The Tar Baby and the Tomahawk: Race and Ethnic Images in American Children's Literature, 1880-1939


The Stone of Success.

If an American boy of about twenty years ago could have looked down upon Mandalay, the capital of Burmah, he might have seen what would appear to him a circus procession winding its glittering way through the streets,past the grey bamboo houses, past the glistening, golden palaces of the King, splendid in their barbaric magnificence, past the gay bazaars busy with noisy traffic, out into the country roads and up toward the hills beyond. And the same boy might venture many a guess before he would alight upon the true purpose of this gay train of soldiers and grandees, and great elephants, brightly trapped, walking with dignified and ponderous tread. For just such a parade was peculiar to Mandalay, that city of "the sunshine, and the palm trees, and the tinkling temple bells."

Around the Burmese capital rise the Ruby Mountains with jungle-covered slopes and wild beast-haunted forests, holding in their clefts and recesses stores of rich red treasure. The King of Burmah was called the "Lord of the Rubies." He owned all the mountain mines of precious stones, and when a valuable gem was found, a runner from the hills bore the glad news to the palace. Then the King would order out his troops with all the trappings of state, and the procession would set out on the mountain road to meet the ruby, welcome it and escort it back to the monarch and the royal treasury. For, next to the sacred white elephant, no possession was so cherished by the Burmese royalty, as was the ruby.

In 1886, Burmah was annexed to England and the British government took the mines. The processions no longer wind their welcoming way to the hills; the elephants are busy "pilin' teak, in the sludgy, squdgy creek," and the ruby has lost a bit of its charm by becoming merely a valuable article of commerce, instead of an almost sacred treasure.

All through the ages the ruby has been called the stone of good luck. According to the old stories, whoever owned a ruby would never fail in anything he undertook, for that beautiful jewel held in its glowing red heart a magic power which always brought success. No matter how dangerous the task, the ruby was sure to give courage and victory. In the days
of ancient Greece, when a rich man wished to express to a friend good wishes for wealth or honor, he sent to him a ruby engraved with the figure of an orator. To-day, the ruby is considered the luckiest of stones, though the good fortune, as we see it, lies in the owning of anything so precious, for even the diamond is not so valuable a gem.

The ruby is the stone of July, and the fire which abides in its red heart is truly typical of that burning month of summer. According to legend, however, this fire varied with the fortune of the owner. A popular superstition in regard to the ruby was the belief in its power to foretell danger or disaster by the changing of its color.

It was a favorite talisman and love token in the time of the Crusaders. Many a gallant knight, clothed in armor, has borne to battle his lady's heart, in the shape of the burning gem; or has ridden out to wage war with the unbeliever, leaving a pledge of his true love in his sweetheart's keeping,— a red, and flaming ruby.

Henry V wore a magnificent ruby at the Battle of Agincourt and it proved to be a stone of success for him. Queen Elizabeth had a weakness for jewels. Mandeville says that she displayed to him "a fair ruby, great like a racquet ball." Sir John's stories, however, will always bear a little pruning. Elizabeth presented a ruby ring to each of her favorites, the Earls of Essex and Suffolk. There is a sad little story connected with Lord Essex's ruby. When that noble, sentenced for treason, was in the Tower awaiting his death, he sent the ring, the gift of happy days, to the Queen. Perhaps it would have softened her heart with its memories of old time friendship, but she never received it. Instead, it fell into the hands of Lady Nottingham, who, by her husband's advice, withheld it. When she was dying, Lady Nottingham sent for the Queen and confessed. "May God forgive you!" cried Elizabeth. "I never can."

The Coronation ring of Scotland was set with a ruby. It was the custom to send this jewel with the messenger who notified the heir of his coming to the throne. When James the Second made his unkingly flight across the Channel, he had the ring concealed in his person, and it narrowly escaped being taken by the fishermen who searched their royal passenger for gold. The ring is now in the royal collection at Edinburgh.

The finest ruby in the world is owned by the King of Burmah, The largest European ruby is in Russia and is the size of a pigeon's egg.

There are three ways of obtaining the ruby: by cuttings made in the hill sides; by boring into the clefts and seams; and by washing the ruby gravel. The small stones are of little value, but a perfect ruby of five carats is worth five or six times as much as a diamond of the same size and quality.

After all, what is a ruby? The man wise in science will at once say that it is a transparent and colored variety of corundum, possessing properties of double-refraction and electricity; that its color is of the heart of the solar spectrum, that its name " rubino " signifies red, and that the Oriental is the only true ruby. But all that means so little; it explains nothing of the beauty and mystery of the stone. It does not tell how that light, caught from the deepest tint of the heart's blood came to be held in the tiny crystal; nor how the fable grew up about it and the fairy tale clothed it with its charm. Why try to analyze it? Rather take it as it is, a bit of petrified glory out of the great warm earth, set in a shining circle of myths and fancies.

