Dame Clementina was in her dairy, churning, and her little daughter Nan was out in the flower-garden. The flower-garden was a little plot back of the cottage, full of all the sweet, old-fashioned herbs. There were sweet marjoram, sage, summer savory, lavender, and ever so many others. Up in one corner, there was a little green bed of dill.
Nan was a dainty, slim little maiden, with yellow, flossy hair in short curls all over her head. Her eyes were very sweet and round and blue, and she wore a quaint little snuff-colored gown. It had a very short full waist, with low neck and puffed sleeves, and the skirt was straight and narrow and down to her little heels.
She danced around the garden, picking a flower here and there. She was making a nosegay for her mother. She picked lavender and sweet-william and pinks, and bunched them up together.
Finally she pulled a little sprig of dill and ran, with that and the nosegay, to her mother in the dairy.
"Mother dear," said she, "here is a little nosegay for you; and what was it I overheard you telling Dame Elizabeth about dill last night?"
Dame Clementina stopped churning and took the nosegay. "Thank you, Sweetheart, it is lovely," said she, "and, as for the dill--it is a charmed plant, you know, like four-leaved clover."
"Do you put it over the door?" asked Nan.
"Yes. Nobody who is envious or ill-disposed, can enter into the house if there is a sprig of dill over the door. Then I know another charm which makes it stronger. If one just writes this verse:
'Alva, aden, winira mir, Villawissen lingen; Sanchta, wanchta, attazir, Hor de mussen wingen'
under the sprig of dill, every one envious, or evil-disposed, who attempts to enter the house, will have to stop short, just where they are, and stand there; they cannot move."
"What does the verse mean?" asked Nan, with great eyes.
"That, I do not know. It is written in a foreign language. But it is a powerful charm."
"O mother, will you write it off for me, if I will bring you a bit of paper and a pen?"
"Certainly," replied her mother, and wrote it off when Nan brought pen and paper.
"Now," said she, "you must run off and play again, and not hinder me any longer, or I shall not get my butter made to-day."
So Nan danced away with the verse, and the sprig of dill, and her mother went on churning.
She had a beautiful tall stone churn, with the sides all carved with figures in relief. There were milkmaids and cows as natural as life all around the churn. The dairy was charming too. The shelves were carved stone; and the floor had a little silvery rill running right through the middle of it, with green ferns at the sides. All along the stone shelves were set pans full of yellow cream, and the pans were all of solid silver, with a chasing of buttercups and daisies around the brims.
It was not a common dairy, and Dame Clementina was not a common dairy-woman. She was very tall and stately, and wore her silver-white hair braided around her head like a crown, with a high silver comb at the top. She walked like a queen; indeed she was a noble count's daughter. In her early youth, she had married a pretty young dairyman, against her father's wishes; so she had been disinherited. The dairyman had been so very poor and low down in the world, that the count felt it his duty to cast off his daughter, lest she should do discredit to his noble line. There was a much pleasanter, easier way out of the difficulty, which the count did not see. Indeed, it was a peculiarity of all his family that they never could see a way out of a difficulty, high and noble as they were. The count only needed to have given the poor young dairyman a few acres of his own land, and a few bags of his own gold, and begged the king, with whom he had great influence, to knight him, and all the obstacles would have been removed; the dairyman would have been quite rich and noble enough for his son-in-law. But he never thought of that, and his daughter was disinherited. However, he made all the amends to her that he could, and fitted her out royally for her humble station in life. He caused this beautiful dairy to be built for her, and gave her the silver milk-pans, and the carved stone churn.
"My daughter shall not churn in a common wooden churn, or skim the cream from wooden pans," he had said.
The dairyman had been dead a good many years now, and Dame Clementina managed the dairy alone. She never saw anything of her father, though he lived in his castle not far off on a neighboring height. When the sky was clear, she could see its stone towers against it. She had four beautiful white cows, and Nan drove them to pasture; they were very gentle.
When Dame Clementina had finished churning, she went into the cottage.
As she stepped through the little door with clumps of sweet peas on each side, she looked up. There was the sprig of dill and the magic verse she had written under it.
Nan was sitting at the window inside, knitting her stent on a blue stocking. "Ah, Sweetheart," said her mother, laughing, "you have little cause to pin the dill and the verse over our door. None is likely to envy us, or to be ill disposed toward us."
"O mother," said Nan, "I know it, but I thought it would be so nice to feel sure. O there is Dame Golding coming after some milk. _Do_ you suppose she will have to stop?"
"What nonsense!" said her mother. They both of them watched Dame Golding coming. All of a sudden, she stopped short, just outside. She could go no further. She tried to lift her feet, but could not.
"O mother!" cried Nan, "she has stopped!"
The poor woman began to scream. She was frightened almost to death.
Nan and her mother were not much less frightened, but they did not know what to do. They ran out, and tried to comfort her, and gave her some cream to drink; but it did not amount to much. Dame Golding had secretly envied Dame Clementina for her silver milk-pans. Nan and her mother knew why their visitor was so suddenly rooted to the spot, of course, but she did not. She thought her feet were paralyzed, and she kept begging them to send for her husband.
