The Miraculous Pitcher
Nathaniel Hawthorne [More Titles by Hawthorne
INTRODUCTORY TO "THE MIRACULOUS PITCHER"
And when, and where, do you think we find the children next? No longer
in the winter-time, but in the merry month of May. No longer in
Tauglewood play-room, or at Tanglewood fireside, but more than half-way
up a monstrous hill, or a mountain, as perhaps it would be better
pleased to have us call it. They had set out from home with the mighty
purpose of climbing this high hill, even to the very tiptop of its bald
head. To be sure, it was not quite so high as Chimborazo, or Mont
Blanc, and was even a good deal lower than old Graylock. But, at any
rate, it was higher than a thousand ant-hillocks, or a million of mole
hills; and, when measured by the short strides of little children, might
be reckoned a very respectable mountain.
And was Cousin Eustace with the party? Of that you may be certain; else
how could the book go on a step further? He was now in the middle of
the spring vacation, and looked pretty much as we saw him four or five
months ago, except that, if you gazed quite closely at his upper lip,
you could discern the funniest little bit of a mustache upon it.
Setting aside this mark of mature manhood, you might have considered
Cousin Eustace just as much a boy as when you first became acquainted
with him. He was as merry, as playful, as good-humored, as light of
foot and of spirits, and equally a favorite with the little folks, as he
had always been. This expedition up the mountain was entirely of his
contrivance. All the way up the steep ascent, he had encouraged the
elder children with his cheerful voice; and when Dandelion, Cowslip, and
Squash-blossom grew weary, he had lugged them along, alternately, on his
back. In this manner, they had passed through the orchards and pastures
on the lower part of the hill, and had reached the wood, which extends
thence towards its bare summit.
The month of May, thus far, had been more amiable than it often is, and
this was as sweet and genial a day as the heart of man or child could
wish. In their progress up the hill, the small people had found enough
of violets, blue and white, and some that were as golden as if they had
the touch of Midas on them. That sociablest of flowers, the little
Housatonia, was very abundant. It is a flower that never lives alone,
but which loves its own kind, and is always fond of dwelling with a
great many friends and relatives around it. Sometimes you see a family
of them, covering a space no bigger than the palm of your hand; and
sometimes a large community, whitening a whole tract of pasture, and all
keeping one another in cheerful heart and life.
Within the verge of the wood there were columbines, looking more pale
than red, because they were so modest, and had thought proper to seclude
themselves too anxiously from the sun. There were wild geraniums, too,
and a thousand white blossoms of the strawberry. The trailing arbutus
was not yet quite out of bloom; but it hid its precious flowers under
the last year's withered forest-leaves, as carefully as a mother-bird
hides its little young ones. It knew, I suppose, how beautiful and
sweet-scented they were. So cunning was their concealment, that the
children sometimes smelt the delicate richness of their perfume, before
they knew whence it proceeded.
Amid so much new life, it was strange and truly pitiful to behold, here
and there, in the fields and pastures, the hoary periwig of dandelions
that had already gone to seed. They had done with summer before the
summer came. Within those small globes of winged seeds it was autumn
Well, but we must not waste our valuable pages with any more talk about
the spring-time and wild flowers. There is something, we hope, more
interesting to be talked about. If you look at the group of children,
you may see them all gathered around Eustace Bright, who, sitting on the
stump of a tree, seems to be just beginning a story. The fact is, the
younger part of the troop have found out that it takes rather too many
of their short strides to measure the long ascent of the hill. Cousin
Eustace, therefore, has decided to leave Sweet Fern, Cowslip, Squash-
blossom, and Dandelion, at this point, midway up, until the return of
the rest of the party from the summit. And because they complain a
little, and do not quite like to stay behind, he gives them some apples
out of his pocket, and proposes to tell them a very pretty story.
Hereupon they brighten up, and change their grieved looks into the
broadest kind of smiles.
As for the story, I was there to hear it, hidden behind a bush, and
shall tell it over to you in the pages that come next.
THE MIRACULOUS PITCHER.
One evening, in times long ago, old Philemon and his old wife Baucis sat
at their cottage-door, enjoying the cahn and beautiful sunset. They had
already eaten their frugal supper, and intended now to spend a quiet
hour or two before bedtime. So they talked together about their garden,
and their cow, and their bees, and their grapevine, which clambered over
the cottage-wall, and on which the grapes were beginning to turn purple.
But the rude shouts of children and the fierce barking of dogs, in the
village near at hand, grew louder and louder, until, at last, it was
hardly possible for Baucis and Philemon to hear each other speak.
