FAIRY TALES FROM THE GERMAN FORESTS
BY THE SAME AUTHOR
"The Meadows of Play"
(With an Introduction by G. K. Chesterton; Illustrated by Edith Calvert.)
London, ELKIN MATTHEWS, Vigo Street 2s. 6d. net
LONDON: EVERETT & CO. LTD. 42 Essex Street, W.C.
TO MY DAUGHTERS MARGARET AND BARBARA, AND TO MY NEPHEWS CHARLES AND STEPHEN JOHNSON, THIS BOOK IS DEDICATED
"The stories that the fairies told I learnt in English lanes of old, Where honeysuckle, wreathing high, Twined with the wild rose towards the sky, Or where pink-tinged anemones Grew thousand starred beneath the trees.
I saw them, too, in London town, But sly and cautious, glancing down, Where in the grass the crocus grow And ladies ride in Rotten Row, St James's Park's a garden meet For tiny babes and fairy feet.
But since I came to Germany, The good folk oftener talk to me; I find them in their native home When through the forest depths I roam, When through the trees blue mountains shine, The heart of fairyland is mine."
WHAT'S THE USE OF IT?
A CHRISTMAS STORY
In a village that was close to the great forest, though it had already become the suburb of a large town, lived a little girl named Hansi Herzchen. She was the seventh child of a family of seven, and she lived at No 7 —— Street. So you see she was a lucky child, for seven is always a lucky number; but nothing had happened to prove her luck as yet.
Her father was a clerk in the post office at the neighbouring town. He would have found it hard to make two ends meet with seven little mouths to fill, but that his wife had brought him substantial help. She was the daughter of a well-to-do farmer peasant and had a considerable dowry when she married. Moreover she was extremely thrifty and industrious. She never spent a halfpenny without carefully considering if a farthing would not do as well. Better L1 in the pocket than 19s. 11-1/2d., she used to say. She drove wonderful bargains at the market. She had no eyes for the artistic and ornamental, though her house was so spick and span, that it was good to look at in its cleanliness and order. She had stored up everything she had possessed since her early youth, and was said to use pins that were at least twenty years old. She managed to put everything to use, and the boys' knickers were sometimes made of queer materials.
One expression little Hansi often heard at home and that was the word "useful." When she brought in a fresh bunch of darling, pink-tipped daisies and wanted to find a corner for them and a tiny drop of water to put them in, the whole family would exclaim: "Throw them away, what do you want with those half-dead weeds; they're of no use." If one of the neighbours gave her a ball or toy, it was the same story: "We've no room for such rubbish here." Each child possessed a money-box, and every coin was immediately put in. They had never had a penny to spend in their lives.
The garden was planted solely with vegetables and potatoes and herbs of the most useful character. The scarlet beans in summer, however, would brighten it up, and field poppies and dandelions sprang up in a quite miraculous way to Hansi's delight. For in each flower was a jolly little fairy, who talked to her and told her stories, because of her being a seventh child and living at No. 7. Perhaps, too, because Hansi's natural disposition made her look out for wonders, and her loving heart included the field flowers among her friends.
Christmas was coming on; a pig had been killed. Hansi's father and mother and big brother Paul stayed up all night making sausages, and the children had sausage soup for dinner during the next week.
In preparation for Christmas, Hansi's mother baked large cakes (called Stollen) of a plain quality, with currants few and far between. Food had become very expensive during the last few years, and no one could deny that seven children were a handful.
She went in to town and returned by electric tram, with the useful things that were intended for Christmas presents for the children, namely:
A pair of boots for Paul, A school-cape for Marie, Handkerchiefs for Fritz with his name embroidered on them in red cotton, Stockings for Emma, A warm hood for Gretchen, An oilcloth pinafore for Karlchen, who had a special talent for getting dirty, And lastly a new pinafore for Hansi.
"Now we might be said to have everything ready for Christmas," said Mrs Herzchen, on her return home, "if it were not for the Christmas tree. I suppose we shall have to pay at least one and six for it, and then there are the candles and apples, balls and sweets. It does seem absurd to waste good money on such rubbish. What can be the use of it?"
She talked away in this manner, until she made up her mind to do without the tree for once.
"Your father has no time to see about it," she said to the children. "He is taken up with looking after other people's rubbishing letters and parcels, and I can't be bothered—so put the idea out of your heads, you won't get a tree this year."
The seven children felt very indignant; for it is almost a disgrace in Germany to have no tree; it is worse than going without a pudding on Christmas Day in England. The very poorest families manage somehow to have their tree to light on Christmas Eve. Still they were trained to implicit obedience and respect for their mother, and did not dare grumble much openly.
Mrs Herzchen did not consult her husband about it; so he expected his tree as usual. The good woman felt rather uncomfortable, as if she had either done something wrong, or omitted doing what was right; but she justified herself by saying continually to herself "What's the use of it?"
* * * * *
Hansi dreamt that night of a beautiful Christmas tree that reached up to the sky and was covered with shining silver, like cobwebs in the frost, and lit by real stars. She determined that somehow or other they should have their Christmas tree as usual.
When she came out of school at eleven o'clock, she trotted along in the opposite way to home, along the wide high road leading to the woods, with the twisted apple-trees on either side. She made a little bobbing curtsy, and said "good day" to everyone she met who noticed her at all; for she had been taught to be polite and friendly.
The ground was frozen and sparkled brightly; the air brought the fresh colour into her cheeks. She had on a warm hood and cape and a woollen scarf—for her mother was kind-hearted at the bottom and looked well after their material comforts. Hansi's pretty fair curls peeped out from under the red hood, her blue eyes with their dark lashes were more starry than usual from excitement.
The fir woods looked purple-black against the white fields, and as she came near, she saw the fir-trees covered with silver hoar frost "almost like the tree in my dream," she thought. Her heart beat faster for a moment as she entered the shade of the solemn evergreen trees, but she did not feel naughty to be running away from home. She felt rather as if she were fulfilling a mission that had been laid upon her.
Meanwhile her mother was worrying and wondering what could have happened that her little girl did not return at the usual time. Then she remembered that Hansi often went home with her friend Barbara Arndt, and then they did their lessons together before dinner. That doubtless accounted for her non-appearance.
Hansi wandered on and on, and the woods seemed deserted. She picked up fir cones and beech nuts and acorns and filled her pinafore with them, also frosted fern leaves and dry grasses exquisitely outlined with hoar frost went into her apron.
At last she stopped before a little fir-tree. This was just the beautiful little tree she wanted. It spread out its branches symmetrically on all sides, and was slender and straight at the top. "That will just do for me! If only I could get it home," she thought. She tugged at it with her little hands, dropping some of her treasures, but of course it would not move. Just then she heard something stir, and looking round she saw a squirrel peeping at her from behind a big oak-tree near by. This was a wonder in itself if she had known; for squirrels are usually fast asleep in the cold weather, and only wake once or twice to eat some of their store of nuts.
"O, Mr Squirrel, can't you help me," Hansi said. Off he went, round and round the trunk, and then suddenly, with a great spring and his tail spread out for a sail, he alighted on Hansi's tree. He stared at her in a friendly way, and then stretched out one of his dear little paws and offered her a nut, politely cracking it for her first with his sharp teeth which had grown very long whilst he was asleep. She ate it at once, but looked anxious. "O, Mr Squirrel, do cut down this tree for me, and help me to carry it home," she said, "or else we shall have no Christmas tree, and that would be dreadful!"