There is a very old story, or legend, associated with the ruby. It is told by an ancient Latin writer:



Heraclea sat at her door, her baby on her knee. Before her, at the foot of the hill-slope, lay Athens the Beautiful, the Violet-crowned. Beyond the low, flat roofs of the city rose and fell the many-tinted waters of the Gulf, sparkling in the happy light of day. Warm breezes scented with wild thyme lifted the dark tresses of the mother's hair and fanned the little one's cheek.

But Heraclea's heart was heavy. The battle of life had been hard since Callias left her, twelve weary months ago. Phorion was a wee baby
when the fever had carried off his father and left the still youthful mother with three children to keep from hunger. Heraclea did not often find an idle moment in which to sit, as she [illustration - "The crane, putting out his long bill, dropped something into her lap."] was sitting now, a lazy part of the sleepy noonday world.

As she sang to her baby boy a shadow fell across Heraclea's sunny door-way. A tall handsome man was coming up the little fool-path with that leisurely carriage which characterized the Athenian of the better class. A flush came to Heraclea's cheek as she recognized the newcomer. It was the wealthy and noble citizen Euclemion to whom she was in debt, and a quick little anger stole into her gentle heart as he gave her a kindly but patronizing greeting. She remembered the past if he did not. Callias had once done Euclemion a great service, so great that in the warmth of the moment Euclemion had said that no favor could be too great in return. Yet when Callias had fallen upon ill times and gone to his friend for help, Euclemion had lent him money, it is true, but at a high rate of interest, and he had said nothing of his former gratitude. Callias had concealed his hurt, but Heraclea never forgot it. The home in Athens was given up, the little house on the hillside taken and the debt gradually paid. The once warm friends slood only in the relation of debtor and creditor. Then came Callias' death, and Heraclea, helpless in her poverty, had humbled her pride and borrowed once more from Euclemion.

Heraclea laid her boy softly in the shoe-shaped osier cradle and greeted her guest with a dignity worthy of a Greek matron. He refused to be seated, saying that his chariot awaited below.

Little Phorion, roused by the voices, stretched and sat up in his cradle.


"That's a fine boy of yours, Heraclea!" exclaimed the visitor. "What is to become of him?"

The mother snatched the baby in her arms. "I know not, oh, I know not!" she cried. "Nay, mother's little one, my red carnation, do not grieve," she continued, as Phorion began to whimper.

"Heraclea, I came to-day to speak f the debt; the time for the interest is at hand, but I have changed my mind. In a twelve-months give me that boy and I will forgive you the obligation, yes, and more; I will pay you a sum over and above," said Euclemion.

"Give you my Phorion!" cried Heraclea. "Give you my baby! Have you not a tiny one of your own? Surely you have enough children to bless your hearth."

Euclemion smiled, a little scornfully.

"Yes" he said slowly, "yes, I have children enough to bless my hearth. My youngest is but a six months old. In a few years this boy will be of the right, age to—to tend him. He shall grow up with him and serve him."

The truth, with all its brutality, broke upon the mother, she remembered now; she had heard of debts being cancelled in that way, with the sanction of the law. Gently putting Phorion on the ground she rose to her full height.

"And so you, you Callias' friend, come for his child as your slave!"

"And why not, Heraclea? You cannot feed these great children much longer. It will be many a day before your other boy Glaucon can help you; especially if you let him keep at the schools instead of putting him to work in the fields or shops. I will give you the year in which to decide; when it is ended the debt must be paid in good coin or—Phorion. Let this thought grow in your mind."

"The debt shall be paid," said Heraclea. "I will work night and day. The gods will help me. As for selling my child to be a slave, I will tell you, Euclemion, I would rather see him laid by his father in the tomb yonder."

But Euclemion only smiled as he turned and went down the slope.

"Mother, Mother!" cried a fresh voice, that of Glaucon, and two strong arms were thrown about her, as she stood with her face in her hands. "What is it? and why has that man troubled you?"

It was a lithe young figure which held her and the thick black curls brushed her cheek, so tall was her big boy.

"No, no, my Glaucon, I am not troubled; he is but an evil dream that vexed me. Now it is passed. I will think of him no more."

"I hate him," thought Glaucon.

"Mother," he said aloud, as they stood, their arms entwined, while little Phorion on the ground called lustily for attention, "Why do you not let me go to work? I am big and strong."

Heraclea smiled down at her boy as she took his slender hands in her own.

"The gods have given you a great gift, my son. Some day my Glaucon will be a famous Sculptor; we must keep these hands for their true work. Meantime learn all you can."