"Ah, wife." cried Philemon, "I fear some poor traveller is seeking
hospitality among our neighbors yonder, and, instead of giving him food
and lodging, they have set their dogs at him, as their custom is!"
"Well-a-day!" answered old Baucis, "I do wish our neighbors felt a
little more kindness for their fellow-creatures. And only think of
bringing up their children in this naughty way, and patting them on the
head when they fling stones at strangers!"
"Those children will never come to any good," said Philemon, shaking his
white head. "To tell you the truth, wife, I should not wonder if some
terrible thing were to happen to all the people in the village, unless
they mend their manners. But, as for you and me, so long as Providence
affords us a crust of bread, let us be ready to give half to any poor,
homeless stranger, that may come along and need it."
"That 's right, husband!" said Baucis. "So we will!"
These old folks, you must know, were quite poor, and had to work pretty
hard for a living. Old Philemon toiled diligently in his garden, while
Baucis was always busy with her distaff, or making a little butter and
cheese with their cow's milk, or doing one thing and another about the
cottage. Their food was seldom anything but bread, milk, and
vegetables, with sometimes a portion of honey from their beehive, and
now and then a bunch of grapes, that had ripened against the cottage-
wall. But they were two of the kindest old people in the world, and
would cheerfully have gone without their dinners, any day, rather than
refuse a slice of their brown loaf, a cup of new milk, and a spoonful of
honey, to the weary traveller who might pause before their door. They
felt as if such guests had a sort of holiness, and that they ought,
therefore, to treat them better and more bountifully than their own
Their cottage stood on a rising ground, at some short distance from a
village, which lay in a hollow valley, that was about half a mile in
breadth. This valley, in past ages, when the world was new, had
probably been the bed of a lake. There, fishes had glided to and fro in
the depths, and water-weeds had grown along the margin, and trees and
hills had seen their reflected images in the broad, and peaceful mirror.
But, as the waters subsided, men had cultivated the soil, and built
houses on it, so that it was now a fertile spot, and bore no traces of
the ancient lake, except a very small brook, which meandered through the
midst of the village, and supplied the inhabitants with water. The
valley had been dry land so long, that oaks had sprung up, and grown
great and high, and perished with old age, and been succeeded by others;
as tall and stately as the first. Never was there a prettier or more
fruitful valley. The very sight of the plenty around them should have
made the inhabitants kind and gentle, and ready to show their gratitude
to Providence by doing good to their fellow-creatures.
But, we are sorry to say, the people of this lovely village were not
worthy to dwell in a spot on which Heaven had smiled so beneficently.
They were a very selfish and hard-hearted people, and had no pity for
the poor, nor sympathy with the homeless. They would only have laughed,
had anybody told them that human beings owe a debt of love to one
another, because there is no other method of paying the debt of love and
care which all of us owe to Providence. You will hardly believe what I
am going to tell you. These naughty people taught their children to be
no better than themselves, and used to clap their hands, by way of
encouragement, when they saw the little boys and girls run after some
poor stranger, shouting at his heels, and pelting hum with stones. They
kept large and fierce dogs, and whenever a traveller ventured to show
himself in the village street, this pack of disagreeable curs scampered
to meet him, barking, snarling, and showing their teeth. Then they
would seize him by his leg, or by his clothes, just as it happened; and
if he were ragged when he came, he was generally a pitiable object
before he had time to run away. This was a very terrible thing to poor
travellers, as you may suppose, especially when they chanced to be sick,
or feeble, or lame, or old. Such persons (if they once knew how badly
these unkind people, and their unkind children and curs, were in the
habit of behaving) would go miles and miles out of their way, rather
than try to pass through the village again.
What made the matter seem worse, if possible, was that when rich persons
came in their chariots, or riding on beautiful horses, with their
servants in rich liveries attending on them, nobody could be more civil
and obsequious than the inhabitants of the village. They would take off
their hats, and make the humblest bows you ever saw. If the children
were rude, they were pretty certain to get their ears boxed; and as for
the dogs, if a single cur in the pack presumed to yelp, his master
instantly beat him with a club, and tied him up without any supper.
This would have been all very well, only it proved that the villagers
cared much about the money that a stranger had in his pocket, and
nothing whatever for the human soul, which lives equally in the beggar
and the prince.
So now you can understand why old Philemon spoke so sorrowfully, when he
heard the shouts of the children and the barking of the dogs, at the
farther extremity of the village street. There was a confused din,
which lasted a good while, and seemed to pass quite through the breadth
of the valley.
"I never heard the dogs so loud!" observed the good old man.
"Nor the children so rude!" answered his good old wife.