Her eyes filled with tears as she spoke. Mr Squirrel looked at her with his bright eyes, twisted round suddenly, like a cat trying to catch its own tail, and offered her another nut.
"O, Mr Squirrel, do," she said again.
He offered her a third nut, and then he whistled shrilly; it sounded more like a baby crying than a whistle. Then to her surprise, as she looked down the wood path, Hansi saw a troop of little men, such as you see on Christmas cards in Germany, with red caps and green jackets and wooden shoes turned up at the toes. "Real Heinzelmen and no mistake," thought Hansi delightedly, "they can help me, if anyone can." She counted them, they were seven in number, like Snowdrop's dwarfs. They made quite a noise as they marched up in order, whistling a merry tune. When they saw Hansi, they took off their red caps, and their white hair flew about them like a mist, till Hansi could hardly see them any more. The squirrel screamed and shouted at them, and they answered him; but Hansi could not understand at first what it was all about. She thought they must be talking English; she knew a lady who lived near them, and who could only talk English, poor thing. All of a sudden the earth trembled—was it an earthquake? Hansi held tight on to the fir-tree, though its needles hurt her hands. All she saw was the seven little men disappearing into the ground down a long slide such as firemen use, when they are called suddenly from sleep, and are carried by a new mechanical apparatus direct from one floor to the other. The earth closed up again, and Hansi thought it must be all a dream; but in two seconds they were back again with silver hatchets and silver pails. With the hatchets they immediately began to hack away at the tree. They made tremendous efforts, and became quite red in the face. The last moment before it was finally felled, the squirrel bounded off, and tossed a nut to Hansi, who caught it cleverly in her pinafore.
"Dear little men," she said, "may I have the tree? Will you bring it home for me, and I will give you all my Christmas cake? But I have nothing to hang on it, and make it pretty," she continued. The dwarfs began to chatter again like so many girls, all trying to say the same thing at once. Then they marched along, dragging the tree with them.
"O, Mr Dwarf, that's the wrong way home, I'm sure," said Hansi. But she followed them all the same. They came to where a crystal stream leapt over a little group of rocks. The dwarfs held their buckets under the cascade, and caught some drops. The drops turned into silver fish, each with a little loop on the end of its tail, all ready to hang on the tree.
They then took Hansi's pine cones and ferns and grasses, and even collected the frozen cobwebs from the bushes and let the spray from the waters fall on them, and lo and behold the most exquisite gems were ready for the decoration of the Christmas tree.
"You live at No 7, and you are seven years old," said the eldest of the dwarfs, addressing Hansi. ("However could he have known that?" she thought.) "Perhaps you can tell me what seven times seven makes?"
Hansi considered a moment. "No, we have not got so far as that in our arithmetic," she replied. "Twice seven is fourteen, that I know."
"Seven times seven is forty-nine and is the square of seven," said the dwarf. "Always remember that, for it is a most important fact in magic!"
Rummaging in his pocket, he took out a note-book and handed a leaf to her with this diagram and inscription on it
To Hansi . . . . . . . . . . . . . . well-wisher . . . . . . . from her . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . friend and
"Thank you very much," said Hansi, feeling duly impressed, and she never forgot this difficult fact in the multiplication table again, although she didn't quite understand the diagram, and in fact lost it on the way home.
The dwarfs set up the tree on a clear part of the path, and made a little stand for it of boughs cleverly intertwined and moss between. With many a hop, skip and jump of delight, they hung the silver fish and cones and nuts on it; the cobwebs spread themselves out all over the tree. Then they took red holly berries, and stuck them on the boughs where they turned into red candles. All red and silver was this loveliest of Christmas trees!
When it was finished, there was a momentary thrill, and they all cried "Ah!" in tones of wonder.
Then Hansi noticed that a noble herd of deer had approached; the gentle creatures were looking on with the deepest interest.
The woodbirds came flying from all directions, and sang as if it were summer.
"Dear little men, I think I really ought to be going home," said Hansi anxiously.
"Come along then," said Himself. "You must go back along the high road as you came; we are going to play hide-and-seek; but don't be afraid, you shall have your tree all right, even if it disappears sometimes."
They now marched along in the homeward direction; but as soon as they came to the road leading out of the woods they vanished without a word of leave-taking. However, Hansi had not gone far down the road, when she saw a Christmas tree that appeared to be walking by itself across the fields. Other people noticed it too, from the road, and thought how queer it looked. "But of course, there is someone behind carrying it," they said to themselves, and thought no more of the matter. People expect the usual before the unusual, naturally enough, and yet sometimes the unusual is the most probable, as in this case.
Hansi was late for dinner, and had a fine scolding.
"At all events, I suppose you have done your lessons," said her mother.
"No, mother, I'm afraid not."
"Well, I never, playing again, I suppose? Now, what can be the use of playing, I should like to know?"
This was an exceptionally stupid question; for most people know that little folk cannot grow mentally without play, any more than flowers can grow without sunshine. "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy," is not only a proverb, but it is true as well.
* * * * *
It was Christmas Eve. Hansi trembled with excitement. "What's the use of getting so lively, Hansi?" said her big brother Paul despondently. "You know quite well that we are not to have any tree this year. I shall get a new pair of boots, and you a pinafore; these we should have to have anyway. That's not what I call a merry Christmas."
"But the bells are ringing, don't you hear them? and don't you think you can see just a glimmer of silver through the door?" said Hansi.
The children looked—well, really, perhaps there was a tree there after all.
Just then their father came in tired, but jolly. "Is everything ready? It is late, I have been detained so long," he said. "Can we go in at once?"
"I haven't got a tree this year," whispered his wife in an anxious voice. "I thought we couldn't afford it. What's the use of a Christmas tree? We can spend our money in a more practical way!"
"What nonsense. No Christmas tree! but of course you are joking," said her husband. "I will slip in, and light the candles." And with these words he disappeared into the inner room, now so mysterious to the waiting children.
Poor Mrs Herzchen nearly began to cry. If only she had not been so silly! Never, never would she neglect to get a tree again! She ought to have considered other people's prejudices, and Christmas—O well, Christmas only comes once a year.
"I've got a surprise for mother," whispered Gretel, aged ten. "I am going to recite a Christmas poem." "And I am going to tell the Christmas story from the Bible," said Hansi. "I have made a letter-box for father," said Fritz.
"Hush, hush! the bells are ringing—don't you hear them across the snow?" the children whispered to one another. "But what is that other bell, so soft, so musical and clear!" "That is the summons for us all to enter," said Paul.
The door flew open, and there stood the most lovely Christmas tree they had ever seen or imagined, all dazzling with silver; silver cones, silver fish, silver nuts and acorns, and red candles, and over all an exquisitely spun cobweb of frost. "That's my surprise for you all," said Hansi, who could hardly contain herself for joy. "I found the tree, and the dear, darling Heinzelmen brought it home for me."
Mrs Herzchen was speechless with astonishment, and her husband not less so. "How very extravagant," they said, "but how elegant and beautiful! Who can have given it to us?"
But now the children began to sing the sweet German carol sung in every house on Christmas Eve: "O peaceful night, O holy night," and then, in her earnest, childish way, Hansi told the story of the birth of the Christ-child in the Manger of Bethlehem.
Gretel then stood up eagerly to recite the carol she had learnt at school.
THE CHILDREN'S KING.
"Dear children come On Christmas night, Put on your gowns Of purest white.
Speak not a word Until you see The sweet Christ child On Mary's knee.