As the little group stood in the sunshine a flutter and whirl overhead drew their eyes upward. For a number of years a couple of cranes had been accustomed to feed in the garden of the house, welcome and fortunate guests. Now, there was a great commotion about the wall, a hurried flapping of wings and hoarse cries of distress. Suddenly, one of the cranes fell, a fluttering white heap, directly at Heraclea's feet. She stooped and touched it with a gentle hand.

"Nay, Master Crane, it is a friend; do not glare so fiercely. See, Glaucon, its leg is broken; oh, it is cruel, poor bird." So together they worked until a splint had been bound about the fracture and the hurt was soon healed.

Time went on; the golden summer days passed and the air was tinged with the chill of approaching winter. The big birds as usual took their flight to their southern home.

When the Spring returned it brought no awakening gladness to Heraclea. To be sure, little Phorion waxed strong again; he was able to play out once more in the warm sunshine; the color crept into his wan little cheeks and the sweet curves came back to his dimpled limbs. But his mother's heart was agonizing over the thought which had grown to a dreadful certainty. She no longer could hide the truth
from herself. There was no possibility of her paying anything toward the debt.

One day Heraclea told Glaucon the fate which was hanging over them. The boy's grief and anger were piteous to see.

"It cannot be, Mother!" he cried. "Our Phorion! Euclemion is a wicked man. Can nothing be done?

Heraclea shook her head. "It is within the law, my son."

Then Glaucon, with a look which sat strangely on his boyish face, declared that he would offer himself in Phorion's place; that he would bury all his hopes in slavery that the little lad might grow up in freedom.

"Did ever mother have such a son?" thought Heraclea proudly; but she only said, as she put her arms about him and looked into his clear, true eyes:

"Nay, my Glaucon, you are your father's eldest son and the head of the home. It is as the gods have willed. The luck has departed [illustration - "When Heraclea put the crane's gift into his hands, a change came over the rough face."] from the house; even the cranes have not returned to us."

It was a warm, spring afternoon a week later and Heraclea sat once more at her door.

A soft stirring and fluttering overhead, roused her for a moment.

"The cranes have returned" she said to herself. "It is too late. What good fortune can they bring?" and she put her face down to her lap and burst into sobs. A slight touch on her shoulder brought her back to the present and she raised her head. A great white bird stood by her side.

"Master Crane!" she cried. "Why, Master Crane! Did no one welcome you back, poor bird? Oh, it is a sad house to which you come, Master Crane."

The crane maintained his solemn and unruffled dignity as Heraclea stroked the glossy neck. Then, putting out his long bill, he dropped something into her lap, and with a sudden whir was off to his nest. Heraclea looked in astonishment. "The pretty red glass!" she exclamed aloud. "To think of Master Crane's bringing a gift. Let no one say that a bird does not have a grateful heart."

A little stone lay in her hand like a crimson drop. She fingered it curiously, and entering the house she laid it carefully on a shelf.

Glaucon came in before long, sad and tired, but with a look of resolve on his young face.

"Mother," he said and hesitated. "Mother, I have found work in the market. To-morrow I leave the school."

Heraclea's heart rebelled within her. but she said nothing. She would not make the sacrifice harfer for her good boy. So she only kissed his cheek and laid her hand softly on the dark curls. Then, to divert his attention, she told him of the crane's gift.

"Is that it upon the shelf?" cried Glaucon.

"Why, Mother, in the dark corner it shines like a lamp. One could almost see by its light." Heraclea looked in astonishment; a red glow illumined the shadows in which it lay.

"What can it be?" she exclaimed. "Is it the work of demons?"

Glaucon took the little stone between his thumb and finger and carried it to the light. It was glowing like a drop of rich red wine.

"Old Cleon the goldsmith is wise in such matters," he said. "I will go and bring him," and before his mother could remonstrate the boy was off and down the hill.

Glaucon forgot his tired limbs as he sped over the slope to Athens.


Old Cleon was in his shop. He growled a bit at the long walk on the wild goose chase of a boy's notion, but he was fond of the bright-faced, willing lad who had more than once done him a favor, and, leaving his stall in the care of his apprentice, he bade Glaucon lead on.

Heraclea received Cleon as a distinguished guest. Chloris brought water for his tired feet and simple refreshments of bread and fruit. Heraclea put the crane's gift into his hand. A change came over the rough face. The eyes under the shaggy brows lighted up with a glance so keen that it seemed to penetrate to the very heart of the little crystal. For some time he said nothing; he tapped and weighed the tiny stone and held it up, peering at it in all lights. Then he turned to Heraclea:

"I know not how you came by this," he said, "but there is none such in all Athens. If it is yours, you are favored of the gods. Never but once have I handled such a ruby."

The sun rose brightly on the little house the next morning. Heraclea and Glaucon had been too happy to sleep. Phorion was theirs, and peace and prosperity and Glaucon's future were secure. It was almost too much joy to come at once: Ah, the blessed crane!