They sat shaking their heads, one to another, while the noise came
nearer and nearer; until, at the foot of the little eminence on which
their cottage stood, they saw two travellers approaching on foot. Close
behind them came the fierce dogs, snarling at their very heels. A
little farther off, ran a crowd of children, who sent up shrill cries,
and flung stones at the two strangers, with all their might. Once or
twice, the younger of the two men (he was a slender and very active
figure) turned about, and drove back the dogs with a staff which he
carried in his hand. His companion, who was a very tall person, walked
calmly along, as if disdaining to notice either the naughty children, or
the pack of curs, whose manners the children seemed to imitate.
Both of the travellers were very humbly clad, and looked as if they
might not have money enough in their pockets to pay for a night's
lodging. And this, I am afraid, was the reason why the villagers had
allowed their children and dogs to treat them so rudely.
"Come, wife," said Philemon to Baucis, "let us go and meet these poor
people. No doubt, they feel almost too heavy-hearted to climb the
"Go you and meet them," answered Baucis, "while I make haste within
doors, and see whether we can get them anything for supper. A
comfortable bowl of bread and milk would do wonders towards raising
Accordingly, she hastened into the cottage. Philemon, on his part, went
forward, and extended his hand with so hospitable an aspect that there
was no need of saying, what nevertheless he did say, in the heartiest
"Welcome, strangers! welcome!"
"Thank you!" replied the younger of the two, in a lively kind of way,
notwithstanding his weariness and trouble. "This is quite another
greeting than we have met with yonder, in the village. Pray, why do you
live in such a bad neighborhood?"
"Ah!" observed old Philemon, with a quiet and benign smile, "Providence
put me here, I hope, among other reasons, in order that I may make you
what amends I can for the inhospitality of my neighbors."
"Well said, old father!" cried the traveller, laughing; "and, if the
truth must be told, my companion and myself need some amends. Those
children (the little rascals!) have bespattered us finely with their
mud-ball; and one of the curs has torn my cloak, which was ragged enough
already. But I took him across the muzzle with my staff; and I think
you may have heard him yelp, even thus far off."
Philemon was glad to see him in such good spirits; nor, indeed, would
you have fancied, by the traveller's look and manner, that he was weary
with a long day's journey, besides being disheartened by rough treatment
at the end of it. He was dressed in rather an odd way, with a sort of
cap on his head, the brim of which stuck out over both ears. Though it
was a summer evening, he wore a cloak, which he kept wrapt closely about
him, perhaps because his under garments were shabby. Philemen
perceived, too, that he had on a singular pair of shoes; but, as it was
now growing dusk, and as the old man's eyesight was none the sharpest,
he could not precisely tell in what the strangeness consisted. One
thing, certainly, seemed queer. The traveller was so wonderfully light
and active, that it appeared as if his feet sometimes rose from the
ground of their own accord, or could only be kept down by an effort.
"I used to be light-footed, in my youth," said Philemen to the
traveller. "But I always found my feet grow heavier towards nightfall."
"There is nothing like a good staff to help one along," answered the
stranger; "and I happen to have an excellent one, as you see."
This staff, in fact, was the oddest-looking staff that Philemon had ever
beheld. It was made of olive-wood, and had something like a little pair
of wings near the top. Two snakes, carved in the wood, were represented
as twining themselves about the staff, and were so very skilfully
executed that old Philemon (whose eyes, you know, were getting rather
dim) almost thought them alive, and that he could see them wriggling and
"A curious piece of work, sure enough!" said he. "A staff with wings!
It would be an excellent kind of stick for a little boy to ride astride
By this time, Philemon and his two guests had reached the cottage-door.
"Friends," said the old man, "sit down and rest yourselves here on this
bench. My good wife Baucis has gone to see what you can have for
supper. We are poor folks; but you shall be welcome to whatever we have
in the cupboard."
The younger stranger threw himself carelessly on the bench, letting his
staff fall, as he did so. And here happened something rather
marvellous, though trifling enough, too. The staff seemed to get up
from the ground of its own accord, and, spreading its little pair of
wings, it half hopt, half flew, and leaned itself against the wall of
the cottage. There it stood quite still, except that the snakes
continued to wriggle. But, in my private opinion, old Philemon's
eyesight had been playing him tricks again.
Before he could ask any questions, the elder stranger drew his attention
from the wonderful staff, by speaking to him.
"Was there not," asked the stranger, in a remarkably deep tone of voice,
"a lake, in very ancient times, covering the spot where now stands
"Not in my day, friend," answered Philemon; "and yet I am an old man,
as you see. There were always the fields and meadows, just as they are
now, and the old trees, and the little stream murmuring through the
midst of the valley. My father, nor his father before him, ever saw it
otherwise, so far as I know; and doubtless it will still be the same,
when old Philemon shall be gone and forgotten!"