There lies the Babe An Infant frail. Is this the King Whom nations hail?
A helpless King! His mother's arm Must hold him safe From threatened harm.
A tender King, Most young and sweet, With dimpled hands And tiny feet!
A Baby King: Yet cherubim Veil their bright eyes To look on Him.
A mighty King! For God above Has crowned Him Lord And King of Love.
Come kneel and pray, Ye children dear, The children's King Is lying here!"
A glow of warmth and happiness illumined the whole family, and they felt nearer to one another than ever before. The tears actually came into their mother's eyes, when she realised that they had so nearly missed this moment of supreme joy.
She felt a little ashamed of her presents, and for once in a way suspected herself of having been too sensible. "We are not so very poor after all," she thought. "I might have bought a few toys that would have delighted the children's hearts, and not have cost much money. But now it is too late!"
But to her surprise, she did not see her presents at all. For each child there was a gingerbread cake with his or her name on it, and then the most lovely surprises—a beautiful doll for Hansi with real eyelashes, fretwork tools for Paul, a doll's kitchen for Gretel, and so on. For every one of the family there was some delightful gift.
"Thank you, thank you, dear Heinzelmen," said Hansi, clasping her hands in ecstasy.
There was a big paper parcel addressed to Mrs Herzchen in a very queer handwriting. She opened it with much excitement, thinking it would contain a silk dress, at least. But lo and behold, all the presents that she had intended for her children, tied together with red tape and a card between, on which this verse was written:
"Useful things For little folk Are sensible, But not a joke." Signed HIMSELF!
How the children laughed! and even Mrs Herzchen laughed too, though she felt silly and a little disappointed. "It is all very well to play tricks on me," she said. "Just look at the Mueller children next door. They have plenty of toys and are always sucking sweets; but they never have comfortable, warm clothes on, and they look half fed."
"Of course, mother, you are right," said the children, "and you were really joking about the tree. We have never had one half so lovely!"
Mrs Herzchen felt rather embarrassed at this praise. She called her husband's attention to the things on the tree. "They can't be made of chocolate," she said, trying to bite off the corner of a fir cone. It was quite hard. "I do believe they are all solid silver!" she said.
On closer examination, they found a little lion imprinted on each which proved them without doubt to be of real silver.
"I shall sell them at once, or they may vanish away," she said.
"I should strongly advise you not to do so," her husband replied, and the children said, "Oh Mother, do let us keep them always, they are so beautiful?"
"But of what use are they?" said the incorrigible mother who, you see, was not yet quite cured.
Meanwhile the story was noised abroad that Hansi had found a treasure in the forest.
The very next day, Christmas Day, as they were eating their goose, stuffed with apples, there was a ring at the bell—in walked a very pompous Prussian policeman with fierce moustaches.
"Mrs Herzchen here?" he asked abruptly.
"What do you want?" asked that lady, much indignant at being disturbed during her Christmas dinner.
"Young person answering to the name of Hansi Herzchen here?"
"Yes, sir. Please, sir, that's me," said Hansi, rising and curtsying, and growing very red.
The policeman produced a paper in which he entered all sorts of memoranda.
"Age and date of birth?" he demanded of Hansi.
"Seven years old, of course," answered Hansi. "My birthday is on February 27th, if you want to know. It was on a Sunday last year."
"That's beside the question." He looked severe.
"February 27th, 1897," said Hansi, prompted by her mother.
Residence—temporary or otherwise ——.
Baptism —— date of ——.
All these facts Hansi's mother supplied at once. They are so constantly demanded in Germany that she had them always ready at hand, tied up in seven different packets for each child.
Married or single?
Here Hansi giggled, and he entered solemnly the word "spinster."
"Is that something horrid?" asked Hansi anxiously.
"No, it only means unmarried," said Paul laughing. "What a fool he is!"
"Please sir, I go to school and learn my lessons, but I play a good deal too."
"We will write 'spinster,'" he said, frowning fiercely.
"Now listen to me, child, if you do not wish to go to prison." The whole family shuddered with horror.
"Take all those silver things off the tree. They are 'found treasure,' and belong to the State. You ought to have declared them at once, and saved me all this trouble," he said.
Hansi began to cry.
Mrs Herzchen was very angry, "Why don't you mind your own business?" she said. "These things are our property. You will come and demand the clothes off our backs next."
"Be thankful that I do not accuse you of stealing these valuables," answered the fellow in a terrible voice.
"But are you sure they are not chocolate after all?" he said. "They look remarkably like it, covered with silver paper, you know."
He examined them carefully and ejaculating, "Well, I never," tossed them all into a leather wallet that he had brought with him.
Mrs Herzchen poured forth such a storm of abuse, that he threatened her with an action for libel; but she literally turned him out of doors. Her parting words were: "Get out! Go along and make a fool of yourself if you like."
Some days afterwards, the man took his treasures to the office and gave them up with a self-important flourish, only to be laughed at for his pains. The cones were just common, ordinary fir cones, and the silver fish had turned into little dead trout, smelling very unpleasant.
He chucked them all away in the street, and this was an episode in his dignified career that he did not like to be reminded of.
* * * * *
Although Hansi's mother still always preferred useful things to artistic and ornamental ones, still she realised that the useful and ornamental may often be combined, and as she dearly loved her children, and saved up money merely on their account, she determined that they should have a merry Christmas every year, without any special help from the kind little Heinzelmen.
And did Hansi give the cake to her dwarf friends as she had promised to do? Why, of course, she did. The children went all together to the forest on New Year's Eve, and found the actual spot where the tree had stood. They placed a large piece of cake on the old stump. But they did not see the Heinzelmen or even the squirrel, although they repeated seven times seven is forty-nine in the hope of attracting them.
Now a dear little Heinzelman, whom I met out for a walk, told me this story "himself"; but he vanished at this point, and so must I. I wish Hansi and all her brothers and sisters a very merry Christmas, and so, I am sure, do you.
THE ENGINEER AND THE DWARFS
A tunnel had been dug through a crag which had hitherto been considered as a serious obstacle in the railway route; the light now shone through at the farther end. There was a shout of joy from the tired workmen. The air had been stifling in the tunnel; the work was hard and dangerous; several men had been killed in detaching portions of rock that had been loosened by dynamite. It was a great relief to have got through. Now the walls would have to be made smooth with cement—indeed the men had already begun this work at the other end—and the tunnel tested for greater security. Then the express train could run through directly, instead of being obliged to shunt backwards and forwards in a way that made it very uncomfortable for people who did not like sitting with their backs to the engine.
The young engineer, Karl Hammerstein, who had been supervising the men's work, was glad enough to find himself in the fresh air. His head ached violently, the oppression of the atmosphere had well-nigh overpowered him.
The mountain was clothed on this side with tall forest trees; the drooping firs offered an inviting shade. It was seven o'clock in the evening, the men were packing up their tools to go home. They would be obliged to march back through the tunnel; for there was no way round, except through the wildest forest with a tangled undergrowth of brambles and ferns. But they had their lamps, and did not mind the tunnel; it was familiar enough to them, who had worked in it for months.
Meanwhile Karl, who was dead-beat, stretched himself out under the trees, covered himself with his cloak, and fell fast asleep, meaning only to rest a minute or two, before he also set off home.
It was late when he awoke; the full moon was shining. He felt quite dazed. Where could he be?
