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THE WICKED HORNET
HIS is the tale
which Wainamoinen, old
and truthful, told to the listening Graybeard
while the fire blazed and crackled
on the hearth between them. It is a tale which
he himself had learned from the minstrels of a
The first of all mothers was Air, and she had
three daughters. Of these three maidens there
is much to be said. They were as lovely as the
rainbow after a storm; they were as fair as the
full moon shining above the mountains. They
walked with noiseless feet among the clouds
and showered gifts upon the earth. They sent
the refreshing rain, the silent dew, and the nipping
frost, each in its season. They gave life
to the fields, and strength to the mountains,
and grandeur to the sea. And because of their
bounty the earth was glad and the stars
twinkled for joy.
 "What more can we do to make the land fit
for men to dwell in?" asked the eldest of the
And the youngest said, "Let us send down
iron—iron of which tools may be made, iron of
which sharp weapons may be shaped. For
without tools man will not be able to plough,
to reap, or to build; and without weapons he
cannot defend himself against the savage beasts
of the forest."
So, when the sun was about going down, the
sisters went forth in trailing robes of purple and
crimson and gold; and in their hands they
bore mighty vessels of foaming milk. The
eldest sprinkled red milk in the brooks and
marshes and along the banks of the rivers. The
middle one scattered white milk on the wooded
hills and the stony mountains. The youngest
showered blue milk in the valleys and by the
gray seashore. And on the morrow, where the
red milk had been sprinkled, red and brittle ore
of iron flecked the ground; where the white
milk had been scattered, powdery ore of a
yellow hue abounded; and where the blue milk
had been showered, flaky masses of crude iron,
tough and dark, lay hidden beneath the soil.
 Thus came Iron into the world—Iron, the
youngest of three brothers. Next older than
he was Fire, a raging, dangerous fellow when
free, but loving and faithful when held in bonds.
Older still was Water, terrible in strength but,
when not aroused, as gentle as a mother's caress.
Years upon years went by, and at length one day
Iron set out to visit his brothers. He
found Water at home in the deep sea, and by
him he was welcomed kindly enough. But
when he climbed a mountain to see his second
brother he had quite another reception. Fire
was in a raging mood. The terrible fellow
leaped and roared, and stretched out his long
red fingers as though he would devour his
Iron was so terrified that he turned and fled
down the steep slopes, never stopping nor pausing
to look behind. He ran on, hiding in clefts and
chasms, creeping under rocks, and
lurking in the dry beds of mountain torrents.
When, by and by, he reached the level plain,
he glanced backward. The hills and the whole
mountain top were aflame.
Wild with terror, he hurried on, hiding himself
in the woods and under the roots of trees,
 and resting at last in reedy marshes where swans
build their nests and wild geese rear their young.
For ages and ages—nobody knows how many—Iron
lay hidden in bogs and forests and lonely
caverns. Fear of his raging brother made him lurk
in lonely places, made him cover up his face.
Lazy bears went ambling through the
rocky places; wolves rushed madly over the oozy
marshlands; and timid deer ran and leaped
among the trees. In time the hiding-places of
Iron were uncovered. Where the paws of bears
had plodded often, where the feet of wolves had
pattered, where the sharp hoofs of deer had
trodden, there the timid metal, red, gray, yellow,
black, peeped shyly out.
At length, into that same land there came a
skilful Smith. He carried a hammer of stone
in one hand and tongs of bronze in the other;
and a song of peace was upon his lips. On a
green hillock, where the south wind blew, he
built him a smithy, and in it he placed the tools
of his craft. His anvil was a block of gray
granite; his forge was carefully builded of sand
and clay; his bellows was made of the skins of
mountain goats sewn together.
The Smith heaped live coals in his forge and
blew with his bellows until the flames leaped
 up, roaring and sparkling, and the smoke rose
in dense clouds over the roof of the smithy.
"This forge will do its work well," he said.
Then he checked the bellows and smothered the
flames and raked ashes upon the fire until the
red coals slumbered unseen at the mouth of the
Out into the forest the Smith wandered.
Closely he scanned the hillsides and the boggy
thickets and the paths among the trees. And
there, where the bears had trailed and the wolves
had rushed and the deer had left their
footprints, he found ruddy Iron, dusky Iron,
yellow ore of Iron peeping, trembling, hiding.
The heart of the Smith was glad. His eyes danced
merrily, and he sang a song of magic to the
"Iron, Iron, hearken while I call you!
Let no false and foolish fears appall you,
Come from out the crevices that hide you,
Leave the worthless stones that are beside you,
Leave the earth that lies around, above you,
And come with me, for I do dearly love you."
Iron moved not, but timidly answered, "I
dare not leave my hiding-places; for Fire, my
brother, waits to devour me. He is strong and
fierce. He has no pity."
 The Smith shook his head and made reply,
"No! your brother does not wish to harm you,—
Willingly he never would alarm you.
With his glowing arms he would caress you,
Make you pure and with his kisses bless you.
So come with me, my smithy waits to greet you;
In my forge your brother waits to meet you—
Waits to throw his loving arms around you,
Glad indeed that thus, at last, he's found you."
These words made Iron feel much braver;
and they were spoken in tones so sweet and
persuasive that he was almost minded to obey
without another word. But he asked, "Why
should I leave these places where I have rested
so long? What will become of me after I have
made friends with Fire?"