"That is more than can be safely foretold," observed the stranger; and
there was something very stern in his deep voice. He shook his head,
too, so that his dark and heavy curls were shaken with the movement,
"Since the inhabitants of yonder village have forgotten the affections
and sympathies of their nature, it were better that the lake should be
rippling over their dwellings again!"
The traveller looked so stern, that Philemon was really almost
frightened; the more so, that, at his frown, the twilight seemed
suddenly to grow darker, and that, when he shook his head, there was
a roll as of thunder in the air.
But, in a moment afterwards, the stranger's face became so kindly and
mild, that the old man quite forgot his terror. Nevertheless, he could
not help feeling that this elder traveller must be no ordinary
personage, although he happened now to be attired so humbly, and to be
journeying on foot. Not that Philemon fancied him a prince in disguise,
or any character of that sort; but rather some exceedingly wise man, who
went about the world in this poor garb, despising wealth and all worldly
objects, and seeking everywhere to add a mite to his wisdom. This idea
appeared the more probable, because, when Philemon raised his eyes to
the stranger's face, he seemed to see more thought there, in one look,
than he could have studied out in a lifetime.
While Baucis was getting the supper, the travellers both began to talk
very sociably with Philemon. The younger, indeed, was extremely
loquacious, and made such shrewd and witty remarks, that the good old
man continually burst out a-laughing, and pronounced him the merriest
fellow whom he had seen for many a day.
"Pray, my young friend," said he, as they grew familiar together, "what
may I call your name?"
"Why, I am very nimble, as you see," answered the traveller. "So, if
you call me Quicksilver, the name will fit tolerably well."
"Quicksilver? Quicksilver?" repeated Philemon, looking in the
traveller's face, to see if he were making fun of him. "It is a very
odd name! And your companion there? Has he as strange a one?"
"You must ask the thunder to tell it you!" replied Quicksilver, putting
on a mysterious look. "No other voice is loud enough."
This remark, whether it were serious or in jest, might have caused
Philemon to conceive a very great awe of the elder stranger, if, on
venturing to gaze at him, he had not beheld so much beneficence in his
visage; But, undoubtedly, here was the grandest figure that ever sat so
humbly beside a cottage-door. When the stranger conversed, it was with
gravity, and in such a way that Philemon felt irresistibly moved to tell
him everything which he had most at heart. This is always the feeling
that people have, when they meet with any one wise enough to comprehend
all their good and evil, and to despise not a tittle of it.
But Philemon, simple and kind-hearted old man that he was, had not many
secrets to disclose. He talked, however, quite garrulously, about the
events of his past life, in the whole course of which he had never been
a score of miles from this very spot. His wife Baucis and himself had
dwelt in the cottage from their youth upward, earning their bread by
honest labor, always poor, but still contented. He told what excellent
butter and cheese Baucis made, and how nice were the vegetables which he
raised in his garden. He said, too, that, because they loved one
another so very much, it was the wish of both that death might not
separate them, but that they should die, as they had lived, together.
As the stranger listened, a smile beamed over his countenance, and made
its expression as sweet as it was grand.
"You are a good old man," said he to Philemon, "and you have a good old
wife to be your helpmeet. It is fit that your wish be granted."
And it seemed to Philemon, just then, as if the sunset clouds threw up a
bright flash from the west, and kindled a sudden light in the sky.
Baucis had now got supper ready, and, coming to the door, began to make
apologies for the poor fare which she was forced to set before her
"Had we known you were coming," said she, "my good man and myself would
have gone without a morsel, rather than you should lack a better supper.
But I took the most part of to-day's milk to make cheese; and our last
loaf is already half eaten. Ah me! I never feel the sorrow of being
poor, save when a poor traveller knocks at our door."
"All will be very well; do not trouble yourself, my good dame," replied
the elder stranger, kindly. "An honest, hearty welcome to a guest works
miracles with the fare, and is capable of turning the coarsest food to
nectar and ambrosia."
"A welcome you shall have," cried Baucis, "and likewise a little honey
that we happen to have left, and a bunch of purple grapes besides."
"Why, Mother Baucis, it, is a feast!" exclaimed Quicksilver, laughing,
"an absolute feast! and you shall see how bravely I will play my part at
it! I think I never felt hungrier in my life."
"Mercy on us!" whispered Baucis to her husband. "If the young man has
such a terrible appetite, I am afraid there will not be half enough
They all went into the cottage.