He had slept in many queer little rooms when he was travelling; but they always had a window and a door. Where was the window? Ugh—he shivered—it was cold. Then an unreasoning terror took hold of him: he was only half-awake as yet. What could that dreadful gap be in the wall of his room, blacker than the darkness? Surely it was a bogey hole leading down to the bottomless pit? The next minute he laughed at his fears, as we usually do when we come safely out of nightmare land and feel the earth—or bed beneath us again.
He saw that it was the mouth of the tunnel, and glancing up he saw the giant fir-tree under which he had been sleeping with outstretched arms above him in the light of the moon.
"Well—I never! what a dunderhead I am!" he said to himself—"fancy sleeping like that, why such a thing has never happened to me before! I had meant to go to have supper and stay the night at the new hotel in Elm. I have heard the landlord's daughter is an uncommonly pretty girl!"
"Heigho!" he went on, stretching himself, "there's nothing for it, but to walk home. I might wait a long time before a motor-car came to pick me up here!"
Then he remembered with a sudden start that there was only one possible way back to Elm, and that was through the tunnel. It was not a very pleasant idea to walk back alone through the dark, oppressive tunnel at midnight; luckily he had his lantern with him.
"How could I have been such an idiot!" he muttered to himself again. He found some bread and cheese in his pocket, which he ate with a good appetite. His headache had gone, and he felt much refreshed after his sleep. Then he put on his cloak, lighted the lantern, and set out cheerfully to walk through the tunnel.
He had not gone far into the black darkness, when he thought he heard voices whispering and talking not far away from him; then he distinctly felt something or somebody brush past him.
"Hullo, who's there?" he called out. Complete silence. He was not easily frightened; but his heart began to beat quicker than usual. "Well, if it's robbers or tramps, they won't find much to rob on me," he thought; for he had only a few shillings in his pocket for his night's lodging.
It was probably a bat that had strayed in at the opening, he decided. Suddenly he came to a standstill. Right across the way was a mass of freshly fallen earth and rock that quite obstructed his further progress. "Well this is a pretty fix to be in. How aggravating!" he said to himself, and leant for a moment against the wall of the tunnel, to consider what would be best to do. The wall instantly gave way, he stumbled, bruised his arm against a sharp corner of the rock, and his lantern went out. At the same time he heard a sound resembling the slamming of a door. "Donnerwetter!" he exclaimed—a mild German swear which means literally "thunder-weather!"—"whatever shall I do now?" He had a box of matches in his pocket and soon succeeded in relighting the lantern.
"There is nothing for it, but to go back again to where I started from, and wait for daybreak," he thought.
By this time he had become confused, and had lost the sense of direction; but there could be only one way back. So he tramped along a long winding passage that he took to be the excavated tunnel. "How curious, I could have been certain that the tunnel was much wider, and more direct than this. Can I be still dreaming?" he thought.
Suddenly he was startled and astonished to come on a flight of steps leading downwards. There had certainly been no stairs in the tunnel! He saw too that the walls were painted in a decorative way like some of the Catacombs in Rome; only these were far more elaborate. "I'm in for an adventure, I must be lost in the heart of the mountain," he thought. "Perhaps I shall come upon a robber's cave, or gipsies may be hiding in these rocks; it is a good thing that I have this pretty little fellow with me," and he touched the revolver in his breast pocket. He then observed in front of him a faint light, other than that of his lantern and whistled softly with astonishment, as he saw that the way opened out into a cave or vault. A few steps more, and he found himself in an exquisite, though tiny hall, with an arched ceiling supported by pillars of red granite. The walls and ceiling were beautifully inlaid with mosaic work in gold and coloured stones, like the interior of St Mark's, Venice, and seemed to be of great antiquity, though of this he could not be certain.
The light was so dim that what might have been the brilliant effect of the whole, was lost, and the young engineer thought to himself involuntarily: "This ought to be lit up by electric light—it would look quite different then!" As he was deliberating how electric light might be laid on, a door in the wall opened, and a number of little dwarf men trooped in. They did not see him at first; for he was standing behind a pillar. They settled themselves down on benches that were arranged in a semicircle, and one of them with an important air mounted a raised dais facing them. He was just beginning to speak with the words: "Gentlemen of the Committee," when they caught sight of the stranger standing in the centre of the hall, lantern in hand. They gave a cry of alarm, and were just going to scuttle away like frightened rabbits, when Karl called out, "Hi—Ho there—Gentlemen of the Committee—good Sirs—don't run away. I won't harm you—Christmas Tree."
Now Christmas Tree is the most solemn oath among the dwarfs—it is equivalent to swearing on the Bible with us. How Karl knew this, he did not know; it came to him on the inspiration of the minute. Perhaps his grandmother had told him stories in his childhood about the dwarf men, in which it occurred.
It had an instantaneous effect on the dwarfs who stood still at once. "But you are one of the bad men who are building the tunnel," they cried out. "Aha—we can spoil your little game, my good fellow, we can smash you and your snorting old dragon who is coming here to devour us, into pieces. We can throw rocks on the line—Aha!"
"We have often watched you—though you were not aware of our presence," said the chairman. "We had just called a committee meeting to decide what is to be done about this matter of the tunnel."
"Now you know it is all nonsense about the dragon," said Karl persuasively, as if he were talking to children. "You have heard of trains, haven't you? You are not so behind the times as all that!"
"Some of us have seen the dragon and even ridden in him," said Mr Chairman. "There is a famous story about that; but the majority still look upon the railway with suspicion and even distrust. We only ask to be let alone, and not be interfered with by meddling mortals," he said in a gruff voice. "What do we need with you? Our civilization and our history are more ancient even than that of India or Egypt, and from us the human race is descended."
"I tell you what," said Karl, "I could put you up to a thing or two for all that. We live in Modern Europe, you know, and not in ancient Egypt. Now, for instance, why is this beautiful hall, a perfect work of art in its way, so badly illuminated!"
"Badly illuminated! Why, what do you mean?" cried the little men indignantly. "Do you not see our glow-worms hanging in festoons on the walls?"
"O, I say, glow-worms! in the twentieth century, that's rather strong, you know! what you want, is electric light."
"What's that?" said the dwarfs curiously.
"You have only to press a little button on the wall, like this," he pressed his thumb on the wall—"and the whole place is lit up almost as if it were day."
"We don't believe it—we don't believe it," said the little men.
"But it's true, I assure you, Christmas Tree," said Karl.
"Wouldn't it make our eyes blink?" said one thin little fellow.
Karl noticed that the dwarfs' eyes were small and their faces pale. Most of them had quite white beards and hair.
"That comes of living so long underground, it is a loss of pigment," thought Karl. "Like a geranium that has been kept in the cellar! Now I could fix it up for you," said the young engineer, always keenly on the look-out for a job. "We are going to have it laid on in the tunnel."
"How much would it cost?" inquired the dwarfs.
"O, a thousand pounds or so!" said Karl carelessly. He had heard that dwarfs were very rich, and he was a good man of business, and had his eyes open to his interests.
"That's a great deal of money, a great deal of money!" said the little men in chorus.
"O, as for that I am sure we could come to an agreement," said Karl. "By the way," he went on—"do you happen to have a telephone here? I should like to 'phone to a friend of mine and tell him where I am. It would be such a joke."
"What's a telephone?" asked the dwarfs.
"You don't know what a telephone is! Himmel! you are old-fashioned down here—you are only half civilised!"
