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Meyer, Ernest L. (ed.) / Wisconsin literary magazine
Volume XVII, Number 1 (October 1917)

Ochsner, Bertha
What sunken-meadow saw,   pp. 8-11


Page 8

WISCONSIN LITERARY MAGAZINE
What Sunken-Meadow
Saw
The scene and hoawit happened
A    NARROW      stretch of ground lies in the fore-
ground, and beyond, as far as one can see, a
swamp, glassy and pale, shimmers frosty white in the
moonlight. The twisted boughs of a black cypress
throw their gnarled silhouettes against a starry sky, and
the gruff croak of a veteran bull-frog breaks the silence
of the night. A mist of blue vapor overhangs all.
A voice is heard, at first indistinct, then growing
high and clear. It croons, and laughs, and slurs, and
finally we hear the words of a strange and dream-like
chant:
"Swing high, Swing low,
The wandering mischief-maker am I,
Who laughs in the mists that rise from the seas
And mocks the wind that kisses the leaves.
"Swing high, Swing low,
The world is round and so is the moon,
But the opal dawn will come too soon,
Swing high, Swing low."
Close upon the last note there follows a long sigh-
ing yawn, and down from the black cypress boughs
slips a grotesque little figure clad in the deep green of
a forest pool and veiled in tints of amber and blue.
Here and there the moonlight catches the glint of a
scarlet maple leaf.
The Spirit (lazily stretching his arms and throwing
back his towseled head to the breeze): "Ho-hum"-
(then espying the audience): "Well, upon the word
of my stepbrother, the glow-worm, I was so busy nap-
ping that I never heard one of you come in. Now
you're all wondering who I am (laughs softly), but
you don't know-no mortal has ever seen me before.
But I've seen you, millions of you, and upon the word
of my god-mother, the moon, you can't imagine how
funny you are." (Goes into pealing, hilarious laugh-
ter.)                                      t
Just then an owl from across the swamp cries out
into the night: "To-whit, to-whoo-o-o."
The Spirit: "That's the wisest owl in the world tel-
ling me how ill mannered I am. But I don't mind him;
he hates me worse than daylight." (In a whisper.)
"O()nce I stole a pet tail feather of his and put it in a
fool's cap that very night." (He shrieks with mirth,
while the old owl calls again):
"To-whit, to-whoo-o-o."
The Spirit: "And now, listen, I'm the reason why
you quarrel with your wives, and spank your babies.
I'm what's wrong when your biscuits burn and your
roast won't brown, and the milk turns sour and the
soup boils over, and the cat falls into the well. I'm
there when the white hail falls and the forked light-
ning strikes. I am Kiff,-Kiff, the Mischief-Maker!"
There is a silence, and then a voice, from the shad-
ows of the road wails out, half in terror, half in de-
spair:
"Kiff, the Mischief-Maker! Oh dear, Oh dear!
And I thought I had found some kindly soul who
might help me."
Kiff turns about to see the tear-stained face of a
slender girl who comes slowly from the darkness into
the moonlight. Her short black hair curls about her
shoulders and her red lips are quivering.
Kiff (running forward impulsively): "Oh, but I
would'nt harm you. I couldn't; not anything so
lovely."
The Girl (shrinking back): "Go away. You're
the wickedest spirit abroad and you'll only make
things a hundred times worse. Why, I'm more afraid
of you than all the mice in the world. Go away, I
tell you!"
Kiff, at a loss, steps back and looks at her sorrow-
fully, then suddenly is revived with a bright thought.
Kiff: "Bull-frogs and tadpoles! I've got a famous
idea. You tell me your troubles, all of them, to the
last word, and, who knows but I might be able to do
something after all."
The Girl (hesitatingly and between sobs): "Well,
I couldn't be much worse off than I am now, so I might
as well tell you how entirely miserable I am."
Kiff (twinkling with anticipation): "That's right.
Go ahead. I knew you'd be sensible. But would you
please mind not gulping so much? A tear or two
doesn't faze me, but when you gulp like that it upsets
me terribly, and besides I can't understand a word
you're saying."
The Girl (seating herself on a broad pine stump,
while Kiff curls up at her feet): "Very well, I'll try
to stop crying, but it's all so very tragic. To begin
with, I have run away from home " (defiantly)
"Yes, I have, and, what's worse, I've lost my lover
forever and a day. You see, he is very tall and hand-
some, with hair that's as curly as mine, but the color
of sunshine, and eyes so blue that they put the sky to
shame. His name is Melvin, and he's asked me to
marry him every day for three months."
Kiff (puzzled and seriously): "Well, why in the
October, 1917


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