And now, my little auditors, shall I tell you something that will make
you open your eyes very wide? It is really one of the oddest
circumstances in the whole story. Quicksilver's staff, you recollect,
had set itself up against the wall of the cottage. Well; when its
master entered the door, leaving this wonderful staff behind, what
should it do but immediately spread its little wings, and go hopping and
fluttering up the doorsteps! Tap, tap, went the staff, on the kitchen
floor; nor did it rest until it had stood itself on end, with the
greatest gravity and decorum, beside Quicksilver's chair. Old Philemon,
however, as well as his wife, was so taken up in attending to their
guests, that no notice was given to what the staff had been about.
As Baucis had said, there was but a scanty supper for two hungry
travellers. In the middle of the table was the remnant of a brown loaf,
with a piece of cheese on one side of it, and a dish of honeycomb on the
other. There was a pretty good bunch of grapes for each of the guests.
A moderately sized earthen pitcher, nearly full of milk, stood at a
corner of the board; and when hands had filled two bowls, and set them
before the strangers, only a little milk remained in the bottom of the
pitcher. Alas! it is a very sad business, when a bountiful heart finds
itself pinched and squeezed among narrow circumstances. Poor Baucis
kept wishing that she might starve for a week to come, if it were
possible, by so doing, to provide these hungry folks a more plentiful
And, since the supper was so exceedingly small, she could not help
wishing that their appetites had not been quite so large. Why, at their
very first sitting down, the travellers both drank off all the milk in
their two bowls, at a draught.
"A little more milk, kind Mother Baucis, if you please," said
Quicksilver. "The day has been hot, and I am very much athirst."
"Now, my dear people," answered Baucis, in great confusion, "I am so
sorry and ashamed! But the truth is, there is hardly a drop more milk
in the pitcher. O husband! husband! why did n't we go without our
"Why, it appears to me," cried Quicksilver, starting up from table and
taking the pitcher by the handle, "it really appears to me that matters
are not quite so bad as you represent them. Here is certainly more milk
in the pitcher."
So saying, and to the vast astonishment of Baucis, he proceeded to fill,
not only his own bowl, but his companion's likewise, from the pitcher,
that was supposed to be almost empty. The good woman could scarcely
believe her eyes. She had certainly poured out nearly all the milk, and
had peeped in afterwards, and seen the bottom of the pitcher, as she set
it down upon the table.
"But I am old," thought Baucis to herself, "and apt to be forgetful. I
suppose I must have made a mistake. At all events, the pitcher cannot,
help being empty now, after filling the bowls twice over."
"What excellent milk!" observed Quicksilver, after quaffing the contents
of the second bowl. "Excuse me, my kind hostess, but I must really ask
you for a little more."
Now Baucis had seen, as plainly as she could see anything, that
Quicksilver had turned the pitcher upside down, and consequently had
poured out every drop of milk, in filling the last bowl. Of course,
there could not possibly be any left. However, in order to let him know
precisely how the case was, she lifted the pitcher, and made a gesture
as if pouring milk into Quicksilver's bowl, but without the remotest
idea that any milk would stream forth. What was her surprise,
therefore, when such an abundant cascade fell bubbling into the bowl,
that it was immediately filled to the brim, and overflowed upon the
table! The two snakes that were twisted about Quicksilver's staff (but
neither Baucis nor Philemon happened to observe this circumstance)
stretched out their heads, and began to lap up the spilt milk.
And then what a delicious fragrance the milk had! It seemed as if
Philemon's only cow must have pastured, that day, on the richest herbage
that could be found anywhere in the world. I only wish that each of
you, my beloved little souls, could have a bowl of such nice milk, at
"And now a slice of your brown loaf, Mother Baucis," said Quicksilver,
"and a little of that honey!"
Baucis cut him a slice, accordingly; and though the loaf, when she and
her husband ate of it, had been rather too dry and crusty to be
palatable, it was now as light and moist as if but a few hours out of
the oven. Tasting a crumb, which had fallen on the table, she found it
more delicious than bread ever was before, and could hardly believe that
it was a loaf of her own kneading and baking. Yet, what other loaf
could it possibly be?
But, oh the honey! I may just as well let it alone, without trying to
describe how exquisitely it smelt and looked. Its color was that of the
purest and most transparent gold; and it had the odor of a thousand
flowers; but of such flowers as never grew in an earthly garden, and to
seek which the bees must have flown high above the clouds. The wonder
is, that, after alighting on a flower-bed of so delicious fragrance and
immortal bloom, they should have been content to fly down again to their
hive in Philemon's garden. Never was such honey tasted, seen, or smelt.
