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The Wagner Story Book

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There is a certain little girl who sometimes tries to find out when I am not over busy, so that she may ask me to tell her a story. She is kind enough to say that she likes my stories, and this so flatters my vanity that I like nothing better than telling them to her. One reason why she likes them, I suspect, is that they are not really my stories at all, the most of them. They are the stories that the whole world has known and loved all these hundreds and thousands of years, tales of the gods and the heroes, of the giants and the goblins. Those are the right stories to tell to children, I believe, and the right ones for children to hear—the wonderful things that used to be done, up in the sky, and down under the ocean, and inside the mountains. If the boys and girls do not find out now, while they are young, all about the strange, mysterious, magical life of the days when the whole world was young, it is ten to one that they will never find out about it at all, for the most of us do not keep ourselves like children always, though surely we have all been told plainly enough that that is what we ought to do.

This little girl's mother is rather a strange sort of woman. I do not know that she exactly disagrees with us about these stories that we both like so much, but she seems to have a different way of looking at them from ours. I sometimes suspect that she does not even believe in fairies at all, that she never so much as thought she saw a ghost, that, if she heard a dozen wild horses galloping over the roof of the house and then flying away into the sky, she would think it was only the wind, and that she is no more afraid of ogres than of policemen. Still she is a woman whom one cannot help liking, in some respects.

But one day she said something to the little girl that surprised me, and made me think that perhaps I had done her injustice. The child came to me with a face full of perplexity and said: "What do you suppose mamma just told me?"

"I am sure I can't guess," I replied; "your mother tells you such ridiculous things that I am always afraid to think what will be the next. Perhaps she says that William Tell didn't shoot an apple off his little boy's head, or that the baker's wife didn't box King Alfred's ears for letting the cakes burn."

"Oh, no," said the child, "it isn't a bit like that; she says that you can see pictures in the fire sometimes—men and horses and trees and all kinds of things."

"Does she, indeed? And how does your mother know what I can see in the fire or what I can't see?"

"Oh, I don't mean just you—yourself, I mean anybody. Now can you? I mean can anybody?"

"Why, yes, if that is what you mean; I think some people can. It is the most sensible thing I have known your mother to say in a long time."

"But how can anybody see such things? Can you see them? I have been looking at the fire ever so long, and I can't see anything at all but just the fire, the wood, and the ashes."

"Let us look at it together," I said; and I put a chair that was big enough to hold both of us before the fireplace....