tenderness in Maid Myrta’s heart. Maid Myrta drew the child out almost before she lifted her hands.
“Well, I should not be surprised to find you, too, with my other two children in the next room!” she said. “Will you join them in accepting me as your mother?”
The light-child nodded and squeezed Maid Myrta’s hands.
“Come to your sisters,” said Maid Myrta, the glow of her face almost as luminous as the child’s. Hand in hand they went to the beds of the leaf-child and cloud-child, where they met their new sister with cries and embraces of welcome.
It was speedily discovered that, unlike her two sisters, the light-child could not speak. But this fact mattered little, for the golden light that constantly emanated from her form spoke for her, filling the room she was in with peaceful, contented thoughts. If her companions were sad, her light would comfort them; if angry, it would soothe them; if merry, it would echo their joy. And the richness of its gold was far superior to the kind man so covetously collects. It was as beneficial as the sun’s rays, lighting the chambers of the heart.
The light-child had no necessity for food and drink either, and she sat beside Maid Myrta as if the good dame was the source of her radiance.
Maid Myrta knew not how to focus on her sewing, but the eyes of the light-child told her she would continue to glow as she worked, while the leaf-child and the cloud-child sang and danced. When they spoke, she did too in her silent way.
And so all that day Maid Myrta had the best of company to render each moment of it exquisitely lovely. The magical abilities of all three children complemented one another to perfection. Truly, never did any family seem so flawless.
Maid Myrta’s eyes brimmed with tears. “My children, my children!” she cried. “We shall be so happy together—so very, very happy.”
When evening came, the song of the leaf-child quieted, the dance of the cloud-child slowed to dreaminess, and the glow of the light-child dimmed. Maid Myrta took them up to bed, with the light-child in her arms and the leaf-child and cloud-child at her sides. There was a third little bed, all of gold, in the room when they reached it, and it was the perfect size for the light-child, with the long veil of light which was her hair spread over the pillow. Maid Myrta waited until the three of them slept, the light-child’s glow remaining faintly about her. Then, after kissing the brow of each and stroking her hair, she went to her own room, where she patted the black cupboard.
“You have served me very well,” she told it, getting into bed. “I ought to give it back to the peddler, that he may use it to grant another her deepest wish.” With this thought, she fell into a sleep even more sound than those of the two previous nights.
Weeks passed, in which time Maid Myrta was happier than she had ever conceived anyone could be. Her three children filled each moment with magic as she gazed upon them and listened to their song and talk. They aided her enormously in her work simply by staying near, following her about the house or sitting around her chair as she sewed, the leaf-child singing, the cloud-child dancing, and the light-child glowing. As Maid Myrta had long dreamed of, she was a mother, surrounded by three children who adored and trusted her, and whom she adored and trusted in return. They were never irritable or naughty, but sweet and affectionate to her and to one another. And they said innocent things with wisdom, humor, beauty in them. Her nights no longer felt hollow and lonely, for the room next to her own was filled.
“My darlings,” Maid Myrta thought whenever she gazed at the three of them.
As the weeks passed, however, change came over her. She began to feel and look anxious. When she left the cottage, as she often had to to buy supplies and deliver the clothes she sewed to those who had ordered them, leaving her three children behind, she whisked along as if pursued—for indeed she was, by worries of what might befall her children whilst she was away from them. Someone might hear the leaf-child’s singing and approach the cottage, unable to resist its lure, and discover all three sisters. Though Maid Myrta had entreated her children never to open the door to anyone but their mother, still they might, as creatures unsuspecting of danger. Then the intruder would see what wonders they were and steal them away, and she would be left desolate. Village children might stray up the hill and entice the three children from the cottage to seek adventures, so that they would never wish to return to their quiet home life with her. Their sweetness might be ruined in the company of rowdy village children. They might argue amongst themselves, speak impudently to her.
Maid Myrta shuddered at all of these fears and rushed to get home. The villagers, seeing how she no longer walked with gentle grace as if nothing hurried her, but was bent forward over her flying feet, head bent and hands grasped about the neck of her cloak as if in fear it would be wrenched from her shoulders by the wind, said amongst themselves “See how troubled Maid Myrta looks! She runs along like a madwoman. Perhaps her lonely life has turned her mind at last.” They shook their heads and exchanged knowing glances.