The perfume floated around the kitchen, and made it so delightful, that,
had you closed your eyes, you would instantly have forgotten the low
ceiling and smoky walls, and have fancied yourself in an arbor, with
celestial honeysuckles creeping over it.
Although good Mother Baucis was a simple old dame, she could not but
think that there was something rather out of the common way, in all that
had been going on. So, after helping the guests to bread and honey, and
laying a bunch of grapes by each of their plates, she sat down by
Philemon, and told him what she had seen, in a whisper.
"Did you ever hear the like?" asked she.
"No, I never did," answered Philemon, with a smile. "And I rather
think, my dear old wife, you have been walking about in a sort of a
dream. If I had poured out the milk, I should have seen through the
business, at once. There happened to be a little more in the pitcher
than you thought,--that is all."
"Ah, husband," said Baucis, "say what you will, these are very uncommon
"Well, well," replied Philemon, still smiling, "perhaps they are. They
certainly do look as if they had seen better days; and I am heartily
glad to see them making so comfortable a supper."
Each of the guests had now taken his bunch of grapes upon his plate.
Baucis (who rubbed her eyes, in order to see the more clearly) was of
opinion that the clusters had grown larger and richer, and that each
separate grape seemed to be on the point of bursting with ripe juice.
It was entirely a mystery to her how such grapes could ever have been
produced from the old stunted vine that climbed against the cottage-
"Very admirable grapes these!" observed Quicksilver, as he swallowed one
after another, without apparently diminishing his cluster. "Pray, my
good host, whence did you gather them?"
"From my own vine," answered Philemon. "You may see one of its branches
twisting across the window, yonder. But wife and I never thought the
grapes very fine ones."
"I never tasted better," said the guest. "Another cup of this delicious
milk, if you please, and I shall then have supped better than a prince."
This time, old Philemon bestirred himself, and took up the pitcher; for
he was curious to discover whether there was any reality in the marvels
which Baucis had whispered to him. He knew that his good old wife was
incapable of falsehood, and that she was seldom mistaken in what she
supposed to be true; but this was so very singular a case, that he
wanted to see into it with his own eyes. On taking up the pitcher,
therefore, he slyly peeped into it, and was fully satisfied that it
contained not so much as a single drop. All at once, however, he beheld
a little white fountain, which gushed up from the bottom of the pitcher,
and speedily filled it to the brim with foaming and deliciously fragrant
milk. It was lucky that Philemon, in his surprise, did not drop the
miraculous pitcher from his hand.
"Who are ye, wonder-working strangers?" cried he, even more bewildered
than his wife had been.
"Your guests, my good Philemon, and your friends," replied the elder
traveller, in his mild, deep voice, that had something at once sweet and
awe-inspiring in it. "Give me likewise a cup of the milk; and may your
pitcher never be empty for kind Baucis and yourself, any more than for
the needy wayfarer!"
The supper being now over, the strangers requested to be shown to their
place of repose. The old people would gladly have talked with them a
little longer, and have expressed the wonder which they felt, and their
delight at finding the poor and meagre supper prove so much better and
more abundant than they hoped. But the elder traveller had inspired
them with such reverence, that they dared not ask him any questions.
And when Philemon drew Quicksilver aside, and inquired how under the sun
a fountain of milk could have got into air old earthen pitcher, this
latter personage pointed to his staff.
"There is the whole mystery of the affair," quoth Quicksilver; "and if
you can make it out, I'll thank you to let me know. I can't tell what
to make of my staff. It is always playing such odd tricks as this;
sometimes getting me a supper, and, quite as often, stealing it away.
If I had any faith in such nonsense, I should say the stick was
He said no more, but looked so slyly in their faces, that they rather
fancied he was laughing at them. The magic staff went hopping at his
heels, as Quicksilver quitted the room. When left alone, the good old
couple spent some little time in conversation about the events of the
evening, and then lay down on the floor, and fell fast asleep. They had
given up their sleeping-room to the guests, and had no other bed for
themselves, save these planks, which I wish had been as soft as their
The old man and his wife were stirring, betimes, in the morning, and the
strangers likewise arose with the sun, and made their preparations to
depart. Philemon hospitably entreated them to remain a little longer,
until Baucis could milk the cow, and bake a cake upon the hearth, and,
perhaps, find them a few fresh eggs, for breakfast. The guests,
however, seemed to think it better to accomplish a good part of their
journey before the heat of the day should come on. They, therefore,
persisted in setting out immediately, but asked Philemon and Baucis to
walk forth with them a short distance, and show them the road which they
were to take.