"Half civilised, half civilised!" repeated the dwarfs angrily, "let us repeat our civilisation——"
"I'll tell you what a telephone is," said Karl, interrupting this burst of eloquence. "It is a little tube connected with a wire, you put one part of it to your ear, and then you put your mouth to the tube and say: 'No. 1280,' and then listen, and your friend will speak to you from miles and miles away, and you can answer him."
"We don't believe it, we don't believe it!" said the unbelieving dwarfs.
"It's true for all that, Christmas Tree," said Karl. "I could fix that up for you too, if you have any connection with the outer air. You must have," he continued, sniffing, "for the air is nice and fresh here, quite different to that in the tunnel. Have you a ventilating shaft?"
"O yes," said the little men, "we can show you that!" And they led him out of the hall. In the passage outside was a great cleft or crevice in the rocks such as we call in England a chine. Above it the moon shone full and bright. A waterfall rushed down on one side; he saw ferns and dear little plants leaning over the water, growing between the cracks of the rocks. There were also glow-worms cunningly arranged in groups that looked like fairy stars. On the other side, he observed to his joy rough steps leading upwards cut in the solid rock. He sighed a sigh of relief, here at least was the way out.
He regarded the pretty sight with the eye of the professional engineer, rather than that of the artist. "That must be a stiff climb for you little men up there," he said. "Now if you had a lift!"
"What's that?" asked the dwarfs eagerly.
"It's a little room that goes up and down when you pull a wire rope."
"We don't believe it, we don't believe it," said the sceptical gnomes again.
"It's true nevertheless; now wouldn't it be fun to have a ride in it? I could fix that up too, you know, if you gave me time and helped a bit yourselves," said Karl.
"Really you poor things," he went on, "You do not seem to have heard much of modern technical progress down here in this rabbit-burrow. I beg your pardon I'm sure"—as they looked displeased again—"Now I am really curious to know—have you heard of Zeppelin?"
"Zeppelin, no!—is he the King of Germany?" said the dwarf who had been in the chair.
"Ha! ha!—King of Germany—well he is nearly, in some people's eyes," said Karl. "He has built an airship; it is the most wonderful of all new inventions, it floats in the air like a boat does in the water."
"Close by it passes, by soft breezes fanned, Like a great steamboat straight from fairyland."
he went on in an enthusiastic way. "You can go for a ride in it any day in Frankfurt, providing the weather is fine and you can afford to pay L15!"
"Just listen to him, just listen to him!" said the dwarfs. "We don't believe a word you have said. You are imposing on our credulity, you bad man," and thereupon they flew at him and began to beat him with their clubs, which were heavily weighted, and to pinch him with their long fingers.
It might have gone hardly with him, but quick as thought Karl flashed out the little revolver from his pocket. They seemed to know the meaning of that modern toy; for they crouched back trembling, and not daring to move.
"Now stop it, will you," he said, "or I shall have to shoot you, and take you home with me to be stuffed or put into the National Anthropological Museum. They would give me a good price for you," he said musingly—"they would think you were The Missing Link."
"O please, Mr Hammerstein, don't shoot us—("however did the little chaps find out my name!" thought Karl) we will believe all you say, even if it seems the greatest nonsense to us. After all birds fly, bats fly and fairies fly, why should not ships and trains fly?" said the spokesman, who, I must tell you, was a relation of King Reinhold in the Taunus Mountains and was proud of belonging to a royal family.
Karl called him Mr Query, because he was so fond of asking questions, but so slow to take in a new fact, as indeed were all the dwarfs.
"You promised us Christmas Tree not to harm us," said Mr Query, reproachfully.
"Well, I didn't hurt anyone, did I, but how about your treatment of me? That wasn't in the contract either," said Karl.
Meanwhile Karl looked about him curiously. He had never been to dwarfland before, and might never have the chance of visiting it again, and he did not wish to lose the opportunity of seeing all he could.
"Are there any more of you?" he asked the dwarfs.
"I should think so," they answered. "Hundreds and thousands of us live under this mountain."
Karl noticed passages running in all directions, and low caves which seemed to be dwellings, many of them richly ornamented and furnished. In one of these caves he observed a looking-glass, and wondered which of the dwarf men trimmed his beard before it. He met a great many little men scurrying about, who cast anxious glances at the giant who had strayed among them. Karl had frequently to stoop; the ceilings seemed very low to him, although they were high enough compared to the dwarf men.
"Where are the female dwarfs?" he asked abruptly.
"Dwarfs have no womenfolk," Mr Query replied. "We did away with them long, long ago!"
"That was rather rough on them, eh?" said Karl.
"Well it happened so many centuries ago that we have forgotten all about it, and so are unable to gratify your curiosity. Perhaps if you care for antiquities and were to study the pictures on the walls, you might find out."
"Not my line," said Karl shortly.
"As we have no women," Mr Query continued, "we never quarrel and have no differences of opinion."
"I expect no lady would care to live down here with you in this dark hole," said Karl, thoughtfully. "But to whom does the looking-glass belong?"
"A fairy comes to visit us occasionally; she makes herself useful and tidies up the place a bit for us," said the dwarf. "She's here now—would you like to see her?"
"Of course I should," said Karl, his heart beating fast at the thought of meeting a real fairy—perhaps she was a princess in disguise, and he might be chosen to win her.
The dwarf drew back the curtain that hung before a beautifully furnished cave, and there Karl saw a young girl who was busy dusting and arranging handsome gold vases on a carved bracket. Even by the pale light of the glow-worms and the lantern which he had not yet extinguished, he could see that she was very beautiful. She had a mass of red-brown hair, that waved in tiny curls about her forehead, and hazel eyes with dark eyelashes. As to her figure, she was small and slight, so that she did not look quite so monstrous in that little world as Karl did. She had a big holland apron on, with a gaily embroidered border. When she saw Karl, she laughed. "To think of meeting a young man in this old hole—how funny," she exclaimed.
"Are you a fairy?" said Karl, bewildered by her beauty.
"Do I look like one?" she answered with a toss of her bronze curls.
"Not exactly," said Karl, "but then I have never seen a fairy; you are pretty enough for one!"
She made a little curtsy in acknowledgment of the compliment. "I'll have finished my work soon," she said, "and then we will go home together."
"That will be delightful," said Karl.
The dwarfs were looking on.
"You may go," said Mr Query. "You have worked enough for to-day." He handed her several pieces of gold. Her eyes sparkled with glee as she pocketed the coins; she was proud of having earned some money.
"Follow me," she said to Karl, "and I will show you the way home. You would never be able to find it alone."
"The dwarfs have burrowed here like moles," said Karl aside to the girl, "and I believe they are almost as blind and ignorant."
"Do not speak disrespectfully of moles," said a dwarf who had overheard the last part of this remark. "They belong to the most intelligent of all creatures; who can build a fortress like the mole?"
"Norah," said the dwarfs, "Norah, when are you coming again?"
"Very soon," she said, "I'll bring some metal polish with me, and make your vases shine!"
"Norah," thought Karl, "so that is her name. I wonder where she lives?"
Norah led the way back through intricate passages until they came to the open space where there was the staircase leading up to the outside world. "Good morning," she said to the dwarfs.
Karl pulled out his watch—yes—the night was already past, it was four o'clock.
"I'll drop in again soon, and see about your little commissions," he said to the dwarfs. "Electric light you want, telephone and lift, it will be rather a big job."
"And what about the airship?" asked Mr Query.