None of them guessed Maid Myrta’s secret or, indeed, that she had one at all, and great was her relief each time she returned to her cottage atop the hill to find her three children safe, waiting for her and crowding about her in joy when she entered. And they were all together again. Maid Myrta smiled upon them as before, yet her brow was wrinkled as she thought of her worries. If any of the villagers found out the existence of her children and their remarkable appearances and abilities, they would call it unfair that a singular, barely respectable woman such as herself should have more beautiful and gifted children than they. Moreover, she had come by them through magical means anyone might use, and therefore had no right to keep them as hers alone, they would say. The villagers would want the children for themselves, even demand them, and how could Maid Myrta oppose them if they did? Such was the enchantment of her children that she was sure no one could look upon them without coveting them.
“They are mine!” Maid Myrta cried to herself. “They must not be taken from me!” And she woke several times in the night and hurried to their room to see that they still lay in their little colored beds in undisturbed sleep, with peaceful breath. Her doors and windows were always shut and bolted securely.
The three children did not appear to perceive their mother’s perpetual anxiety, for, as it increased, so did their joy and brightness. The leaf-child sang louder each day, the cloud-child danced with yet more sweeping movements, and the light-child’s glow grew more luminous. Soon the cottage would not be able to contain the song, dance, and light within it.
One day it could not. Anyone who stood outside the cottage would hear the leaf-child’s song, glimpse the cloud-child’s gliding and flitting, and behold the golden glow of the light-child streaming from every corner. Maid Myrta, peering out from behind the curtains to ensure that no one did stand outside the cottage, bit her lip in trepidation.
The next day anyone at the bottom of the hill would hear and see the children. Maid Myrta fretted and trembled. The following day, anyone across the fields would be aware of them. Maid Myrta sobbed and moaned, entirely forgetting to enjoy her children herself. “My children, my children, you must be quieter, and more still!” she begged.
Three pairs of eyes—one yellow, one blue, the other gold—looked upon her, and three smiles—one wide, one mysterious, the other not seen on lips—were turned her way. “We must be so,” their owners said, “For we live to give you joy with our song, dance, and light. The more worried you become, the more we seek to comfort you. For we have noticed how you worry.”
“You have given me much joy and comfort,” Maid Myrta assured them desperately, “Enough to last the rest of my days if you stopped now. But please, please quiet your song, still your dance, dim your glow! The villagers will take you away from me if they discover you, and I shall be your mother no more!”
But, no matter how Maid Myrta begged, her children did not lessen their activities. The leaf-child’s music was, the next day, deafening, the cloud-child’s dance overwhelming, and the light-child’s glow blinding. All the way down in the village the villagers heard clearly the breathtaking song, glimpsed the soaring dance, and saw the radiant golden light, and all three penetrated to their hearts as they had to Maid Myrta’s. They stopped their work and gathered in the square, gazing past the houses and farms and fields to the cottage on the hill.
“Angels must occupy Maid Myrta’s cottage,” they said to one another in astonishment. “Or else heaven itself has descended there. We must go to see which is the case.”
Maid Myrta saw them coming. From a window she watched them leave the square, cross the fields, and ascend the hill toward her home: men and women, young and old alike, and children; every occupant of the village came, as she thought, to discover her children and take them away from her.
And so, in a fit of violent boldness she had never before displayed, her cheeks flushed and her hair like a heap of hay from her hands wringing themselves through it, Maid Myrta flung open the cottage door and faced the crowd.
“I suppose,” she said, her voice high and carrying, “That you have come to investigate exactly what it is that has drawn your attention to my cottage. I shall show you.” She turned and whisked back into the cottage.
The villagers were quite shocked to have found her in such a state. Surely she had gone mad, as they had thought of late.
The music and dance suddenly ceased and the glow shrank like a doused candle flame. Maid Myrta emerged again, drawing the leaf-child, the cloud-child, and the light-child before her.
“Behold my three children, my three beautiful children who have been my joy and companionship during the weeks past,” Maid Myrta continued, as the mouth and eyes of every villager widened at the sight. “Now, sing—dance—glow!” Maid Myrta tapped each child lightly on the head, at which she commenced her talent. “Hear and see!” Maid Myrta bid the villagers.