So they all four issued from the cottage, chatting together like old
friends. It was very remarkable indeed, how familiar the old couple
insensibly grew with the elder traveller, and how their good and simple
spirits melted into his, even as two drops of water would melt into the
illimitable ocean. And as for Quicksilver, with his keen, quick,
laughing wits, he appeared to discover every little thought that but
peeped into their minds, before they suspected it themselves. They
sometimes wished, it is true, that he had not been quite so quick-witted,
and also that he would fling away his staff, which looked so
mysteriously mischievous, with the snakes always writhing about it.
But then, again, Quicksilver showed himself so very good-humored, that
they would have been rejoiced to keep him in their cottage, staff,
snakes, and all, every day, and the whole day long.
"Ah me! Well-a-day!" exclaimed Philemoi, when they had walked a little
way from their door. "If our neighbors only knew what a blessed thing
it is to show hospitality to strangers, they would tie up all their
dogs, and never allow their children to fling another stone."
"It is a sin and shame for them to behave so,--that it is!" cried good
old Baucis, vehemently. "And I mean to go this very day, and tell some
of then what naughty people they are!"
"I fear," remarked Quicksilver, slyly smiling, "that you will find none
of them at home."
The elder traveller's brow, just then, assumed such a grave, stern, and
awful grandeur, yet serene withal, that neither Baucis nor Philemon
dared to speak a word. They gazed reverently into his face, as if they
had been gazing at the sky.
"When men do not feel towards the humblest stranger as if he were a
brother," said the traveller, in tones so deep that they sounded like
those of an organ, "they are unworthy to exist on earth, which was
created as the abode of a great human brotherhood!"
"And, by the by, my dear old people," cried Quicksilver, with the
liveliest look of fun and mischief in his eyes, "where is this same
village that you talk about? On which side of us does it lie? Methinks
I do not see it hereabouts."
Philemon and his wife turned towards the valley, where, at sunset, only
the day before, they had seen the meadows, the houses, the gardens, the
clumps of trees, the wide, green-margined street, with children playing
in it, and all the tokens of business, enjoyment, and prosperity. But
what was their astonishment! There was no longer any appearance of a
village! Even the fertile vale, in the hollow of which it lay, had
ceased to have existence. In its stead, they beheld the broad, blue
surface of a lake, which filled the great basin of the valley, from brim
to brim, and reflected the surrounding bills in its bosom, with as
tranquil an image as if it had been there ever since the creation of the
world. For an instant, the lake remained perfectly smooth. Then, a
little breeze sprang up, and caused the water to dance, glitter, and
sparkle in the early sunbeams, and to dash, with a pleasant rippling
murmur, against the hither shore.
The lake seemed so strangely familiar, that the old couple were greatly
perplexed, and felt as if they could only have been dreaming about a
village having lain there. But, the next moment, they remembered the
vanished dwellings, and the faces and characters of the inhabitants, far
too distinctly for a dream. The village had been there yesterday, and
now was gone!
"Alas!" cried these kind-hearted old people, "what has become of our
"They exist no longer as men and women," said the elder traveller, in
his grand and deep voice, while a roll of thunder seemed to echo it at a
distance. "There was neither use nor beauty in such a life as theirs:
for they never softened or sweetened the hard lot of mortality by the
exercise of kindly affections between man and man. They retained no
image of the better life in their bosoms; therefore, the lake, that was
of old, has spread itself forth again, to reflect the sky!"
"And as for those foolish people," said Quicksilver, with his
mischievous smile, "they are all transformed to fishes. There needed
but little change, for they were already a scaly set of rascals, and the
coldest-blooded beings in existence. So, kind Mother Baucis, whenever
you or your husband have an appetite for a dish of broiled trout, he can
throw in a line, and pull out half a dozen of your old neighbors!"
"Ah," cried Baucis, shuddering, "I would not, for the world, put one of
them on the gridiron!"
"No," added Philemon, making a wry face, "we could never relish them!"
"As for you, good Philemon," continued the elder traveller,--"and you,
kind Baucis,--you, with your scanty means, have mingled so much
heartfelt hospitality with your entertainment of the homeless stranger,
that the milk became an inexhaustible fount of nectar, and the brown
loaf and the honey were ambrosia. Thus, the divinities have feasted, at
your board, off the same viands that supply their banquets on Olympus.
You have done well, my dear old friends. Wherefore, request whatever
favor you have most at heart, and it is granted."
Philemon and Baucis looked at one another, and then,--I know not which
of the two it was who spoke, but that one uttered the desire of both
"Let us live together, while we live, and leave the world at the same
instant, when we die! For we have always loved one another!"
"Be it so!" replied the stranger, with majestic kindness. "Now, look
towards your cottage!"