"O I can't rig that up for you; you must go to Frankfurt and see that for yourselves. Good morning," and he turned to follow Norah, who was already some way up the stone staircase. From a distance she really looked like a fairy. The light of dawn shone on her wonderful hair; she had taken off her apron, and had on a white dress trimmed with gold, that fluttered as she mounted the steps. At the top she waited to take breath, and Karl easily caught her up. They gazed down into the depths beneath them, but no trace of dwarfland could they see. Even the glow-worms had vanished, and the rough steps looked like natural niches in the rock. They were on the top of the mountain. Near by stood a grove of firs, the trees were so gnarled and stunted from their exposed position that they looked like a dwarf forest, and seemed appropriate growing there.
"Your name is 'Norah'," said Karl boldly, "but that is all I know about you!"
"I am no fairy princess, alas," said Norah, "but only a poor landlord's daughter. My father and I have the new hotel in Elm!"
"O you must be the pretty innkeeper's daughter then of whom I have heard so much," said Karl. "Now isn't it funny, I had meant to stay the night at your hotel on the chance of seeing you, and now we meet under the earth in dwarfland—romantic I call that! Why do you work for those little beggars?" he continued.
"For the same reason that you have proposed doing so," she answered, "to earn money. I was picking bilberries on the mountains and strayed into their land by chance one day. I found them busy at work spring cleaning, and helped them a bit, and that was my first introduction to the dwarfs. They pay me well for little work, and starting an hotel costs a great deal of money you must know. I am glad to be able to help my father."
"You do not come from this part of Germany, you speak quite differently to us," said the young man inquiringly.
"My home is over the seas," said Norah. "My father is an Irishman; but we found it hard to get on there, and meant to emigrate to America. Then father changed his mind, and we came to Germany. My mother died some years ago," she said sadly.
"Poor child," said Karl in a deep, sympathetic voice, "there must be a good deal of responsibility on your young shoulders."
"I should just think so," said Norah with a sigh, "but our hotel is going to be a tremendous success!" As she spoke, she led the way through a little narrow path, that crossed a heath where heather grew, and great masses of yellow starred ragwort. "Ah! me beloved golden flower," she cried, pointing the plant out to Karl, who had passed it by a thousand times as a common weed, but to whom it seemed from this day forth to be alive and full of meaning. "We call it fairy-horses in Ireland," she said, with a rapt look on her face, "sure and I can see my native mountains when I pluck it"—and her eyes filled with tears.
She wanted no consoling however, her mood changed quickly enough. "Do come here," she called out to Karl, "and see what I've found now!" She showed him a clump of pure white heather; "it is tremendously lucky," she said, "and you shall have a bit too." So saying she stuck a piece of white heather in his buttonhole—real white heather, not the faded flowers which children sometimes mistake for it. Karl treasured the spray carefully.
"And how did you come to be among the dwarfs?" said Norah. But their further conversation was checked by a little brook that ran straight across the path. Now Norah usually took off her shoes and stockings and waded over this stream; but she did not like to do so with Karl looking on. Karl would have liked to pick her up in his arms and carry her across like a true hero of romance; but he was shy of proposing it. So he fetched some large flat stones, placed them dexterously in the stream, and sprang across himself, then he held out a hand to Norah who stepped over as quickly and gracefully as a young deer.
"Now I will tell you how it was you found me in dwarfland," said Karl as they walked on together. "I was at work on the new tunnel——"
"You'll not be telling me that you are a working man?" said Norah.
"No I am an engineer. I was on duty looking after the men, then, somehow or other I fell against the wall of the tunnel and hurt my arm"; he showed her his torn coat as a proof of the story.
"Poor thing," she interrupted, "did you bind it up properly?"
"O, it was a mere nothing," said Karl. "Well—I found myself in a strange winding passage that led right down into the central hall of the dwarfs." He did not wish to say that he had been asleep; he thought that would sound so silly. "Queer little fellows they are, those dwarfs," he continued, "awfully ignorant too. Now will you believe it they had never heard of the Zeppelin airship?"
"We'll really have to give them lessons," said Norah, laughing, "but perhaps they are not so stupid as they make themselves out to be!"
Climbing over boulders and stones, laughing and talking the while like two children just out of school, they reached the bottom of the mountain and saw the village. It could hardly be called a town as yet, though Norah's father hoped that the new railway station would speedily convert it into one.
"Do you know where our hotel is?" said Norah. "It is at the other end of the village; we will go round through the fields; the village folk stare so; they are up at five o'clock to do their field-work.
"There it is!" she called out proudly, pointing to a large white house with green shutters on which the words "Hotel Fancy" were written in large gold letters.
"What a queer name for an hotel!" said Karl.
"Yes, don't you think it is original and attractive?" said Norah. "There are so many hotels called Hotel Hohenzollern'—or 'The German Emperor' and so I thought we would have a change."
"It is a splendid idea," said Karl, who was over head and ears in love with Norah by this time and thought that everything she did and said, was perfect. Still, like a prudent German, he wondered to himself if she would make a good housewife. He knew she must be good at cleaning or the dwarfs would hardly have employed her, but her dainty little hands did not look like cooking.
"What would it matter, if the dinner were burnt sometimes," he thought, "if I could have such a pretty, fascinating little girl to marry me?"
"Will you come in and have some breakfast?" said Norah as they approached Hotel Fancy.
"Rather," he said, "I must own that I am famished. I only had a dry bit of bread and cheese for supper, and that is a long while ago."
It was early still, Norah's father was not yet up; so she set to work and lit the fire, and soon had the water boiling for coffee. She set a fine breakfast before him, ham and eggs and sausage and rolls. I am bound in strict veracity to say that love did not prevent his consuming a large amount. He changed his mind about her cooking, and thought that she could do everything well and was a model of perfection.
"Do have some, too, yourself," he said, and Norah soon joined him with a hearty appetite.
Mr O'Brian, for that was the name of Norah's father, was astonished to find them at breakfast when he entered the comfortably furnished parlour.
"An early guest, father," said Norah. "He is going to put up here for the present; he is an engineer at work on the tunnel; good thing for us"; she whispered the last sentence. "I will see about getting your room ready," she said, turning to Karl.
"Please do not trouble," said he. "I'm due at the tunnel again at 7 a.m. and it is 6 o'clock now. I hope to return to-night about 8 o'clock; then I shall be glad of a room," he said, with a hardly suppressed yawn. "Pray excuse me, I had rather a bad night," he added with a twinkle in his eyes that only Norah perceived.
As soon as he was gone, Norah handed some gold pieces to her father.
"And do you think that I am doing right in taking this money from you, Norah?" he asked.
"Why of course father! I'm telling you that it's fairy gold, and will bring us luck," she replied.
The Irish have a great respect for luck and omens; many of them still believe in the good folk, and Mr O'Brian, who was of a very easygoing disposition, was quite satisfied with this explanation.
* * * * *
Some weeks passed. Karl and Norah became better friends every day. All Karl's previous notions of the universe had been knocked on the head by his visit to dwarfland. He had thought that he knew almost everything that there was to be known, but now he was always on the look-out for surprises. Moreover his love for Norah had opened his eyes. Every bush seemed ablaze with fire, and the roses and pinks in the gardens smelt as they had never smelt before.
Norah was like a fairy princess; she was not easy to win, she loved her freedom, and wished to call no man lord and master. Because she was such a wild bird and of a poetic and dreamy temperament, Karl's practical mind appealed to her. He possessed that which she and her father lacked. She was tired of her father's promises and castles in the air, which usually ended in bitter disappointment. How many guests had they had since Hotel Fancy had been opened? She could almost count them on her fingers. The peasants frequented the old inn that they were accustomed to in the village, and very few strangers came their way.