There was silence and stillness as the leaf-child sang, the cloud-child danced, and the light-child glowed, each more beautifully than she ever had before.
After several minutes had passed, the three children ceased unbidden and smiled up at their mother, grasping her hands in their little ones. But she did not look up from the ground, her head and shoulders drooping and her hair hanging limp about her face, which was wet with tears.
Her voice was soft and weary as she spoke. “Take them,” she said. “Take them from me to enjoy them yourselves, as I knew you would. A simple, singular woman such as myself has no rightful hold on such enchanting creatures, it seems.” The bitter words uttered in Maid Myrta’s feeble voice were pitiful.
As silence greeted her, she looked up slowly to see that the villagers all stared at her in frank puzzlement.
“What do you mean?” one of them finally asked.
“Why on earth would we take them from you?” inquired another. There were murmurs of the same sort and nodding of heads.
Maid Myrta’s face now mirrored their confusion. “You mean—you will let me keep them—won’t take them for yourselves? I thought you would, as they are so beautiful and gifted and you would think it unfair that I should have them.” She moved yet closer to her children, searching the villagers’ faces for any sign of deceit.
“We have no intention of taking your children from you,” said a third villager. “We simply came to find out what dwelt in your cottage to make such lovely music, movements, and light.”
“We are very happy for you, Maid Myrta, that you at last have children, and very fine ones.”
Maid Myrta stared at the crowd before her, at the graciously smiling people she had thought would inquire without mercy into where her children had come from, then claim the benefits they gave for their own. Instead, they whom she had fancied as sneering folk who looked down upon her actually wished her well. There had been no need to fear losing her children to them after all.
Maid Myrta laughed a small laugh, looking sheepishly up at the villagers and attempting to tidy her mussed appearance. “I see now that I have expected ill from you without reason,” she said. “I am sorry for it, both for having misjudged your characters and for worrying myself to hysteria so that I no longer enjoyed my three children. They can sing, dance, and glow like no mortals can and are the most charming of company. I will, of course, share their gifts with you. I will bring them into the village with me so that you too may benefit from their abilities as you go about your work. And they may play with your children.”
“That is kind of you,” the villagers replied. “For nowhere in the world could such children be found.”
“Mother,” said the leaf-child, tugging at Maid Myrta’s hand and looking up at her in much the same way that she had before emerging from the black cupboard that first day. “I will sing for them now.”
“And I will dance,” said the cloud-child, taking Maid Myrta’s other hand and looking up at her in the same way.
“I will glow,” said the light-child with her steady golden eyes.
“Yes, my children,” consented Maid Myrta. “Give them the same gifts you have given me.” She had no more fear that the villagers would be stricken with greed for them.
And they were not. They watched and listened, and marveled and smiled in pleasure, and when evening came and the three children grew sleepy, the villagers, with sighs of appreciation, took their way home down the hill, none demanding more entertainment, only giving Maid Myrta further tidings of congratulation for her good fortune.
After tucking in her children that night, Maid Myrta went to bed for a long, untroubled sleep, patting the black wooden cupboard as she did so.
“Not only has it granted my deepest wish, but it has also shown me how best to cherish it. If only the peddler would come back, so I could thank him and return it!”
Strangely enough, the peddler stopped at the cottage the very next day. Maid Myrta begged him to come in and see what the cupboard had given her. He stayed a long time, listening to the leaf-child, gazing upon the cloud-child and the light-child, and talking with Maid Myrta. At the end of the day, the two were betrothed, and they married the following week accompanied by the song, dance, and light of the three children and attended by cheering villagers. And so Maid Myrta gained a husband as well, and her children a father.
The leaf-child, cloud-child, and light-child went often to the village with Maid Myrta, who resumed her former unhurried and peaceful manner, and around the countryside with the peddler, giving pleasure and joy to all they met. They were always welcomed and enjoyed, but never did any of the villagers think of seizing them for gain; and, wherever they might roam, they always returned to their mother and father in the cottage atop the hill, where they sang, danced, and shone best.
Iva Levarre has always loved to write, particularly stories inspired by sentimental fiction and fairy tales.