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Legends of Ceylon
Once upon a time, now almost forgotten, there lived a beautiful little girl named Dingirie. Her father
was an officer or chief in the King's army, and Dingirie felt very proud of her father in his gold and white drapery.
She had never seen an English helmet with plumes, such as you think an officer should wear, and to Dingirie her father's pin-cushion hat, crusted with gems, was quite the most splendid part of his costume.
Her mother, to little Dingirie, seemed the most wonderful and the most beautiful woman in the world.
She had a companion and friend, too, who lived next door. He was a big boy, and Dingirie was only a tiny little girl, but he would often play with her and make toys for her; he could not make rag dolls with beady black eyes, such as her mother made her; but he could tell her the most wonderful secrets about the flower fairies, the water fairies, and about all the birds and squirrels in their gardens.
He knew how to tame squirrels, and once he caught a tiny baby squirrel, and gave it to Dingirie to play with.
How you would have loved little Layna, as Dingirie called her pet, if you could have seen its pretty ways. It would run up and down her arms and shoulders, and would eat off her hand. The prettiest sight of all was to watch Layna wash its face.
Some of the happiest hours of Dingirie's life were those she spent with little Layna.
Dingirie's mother taught her to cook and sew and weave, while her father taught her to read and write.
Of her friend, Banda, she saw little now, for he too had his lessons and his work ; but he never forgot his old playmate Dingirie.
Years passed by, when one day Dingirie's father returned home very sad, and she noticed that her mother, too, looked troubled, and that her eyes were often red with crying.
"What is it, mother, that troubles you and father so ? Tell me, mother, what it is."
" Oh, my little daughter, how can I ever tell you what saddens us so ? And yet I must, for it concerns you," her mother answered.
And so Dingirie learnt from her parents that it was a religious duty if, for many years the harvests in the land had been poor, to sacrifice a beautiful young life to the gods to appease them.
And this time they had chosen Dingirie.
Poor little Dingirie was very frightened and sad when her mother told her this. She remembered hearing of other girls who had been selected in past years, and she knew they never came back again.
They would dress, her in beautiful bridal clothes, and, decked with richest jewels, she would be conveyed to the top of a very high hill, with a whole procession of men, women and children, elephants, banners and tom-toms.
Arrived at the top of the hill, with ceremony and the beating of tom-toms, she would be securely tied to a great stake, which had been driven deep into the ground. And there they would leave her to the Harvest God -- leave her alone on the top of the hill till the Harvest God came for her; while the whole procession went down the hill and back to the village.
Poor little Dingirie; she felt she would die of fright if she were left alone on the top of the jungle hill. She was very sad that night, and crept into her mother's room to cry herself to sleep.
Her father did his best to comfort her. He told her not to be frightened; but when Bahira, the Harvest God, came to claim her, she was to sing to him, and giving him all her precious jewels, she was to beg of him to let her return to her parents.
All too soon the dreadful day came round.
Her mother was too sad to go with her in the procession; but her father went with her, and he said he would not leave her till he was obliged.
The time came, however, when he had to leave his little daughter alone.
Alone on the top of a hill, tied to a stake, unable to move hand or foot; and it was so late that it was growing dark.
The sad father lit a great fire not far from the stake to which his dear little daughter was bound, and lingered near her till he was dragged away by his friends.
Dingirie was quite alone. She tried not to be frightened, poor, dear little girl, and she kept her thoughts busy thinking of what she would say to the Harvest God when he came for her.
After he had cut the cords which bound her, she would fall at his feet and beg for her release. She would beg, too, for a better harvest for her people. She would give him all her jewels, and promise all she could ever give him, every day as long as she lived.
Oh! how lonely it was on the top of the hill.
What if dreadful wild animals should come and tear her to pieces ?
She thought she heard them moving about in the jungle round her.
Oh! what a timid, frightened little girl she was.
What was it her father had told her to do? Ah ! he had told her to sing when she felt frightened.
She was too frightened to remember a song, except the songs she had sung as a very little girl to her friend Banda.
What happy days those were, thought the little prisoner.
For every song she sang Banda would sing another.
And her father had told her to sing when she felt frightened waiting for the Harvest God.
So at last little Dingirie sang her old playtime songs, and as she sang song after song the fire went out, and the kind moon appeared and smiled at her.
The moon looked down on Dingirie and seemed so friendly; she could almost imagine it said: " Cheer up ! little maid. Cheer up! I'll take care of you."
And then the little fire-flies came --myriads of them-- and flitted about from tree to tree, till Dingirie could imagine she was in Fairy Land. She forgot to be frightened, and went on singing.
Was it her echo she heard away in the distance ?
Surely some one was singing! that could not possibly be the echo of her own song!
Why! It sounded like one of Banda's songs--or could it be the Harvest God coming to claim her?
She was not a bit frightened of him now if he could sing like that.
She was sure he would release her. He must be good and kind, she thought, for he sang just as her dear friend, Banda, used to sing.
Ah! He was coming nearer; soon the kind moonlight would show him to her.
She was - just a tiny weeny bit frightened, because the voice was very near, so she shut her eyes tight for a little while.
Then the singing stopped. And when she opened her eyes, who do you think she found standing by her ?
Guess ! Why, it was her dear friend Banda l
And you may be sure he lost no time in cutting the cords which bound Dingirie to the stake.
And what nice things he had brought with him.
He knew his little friend had not had her dinner, so they feasted on the top of the hill.
Banda lit a fire to frighten away the wild animals, and then he sat by the fire and guarded his little friend till morning clawned.
In the early morning they returned to their people in the village, and told them that the god Bahira had not come all night.
And the people felt sure their sacrifice had not been accepted.
That year, however, the harvest was a good one, and before the harvest was over Banda had married little Dingirie, and had taken her away to his own beautiful home, where they lived happily ever after.
||Aline van Dort |
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