"I will play waiter on Sunday and help you," said Karl one Saturday evening when he had returned from his work.
"Indeed and you'll not need to," said Norah with a pretty Irish lilt in her voice, "it's not many people that will be coming! It will be different of course when the new station is built; then we shall be flourishing," she continued.
* * * * *
It was a fine Sunday afternoon. Karl and Norah sat in the garden under the plane-trees which made a chequered pattern in shadow on the ground, and sipped glasses of Apfelwein or cider in German fashion.
"It was a queer thing that we two should meet in the little people's land. It seems as if we were meant to pull together, doesn't it?" said Karl with an effort.
Norah jumped up immediately, saying that she must see if the water was boiling for coffee.
"No, no," said Karl catching her by the hand; "you are not going to run away like that; you've just got to listen to me, Norah; for I can't keep it in any longer. You are my fairy princess—I love you with all my heart, and I want you to promise me to be my little wife—will you?"
"You don't know me yet," said Norah blushing like a rose. "I've got a most awful temper!"
"I'll risk it," said Karl laughing, and they plighted their troth under the trees in the garden with no one but the empty chairs and tables looking on, that were spread in anticipation of the guests who had not arrived.
So Karl and Norah were engaged to be married and were as happy as ever it is possible to be in this world! They did not celebrate the event in the usual ceremonious German fashion; for Norah's friends and relations were in Ireland and she had only a few acquaintances in Germany as yet. Karl's mother was a widow, and lived with her married daughter in Pomerania; so she could not come so far south for anything less than a wedding or a funeral.
Now Karl began to consider the material side of the question. "Will the love that we are rich in, light the fire in the kitchen, and the little god of love turn the spit O!" What had they to live on? He was a young man, and his income was very small; it takes many years in Germany to make a career as engineer, unless you are exceptionally lucky and have influential friends.
Hotel Fancy was rather like its name and did not pay at all as yet. Now Karl had not forgotten the dwarfs, and Norah began to miss the gold pieces which had disappeared fast enough in the last few weeks.
"I tell you what," she said, "we will go together to dwarfland. You can arrange about the electric light, and I will do some metal polishing; we will meet afterwards and come home again together, it will be splendid fun!"
"How can we get there?" asked Karl somewhat dubiously.
"Why, the same way as we came out—through the rocky gap; I know the way as well as anything, I have been there frequently," said Norah.
It was early autumn; the evenings had begun to close in. Karl had managed to get off earlier than usual; still it was almost dusk as the two set out to go to dwarfland. The sun was setting and threw a wonderful golden glow over the world that was reflected in the hearts of the young lovers.
"My stones must be there still," said Karl as they came to the little brook, "for who could have taken them away?" Yet to his surprise there were no stones there; neither were any to be found in the neighbourhood. There was nothing for it, but to carry Norah over. He did not feel so shy and embarrassed this time, as he picked up his little sweetheart laughing and struggling in his arms.
"You are as light as a feather," he said as he set her down again.
"A feather bed, you mean," she said, "and they are a pretty fair weight. I shall never get used to German feather beds," she continued. "I can't even get them to look right when I make them and shake them!"
"You need to be born and brought up to them to appreciate them," he replied, "but never mind, what does it matter, what is a feather bed in comparison with our love?" They laughed for pure joy and good humour as they walked along; ah how quickly time passes when one is so happy! The sunlight gilded the rocks before them, till they looked as if they contained streaks of gold ore. They crossed the little moor, and clambered over the rocks till they reached the stunted fir-grove.
Looking back they saw that the sky had become a glowing red as it often does just before the light dies out; seen through the dark, twisted trees the wood appeared to be on fire. The lovers sat down and gazed for a few moments in silence till the glory faded from the sky.
"Now for it, Norah," said Karl getting up and offering her a hand, "the way down into dwarfland must be quite near here!"
"Of course I know, I can find it at once," she answered.
They searched carefully around for the great crack in the rocks, but could find nothing in the least resembling it.
"How absurd; how can we miss it when it is certainly not more than a yard or two away," said Norah.
"The steps were not so easily recognisable, if I remember rightly," said Karl, "but we are sure to find them in a minute."
It grew darker and darker; the mountain was covered with boulders of stone, juniper bushes and stunted trees; but no trace of the great rent in the mountain-side could they discover.
"Did we dream it all?" said Karl.
"Impossible, why I have been down there many times," said Norah beginning to feel bitterly disappointed.
"Supposing I were to fetch some of my men here and blow up the rocks with dynamite; we must be able to get in then, for the mountain is as full of dwarfs as bees in a hive," said Karl, who was getting in a temper.
"And do you think they would reward you handsomely for your services," said Norah sarcastically, "and O the poor little men, they always treated me with the utmost kindness and politeness, and gave me far more money than ever I bargained for!"
"They nearly pinched me black and blue, till I frightened them with my revolver," said Karl.
"The wretches!" said Norah, "but why?"
"Because I was silly enough to tell them about the airship, and they thought I was humbugging them."
"How absurd!" Norah exclaimed. "But what are we to do now, Karl?" she continued in a doleful voice. "I must have some money; we are still in debt for the greater part of our furniture; and the house is heavily mortgaged."
"If I could only get a good post!" said Karl sighing deeply. "I had reckoned on those dwarf chaps!"
"We shall never be able to marry," said Norah, now in the depths of despair; "our house will have to be given up, and our things sold by auction, and I, O I shall have to marry a horrid, rich old peasant who will treat me as a servant, and father will be obliged to work in the fields." With this she burst into tears.
It was quite dark now save for the new moon whose pale crescent shone in the sky. Norah observed it in spite of her tears.
"The new moon!" she exclaimed. "O do let us turn all the money that we have in our pockets. How much have you got Karl?"
"About 10 shillings," he replied.
"O you are richer than I am; I have only 8d. in my purse; nevertheless let us turn what we have, and it will be sure to bring us a fortune."
Karl laughed. "You little fairy," he said, and looked at her with admiration; then involuntarily his eyes strayed in the direction of the fir-grove. He thought he could see something moving there. Norah looked too. "Karl," she said excitedly, "I do believe it is the dwarf men after all; who else could it be?"
At the same moment they caught sight of a queer form with a turned-up nose and peaked cap clearly outlined against the sky, and recognised Mr Query.
"Hullo!" said Karl.
"[text missing in original] to you," he said in a droll manner.
"Now, Mr Dwarf," said Karl, anxious to proceed to business, "what about our little agreement as to electric light, etc.?"
"The committee has decided against it," said Mr Query emphatically. "What do we want with your new-fangled inventions; you would bring your workmen with you; they would discover our treasures, and turn the whole place into a mine, and of course we should be obliged to decamp."
"Well, there is something in what you say," said Karl to whom this idea had already occurred, "but we could avoid that catastrophe!"
"As for you," continued the dwarf turning to Norah, "we have discovered that you are a human being also, and no fairy; therefore we shall not require your services any longer."
"What a horrid way to give me notice, as if I could help not being a fairy!" said poor Norah weeping bitterly.
The little fellow was much distressed; he could not make out what was the matter with her.
"Don't cry, little Fraeuleinchen," he said, "I am sure we never thought you were so fond of us as all that; it is very gratifying, but it is too late now to alter our decision; the way down into our kingdom is sealed for ever!"
"I could soon open it again," said Karl wrathfully.