"Perhaps he can pull her away," said Nan, crying. How she wished she had never pinned the dill and the verse over the door! So she set off for Dame Golding's husband. He came running in a great hurry; but when he had nearly reached his wife, and had his arms reached out to grasp her, he, too, stopped short. He had envied Dame Clementina for her beautiful white cows, and there he was fast, also.
He began to groan and scream too. Nan and her mother ran into the house and shut the door. They could not bear it. "What shall we do, if any one else comes?" sobbed Nan. "O mother, there is Dame Dorothy coming! And--yes--O she has stopped too!" Poor Dame Dorothy had envied Dame Clementina a little for her flower-garden, which was finer than hers, as she had to join Dame Golding and her husband.
Pretty soon, another woman came, who had looked with envious eyes at Dame Clementina, because she was a count's daughter; and another, who had grudged her a fine damask petticoat which she had had before she was disinherited, and still wore on holidays; and they both had to stop.
Then came three rough-looking men in velvet jackets and slouched hats, who brought up short at the gate with a great jerk that nearly took their breath away. They were robbers who were prowling about with a view to stealing Dame Clementina's silver milk-pans some dark night.
All through the day the people kept coming and stopping. It was wonderful how many things poor Dame Clementina had to be envied by men and women, and even children. They envied Nan for her yellow curls or her blue eyes, or her pretty snuff-colored gown. When the sun set, the yard in front of Dame Clementina's cottage was full of people. Lastly, just before dark, the count himself came ambling up on a coal-black horse. The count was a majestic old man dressed in velvet, with stars on his breast. His white hair fell in long curls on his shoulders, and he had a pointed beard. As he came to the gate, he caught a glimpse of Nan in the door.
"How I wish that little maiden was my child," said he.
And, straightway, he stopped. His horse pawed and trembled when he lashed him with a jewelled whip to make him go on; but he could not stir forward one step. Neither could the count dismount from his saddle; he sat there fuming with rage.
Meanwhile, poor Dame Clementina and little Nan were overcome with distress. The sight of their yard full of all these weeping people was dreadful. Neither of them had any idea how to do away with the trouble, because of their family inability to see their way out of a difficulty.
When supper time came, Nan went for the cows, and her mother milked them into her silver milk pails, and strained off the milk into her silver pans. Then they kindled up a fire and cooked some beautiful milk porridge for the poor people in the yard, and then carried them each a bowlful.
It was a beautiful warm moonlight night, and all the winds were sweet with roses and pinks; so the people could not suffer out of doors; but the next morning it rained.
"O mother," said Nan, "it is raining, and what will the poor people do?"
Dame Clementina would never have seen her way out of this difficulty, had not Dame Golding cried out that her bonnet was getting wet, and she wanted an umbrella.
"Why you must go around to their houses of course, and get their umbrellas for them," said Dame Clementina, "but first, give ours to that old man on horseback." She did not know her father, so many years had passed since she had seen him, and he had altered so.
So Nan carried out their great yellow umbrella to the count, and went around to the others' houses for their own umbrellas. It was pitiful enough to see them standing all alone behind the doors. She could not find three extra ones for the three robbers, and she felt badly about that.
Somebody suggested, however, that milk pans turned over their heads would keep the rain off their slouched hats, at least; so she got a silver milk-pan for an umbrella for each. They made such frantic efforts to get away then, that they looked like jumping-jacks; but it was of no use.
Poor Dame Clementina and Nan after they had given more milk porridge to the people, and done all they could for their comfort, stood staring disconsolately out of the window at them under their dripping umbrellas. The yard was fairly green and black and blue and yellow with umbrellas. They wept at the sight, but they could not think of any way out of the difficulty. The people themselves might have suggested one, had they known the real cause; but they did not dare to tell them how they were responsible for all the trouble; they seemed so angry.
About noon Nan spied their most particular friend, Dame Elizabeth, coming. She lived a little way out of the village. Nan saw her approaching the gate through the rain and mist, with her great blue umbrella, and her long blue double cape and her poke bonnet; and she cried out in the greatest dismay: "O mother, mother, there is our dear Dame Elizabeth coming; she will have to stop too!"
Then they watched her with beating hearts. Dame Elizabeth stared with astonishment at the people, and stopped to ask them questions. But she passed quite through their midst, and entered the cottage under the sprig of dill, and the verse. She did not envy Dame Clementina or Nan, anything.
"Tell me what this means," said she. "Why are all these people standing in your yard in the rain with umbrellas?"
Then Dame Clementina and Nan told her. "And O what shall we do?" said they. "Will these people have to stand in our yard forever?"
Dame Elizabeth stared at them. The way out of the difficulty was so plain to her, that she could not credit its not being plain to them.
"Why," said she, "don't you _take down the sprig of dill and the verse_?"
"Why, sure enough!" said they in amazement. "Why didn't we think of that before?"