Written by Elizabeth Harrison.
Once upon a time there lived a child whose name was Ava. She was sweet and loving and had everything in the world to make her happy,—but she had a little blind sister, and Ava could not be perfectly happy as long as her sister’s eyes were closed so that she could not see the beautiful world, nor enjoy the bright sunshine. Little Ava kept wondering if there was not something that she could do which would open her little sister’s eyes.
At last, one day, she heard of an old, old woman, nobody knew how old, who had lived for hundreds of years in a dark cave, not many miles away. This peculiar, old woman knew a secret enchantment, by means of which the blind could receive their sight. The child, Ava, asked her parents’ permission to make a journey to the cave, in order that she might try to persuade the old woman to tell her this secret. “Then,” she exclaimed, joyfully, “my dear sister need no longer sit in darkness.” Her parents gave a somewhat unwilling consent, as they had heard many strange and unsettling stories about the old woman. At last, however, one fine spring morning, Ava started on her journey. She had a long distance to walk, but the happy thoughts in her heart made the time pass quickly, and the soft, cool breeze seemed to be whispering a song to her all the way.
When she came to the mouth of the cave, it looked so dark that she almost feared entering it, but the thought of her little sister gave her courage, and she walked in. At first she could see nothing, for all the sunshine was shut out by the frowning rocks that guarded the entrance. Soon, however, she could see the old woman sitting on a stone chair, spinning a pile of flax into a fine, fine thread. She looked nearly bent over double with age, and her face wore a look of worry and care, which made her appear still older.
Ava came close to her side, and thought, she is so old that she must be hard of hearing. The old woman did not turn her head, nor stop her spinning. Ava waited a moment, and then took fresh courage, and said, “I have come to ask you if you will tell me how I can cure my blind sister?” The strange creature turned and stared at her as if she were very much surprised; she then spoke in a deep, hollow voice, so hollow that it sounded as if she had not spoken for a very long time. “Oh,” she said with a snicker, “I can tell you well enough, but you’ll not do it. People who can see, trouble themselves very little about those who are blind!” This last was said with a sigh, and then she scowled at Ava until the child’s heart began to beat very fast.
But the thought of her little blind sister made her brave again, and she cried out, “Oh please tell me. I will do anything to help my dear sister!” The old woman looked long and earnestly at her this time. She then stooped down and searched in the heap of the fine-spun thread which lay at her side until she found the end of it. This she held out to the child, saying, “Take this and carry it all around the world, and when you have done that, come to me and I will show you how your blind sister may be cured.” Little Ava thanked her and eagerly seized the tiny thread, wrapping it carefully around her hand so that she might not lose it, turned and hastened out of the close, damp cave.
She had not traveled far before she looked back to be sure the thread had not broken, it was so thin. Imagine her surprise to see that instead of its being a gray thread of spun flax, it was a thread of golden light, that glittered and shone in the sunlight, as if it were made of the most precious stuff on earth. She felt sure that it must be a magic thread, and that it somehow would help her to cure her blind sister. So she kept going on, glad and happy.
Soon, however, she approached a dark, dense forest. No ray of sunlight seemed ever to have fallen on the trunks of its trees. In the distance she thought she could hear the growl of bears and the roar of lions. Her heart almost stopped beating. “Oh, I can never go through that gloomy forest,” she said to herself, and her eyes filled with tears. She turned to retrace her steps, when the soft breeze which still accompanied her whispered, “Look at the thread you have been carrying! Look at the golden thread!” She looked back, and the bright, tiny line of light seemed to be actually smiling at her, as it stretched across the soft grass covered ground, far into the distance, and, strange to say, each tiny blade of grass which it had touched, had blossomed into a flower. So, as the little girl looked back, she saw a flowery path with a glittering line of golden light running through it. “How beautiful!” she exclaimed, “I did not notice the flowers as I came along, but the enchanted thread will make the next traveler see them.”
This thought filled her with such joy that she pushed forward into the woods. Sometimes she knocked her head against a tree which stood in her way; sometimes she almost felt she was lost, but every now and then she would look back and the sight of the tiny thread of golden light always renewed her courage. Once in a while she felt quite sure that she could see the nose of some wild beast poking out in front of her, but when she came nearer it proved to be the joint in a tree trunk, or some strange fungus which had grown on a low branch. Then she would laugh at herself and go on. One of the wonderful things about the mysterious little thread which she carried in her hand was that it seemed to open a path behind it, so that one could easily follow in her foot-steps without stumbling over fallen trees, or bumping against living ones. Every now and then a gray squirrel would frisk by her in a friendly fashion, as if to remind her that she was not alone, even in the twilight of the dark woods. After a while she came to the part of the forest where the trees were less dense, and soon she was out in the glad sunshine again.