They did so. But what was their surprise, on beholding a tall edifice
of white marble, with a wide-open portal, occupying the spot where their
humble residence had so lately stood!
"There is your home," said the stranger, beneficently smiling on them
both. "Exercise your hospitality in yonder palace, as freely as in the
poor hovel to which you welcomed us last evening."
The old folks fell on their knees to thank him; but, behold! neither he
nor Quicksilver was there.
So Philemon and Baucis took up their residence in the marble palace, and
spent their time, with vast satisfaction to themselves, in making
everybody jolly and comfortable who happened to pass that way. The
milk-pitcher, I must not forget to say, retained its marvellous quality
of being never empty, when it was desirable to have it full. Whenever
an honest, good-humored, and free-hearted guest took a draught from this
pitcher, he invariably found it the sweetest and most invigorating fluid
that ever ran down his throat. But, if a cross and disagreeable
curmudgeon happened to sip, he was pretty certain to twist his visage
into a hard knot, and pronounce it a pitcher of sour milk!
Thus the old couple lived in their palace a great, great while, and grew
older and older, and very old indeed. At length, however, there came a
summer morning when Philemon and Baucis failed to make their appearance,
as on other mornings, with one hospitable smile overspreading both their
pleasant faces, to invite the guests of overnight to breakfast. The
guests searched everywhere, from top to bottom of the spacious palace,
and all to no purpose. But, after a great deal of perplexity, they
espied, in front of the portal, two venerable trees, which nobody could
remember to have seen there the day before. Yet there they stood, with
their roots fastened deep into the soil, and a huge breadth of foliage
overshadowing the whole front of the edifice. One was an oak, and the
other a linden-tree. Their boughs it was strange and beautiful to see--
were intertwined together, and embraced one another, so that each tree
seemed to live in the other tree's bosom, much more than in its own.
While the guests were marvelling how these trees, that must have
required at least a century to grow, could have come to be so tall and
venerable in a single night, a breeze sprang up, and set their
intermingled boughs astir. And then there was a deep, broad murmur in
the air, as if the two mysterious trees were speaking.
"I am old Philemon!" murmured the oak.
"I am old Baucis!" murmured the linden-tree.
But, as the breeze grew stronger, the trees both spoke at once,--
"Philemon! Baucis! Baucis! Philemon!"--as if one were both and both
were one, and talking together in the depths of their mutual heart. It
was plain enough to perceive that the good old couple had renewed their
age, and were now to spend a quiet and delightful hundred years or so,
Philemon as an oak, and Baucis as a linden-tree. And oh, what a
hospitable shade did they fling around them! Whenever a wayfarer paused
beneath it, he heard a pleasant whisper of the leaves above his head,
and wondered how the sound should so much resemble words like these:--
"Welcome, welcome, dear traveller, welcome!"
And some kind soul, that knew what would have pleased old Baucis and old
Philemon best, built a circular seat around both their trunks, where,
for a great while afterwards, the weary, and the hungry, and the thirsty
used to repose themselves, and quaff milk abundantly out of the
And I wish, for all our sakes, that we had the pitcher here now!
AFTER THE STORY.
"How much did the pitcher hold?" asked Sweet Fern.
"It did not hold quite a quart," answered the student; "but you might
keep pouring milk out of it, till you should fill a hogshead, if you
pleased. The truth is, it would run on forever, and not be dry even at
midsummer,--which is more than can be said of yonder rill, that goes
babbling down the hillside."
"And what has become of the pitcher now?" inquired the little boy.
"It was broken, I am sorry to say, about twenty-five thousand years
ago," replied Cousin Eustace. "The people mended it as well as they
could; but, though it would hold milk pretty well, it was never
afterwards known to fill itself of its own accord. So, you see, it was
no better than any other cracked earthen pitcher."
"What a pity!" cried all the children at once.
The respectable dog Ben had accompanied the party, as did likewise a
half-grown Newfoundland puppy, who went by the name of Bruin, because
he was just as black as a bear. Ben, being elderly, and of very
circumspect habits, was respectfully requested, by Cousin Eustace, to
stay behind with the four little children, in order to keep them out of
mischief. As for black Bruin, who was himself nothing but a child, the
student thought it best to take him along, lest, in his rude play with
the other children, he should trip them up, and send them rolling and
tumbling down the bill. Advising Cowslip, Sweet Fern, Dandelion, and
Squashblossom to sit pretty still, in the spot where he left them, the
student, with Primrose and the elder children, began to ascend, and were
soon out of sight among the trees.
[The end] ________________________________________________
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Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story: Miraculous Pitcher