The Smith answered:
"Come with me, for kindly we will treat you.
On my anvil gently I will beat you;
With my tongs, then, deftly will I hold you;
With my hammer I will shape and mould you
Into forms so fair that all will prize you,
Forms so rare that none will e'er despise you:
Axes, knives (so men will wish to use you)
Needles, pins (so women too, will choose you).
Come with me, your brother will not harm you,
Come with me, my smithy sure will charm you."
Hearing this, Iron came out of his lurking-places
and without more ado, bashfully followed the
cunning Smith. But no sooner was he in
the smithy than he felt himself a prisoner. The
tongs of bronze gripped him and thrust him
into the forge. The bellows roared, the Smith
shouted, and Fire leaped joyfully out of the
ashes and threw his arms around his helpless
younger brother. And bashful, bashful Iron turned first
red and then white, and finally became as soft as
dough and as radiant as the sun.
Then the tongs of bronze drew him forth
from the flames, and twirled him in the air,
and threw him upon the anvil; and the hammer
of stone beat him fiercely again and again until
he shrieked with pain.
"Oh, spare me! spare me!" he cried. "Do
not deal so roughly with me. Let me go back
to my lonely hiding-places and lie there in peace
as in the days of old."
But the tongs pinched him worse than before,
and the hammer beat him still harder, and the
Smith answered: "Not so, not so! Be not so
cowardly. We do not hurt you; you are only
frightened. Be brave and I will shape you into
 things of great use to men. Be brave and you
shall rule the world."
Then, in spite of Iron's piteous cries, he kept on
pounding and twisting and turning and shaping
the helpless metal until at length it was
changed into many forms of use and beauty—rings,
chains, axes, knives, cups, and curious
tools. But it was so soft, after being thus
heated and beaten, that the edges of the tools
were quickly dulled. Try as he might, the
Smith did not know how to give the metal a
One day a honeybee strolled that way. It
buzzed around the smithy and then lit on a
clover blossom by the door.
"O bee," cried the busy Smith, "you are a
cunning little bird, and you know some things
better than I know them. Come now and help me
temper this soft metal. Bring me a drop of
your honey; bring the sweet liquor which you
suck from the meadow flower; bring the magic
dew of the wildwood. Give me all such things
that I may make a mixture to harden Iron."
The bee answered not—it was too busy with
its own affairs. It gathered what honey it could
from the blossom, and then flew swiftly away.
 Under the eaves above the smithy door an
idler was sitting—a mischief-making hornet
who heard every word that the Smith said.
"I will help him make a mixture," this wicked
insect muttered. "I will help him to give Iron
Forthwith he flew to the thorny thickets and
the miry bogs and the fever-breeding marshes,
to gather what evils he might. Soon he returned
with an armload—the poison of spiders, the
venom of serpents, the miasmata of swamps, the
juice of the deadly nightshade. All these
he cast into the tub of water wherein the Smith
was vainly trying to temper Iron.
The Smith did not see him, but he heard him
buzzing, and supposed it was the honeybee with
sweets from the meadow flowers.
"Thank you, pretty little bird," he said.
"Now I hope we shall have a better metal. I
hope we shall make edges that will cut and
not be dulled so easily."
Thereupon he drew a bar of the metal,
white-hot, from the forge. He held it, hissing
and screeching, under the water into which the
poisons had been poured. Little thought
he of the evil that was there. He
the hornet humming and laughing under
"Tiny honeybee," he said, "you have brought
me such sweetness. Iron tempered with your
honey will be sweet although sharp. Nothing
shall be wrought of it that is not beautiful
and helpful and kind."
He drew the metal from the tub. He thrust it
back among the red coals. He plied the bellows
and the flames leaped up. Then, when the metal
was glowing again, he laid it on the anvil and
beat it with strong, swift strokes; and as he
worked he sang:
"Ding! Ding! Ding-a-ling, ding!
Of Iron, sharp Iron, strong Iron, I sing.
Of Iron, my servant, of Iron, my king—
Ding! Ding! Ding-a-ling, ding!"
Forthwith, Iron leaped up, angry and biting
and fierce. He was not a soft and ductile metal
as before, but iron hardened into tough blue
steel. Showers of sparks flew from him, snapping,
burning, threatening; and from among them
sprang swords and spears and battle-axes,
and daggers keen and pointed. Out of
the smithy and out through the great world
these cruel weapons raced, slashing and
clash-  ing, thrusting and cutting, raging and killing,
and carrying madness among men.
The wicked hornet, idling under the eaves,
rejoiced at the mischief he had wrought. But
the Smith was filled with grief, and the music
of his anvil became a jangling discord.
"O Iron," he cried, "it was not for this that
I caused you to leave your hiding-places in the
hills and bogs! The three sisters intended that
you should be a blessing to mankind; but now
I greatly fear that you will become a curse."
At that moment the honeybee, laden with
sweets of field and wood, came buzzing into the
smithy. It whispered hopefully into the ear of
the Smith: "Wait until my gifts have done
Here the Minstrel paused.
"Is that all?" asked the Graybeard.
"Yes, it is all," was the answer; "for now
I can think of nothing but my dear home land.
My sweet country calls me, and I must hasten on
my journey. So, let my sledge be made
ready and the steed harnessed before it, and I
will bid you good-bye."
"In the morning you may go," said the Graybeard.