But now a new difficulty faced her. As far as she could see stretched a low, swampy marsh of wet land. The mud and slime did not look very inviting, but the thought of her little blind sister came to her again, and she bravely plunged into the mire. The dirty, dripping mud clung to her dress and made her feet so heavy that she grew tired lifting them out of it. Sometimes she seemed to be stuck fast, and it was only with a great effort that she could pull out, first one foot, and then the other. A lively green frog hopped along beside her, and seemed to say, in his funny, croaking voice, “Never mind the mud, you’ll soon be through it.” When she had at last reached the end of the slippery, sticky marsh, and stood once more on firm ground, she looked back at the tiny thread of golden light which trailed along after her. What do you think had happened? Wherever the mysterious and beautiful thread had touched the mud, the water had dried up, and the earth had become firm and hard, so that any other person who might wish to cross the swampy place could walk on firm ground. This made Ava so happy, that she began to sing softly to herself.
Soon, however, her singing stopped. As the day advanced, the air grew hotter and hotter. The trees had long ago disappeared, and now the grass became parched and dry, until at last she found herself in the middle of a dreary desert. For miles and miles the scorching sand stretched on every side. She could not even find a friendly rock in whose shadow she might rest for a time. The blazing sun hurt her eyes and made her head ache, and the hot sand burned her feet. Still she kept going, cheered by a swarm of yellow butterflies that fluttered just ahead of her. At last the end of the desert was reached, just as the sun disappeared behind a crimson cloud. Dusty and weary, Ava was about to throw herself down on the ground to rest. As she did so, her eyes turned to look once more at the golden thread which had trailed behind her all day on the hot sand. Lo, and behold! What did she see? Tall shade trees had sprung up along the path she had traveled, and each tiny grain of sand that the wonderful thread had touched, was now changed into a diamond, or ruby, or emerald, or some other precious stone. On one side the pathway across the desert shone and glittered, while on the other the graceful trees cast a cool and refreshing shade.
Little Ava stood amazed as she looked at the beautiful trees and the sparkling gems. All feeling of weariness was gone. The air now seemed mild and refreshing, and she thought that she could hear in the distance some birds singing their evening songs. One by one the bright stars came out in the quiet sky above her head, as if to keep guard while she slept through the night.
The next morning she started forward on her long journey around the world. She traveled quite pleasantly for a while, thinking of how cool and shady the desert path would now be for any one who might have to travel it, and of the precious jewels she had left for someone else to gather up. She could not stop for them herself, she was too anxious to press forward and finish her task, in order that her little blind sister might soon see.
After a time she came to some rough rocks tumbled about in great confusion, as if angry giants had thrown them at each other. Soon the path grew steeper and steeper, and the rocks sharper and sharper. Before her she could see nothing but more rocks until they piled themselves into a great mountain, which frowned down upon her, as much as to say, “How dare you attempt to climb to my summit?” The brave child hesitated. Just then two strong eagles with outspread wings rose from their nest of sticks on the side of a steep cliff nearby, and soared majestically and slowly upwards. As they passed far above her head they uttered a loud cry which seemed to say, “Be brave and strong and you shall meet us at the mountain-top.”
Sometimes the ragged edges of the rocks tore her dress, and sometimes they caught the tiny golden thread, and tangled it so that she had to turn back and loosen it from their hold. The road was very steep and she was forced to sit down every few minutes and catch her breath. Still she climbed on, keeping the soaring eagles always in sight. As she neared the top, she turned and looked back at the enchanted thread of golden light which she had carried through all the long, strange journey. Another marvelous thing had happened! The rugged path of sharp, broken rocks, had changed into broad and beautiful white marble steps, over which trailed the shining thread of light. She knew that she had made a pathway up this difficult mountain and her heart rejoiced.
She turned again to continue on her journey, when, only a short distance in front of her, she saw the dark cave in which lived the strange old woman who had told her to carry the line of light around the world. She rushed forward, and on entering the cave, she saw the old creature, almost bent double, still spinning the mysterious thread. Ava ran forward and cried out, “I have done all that you have told me to do, now please give sight to my sister?” The old woman sprang to her feet, seized the thread of golden light and exclaimed, “At last! at last! I am freed!”
Then came so strange and wonderful a change that Ava could hardly believe her own eyes. Instead of the ugly, angry-looking old woman, there stood a beautiful princess, with long hair, and tender eyes, her face radiant with joy. Her story was soon told. Hundreds of years ago she had been changed into the bent old woman, and put in the dark cave on the mountain-side, because she, the daughter of the King, had been selfish and idle, thinking only of herself, and her punishment had been that she must remain thus disguised and separated from all companions and friends until she could find someone who would be generous and brave enough to take the long, dangerous journey around the world for the sake of others. Her mother had been a fairy princess and had taught her many things which we have yet to learn. She showed Ava how, by dipping the golden thread into a spring of ordinary water, she could change the water into golden water, which glittered and sparkled like liquid sunshine. Filling a pitcher with this they went quickly together to where the little sister sat in darkness waiting for someone to come and lead her home. The beautiful princess told Ava to dip her hands into the bowl of enchanted water, and then press them upon the closed eyes of her sister. They opened! And the little blind girl could see!
After that the fairy princess came and lived with little Ava and her sister, and taught them how to do many wonderful things.