"As for that, it would not be quite such an easy matter as you think," said Mr Query mockingly. "However we are willing to offer you terms," he continued, "if you will leave us alone and protect our secrets."
"What terms?" said Karl and Norah eagerly.
"You shall see," said the dwarf, "follow me to the fir-trees." So saying he sprang down from the stone on which he had been sitting and came up and shook hands with them.
"We are going to be married! what do you think of that?" they informed him.
"Humph! Your taste, not mine," said Mr Query. "However Norah will be able to clean your gold and silver dishes capitally; that's a comfort for you."
"We haven't got any gold and silver dishes to clean, alas!" said Norah.
"Poor things," said Mr Query, "well we'll see." He proceeded to the fir-trees where the Gentlemen of the Committee were again assembled, standing in a solemn semicircle. "If you will sign this contract, we are willing to give you a reward. I speak in the name of the Gentlemen of the Committee," said Mr Query, and the little men nodded their heads in assent. He drew out a roll of parchment from a bag he carried with him and handed it to Karl. Norah looked over his shoulder.
On the parchment was written the following:
WE, KARL HAMMERSTEIN, NORAH O'BRIAN,
pledge our solemn oath Christmas Tree, that we will not attempt to visit dwarfland again, or molest the dwarfs in any way, by offering them modern inventions for which they have no use, etc., etc., or by revealing their secret chambers to the glaring light of day. Signed.............................. ..............................
"We are willing enough to sign," said Karl, "but what are your terms, old man; we want to know that first. You offered us a bribe, you know."
"All in good time," said Mr Query. "Gentlemen of the Committee, display the treasure!" The dwarf men formed themselves into a ring, in the centre of which Norah and Karl could see masses of what looked like solid gold. "You may take as much of this as you like," they said, "and we warrant you on our solemn word of honour Christmas Tree that it is pure, unalloyed gold."
"We'll sign anything you like, dear little men," said Norah, joyfully, "and I invite you all to my wedding!"
"Three weeks from to-day," said Karl.
But Norah was too excited to notice what he was saying.
"I shall always believe in the new moon," she repeated again and again. "How shall we carry it?" she exclaimed suddenly. "I have not even got a basket with me."
"My men shall trundle it along for you in wheelbarrows," said Mr Query. "No please, do not say 'thank you.' I have a great objection to being thanked."
Karl and Norah now signed the document with joyful hearts. Norah professed herself very sorry not to see her dwarf friends again. She had a real affection for the droll little men.
"You may come across us sometime again, who knows," said Mr Query. "We make excursions into your world from time to time. It is improbable but not impossible that we may meet again. Good-bye!" A brilliant flash as of lightning shot from under the ground; the earth trembled and shook. Norah clung to Karl in terror; for she thought that the earth would swallow them up too. Then Mr Query and the dwarfs disappeared underground calling out as they did so: "You see we have our lift and our electric light too, Mr Engineer—ha! ha!—we are not quite so behind the times as you thought us—ha! ha!"
Norah and Karl stood still in speechless astonishment; then they looked anxiously for their gold, fearing that the dwarfs might have played them a trick after all. But no, there were two jolly strong-looking little fellows with wheelbarrows. "We've got the gold all right," they said. "Don't you be afraid. We've put some dirty old potatoes at the top," they continued with a cunning expression on their faces, "just in case we meet anyone on the way you know—we should have to hop skip and jump—one, two, three and off, and it might look awkward for you."
"I am sure it's very kind of you," said Norah, "and we can never thank you enough," and off they all set down the mountain. It was a troublesome job to get the heavy wheelbarrow over the stream. Norah declared afterwards that some of the gold was lost there; but they found no trace of it again if it were so. They did not feel safe until they reached the gate of Hotel Fancy.
"Shall we put it in the back yard or in the stable?" said the little fellows in a hoarse whisper.
"Put it in the corner of the stable," said Norah, "as we have not got a horse no one goes in there. We will manage the rest, thank you so much."
"Please don't thank us," said the little men, "dwarfs are not used to that, and it hurts their feelings."
"Well, here is something for your labours," said Karl, and he gave the little men a handful of silver. They turned it over and over and seemed to regard it as a great curiosity. Then they heard a movement in the house, and quick as lightning they were off before Karl and Norah could say good-bye.
Mr O'Brian was pacing up and down in a great state of agitation; it was nearly midnight and he feared they might have met with an accident. "There's no depending on the fairies," he said to himself, "and dwarfs are said to be treacherous," so you see he knew something of what Norah was up to.
His joy was the greater when Norah and Karl rushed in and dragging him to the stables showed him the pile of gold. "I'll be for taking it to the bank at once," he said, "you never know but what it may melt away, or turn into a heap of leaves, I've read stories like that."
"Our wedding shall be next week," said Karl, joyfully.
"And aren't you going to give me any time to get my trousseau?" said Norah with a dancing light in her eyes that made her look more enchanting than ever. "Sure and I'll be wanting the finest trousseau that ever a princess had."
"We'll turn Hotel Fancy into a palace," said Mr O'Brian.
The wedding was celebrated three weeks from this date, as they had agreed. Norah wore an exquisitely soft cream silk gown, embroidered with real gold; it was said that the embroidery was a present from the dwarfs. Certain it is too that she wore an old pearl necklace of such marvellous workmanship that the like was never seen before.
The tale was whispered that a little deformed man had been seen to slip a parcel containing the necklace into the letter-box.
Norah's relations came over from Ireland to be present at the wedding, and you may be sure that Karl's mother arrived too all the way from Pomerania to share the festivities and the cake. Hotel Fancy was crammed with guests; every available room was occupied; there was some talk already of enlarging the house.
One of the presents that the bride had from her husband, was a looking-glass, set with precious stones. People thought that it was a curious wedding-present, and wondered if Norah were exceptionally vain. But Karl declared that if it had not been for a looking-glass he might never have known his wife, a remark which sounded more mysterious than ever.
Many conjectures were made concerning it, but none of them were half so strange as the truth. Another present was a brooch set in diamonds in the shape of a crescent moon.
As they were now wealthy, Karl was able to indulge his passion for mechanical inventions, and Hotel Fancy was full of the most delightful surprises: fountains in unexpected places in the spray of which little balls danced up and down, a rare gramophone that played the most soft and pleasant music, every variety of electric light and so on.
Norah was a little disappointed that her friends the dwarfs did not come to the wedding; but what could she expect if her mother-in-law and uncles and aunts and cousins were all asked as well! Could she expect that the dignified Mr Query would condescend to become an object of general curiosity? I have heard that the little men called and left their cards some days after the wedding, when Norah and Karl were away on their honeymoon, and that Mr O'Brian treated them as royal visitors, and that they left charmed with his hospitality, and astounded at the many entertaining and marvellous things that were to be seen in Hotel Fancy.
KAeTHCHEN AND THE KOBOLD
Half-way up the long steep hill that leads from Soden to Koenigstein, a rough road branches off to the left, plunging suddenly into a valley, and passing through the little village of Altenhain. As you walk down this steep rocky incline, the Taunus Mountains rise up grand and high in ever-changing panorama.
At the bottom of the hill lies Altenhain, an ordinary enough Taunus village, save for the beautiful shrine that stands on the high road. There a Crucifix hangs between two enormous poplar trees, one of the most beautiful natural altars in the world. The trees are tall and pointed like church spires, the trunks venerable with age. May the lightning spare these grand old trees, and the winds play gently through their boughs!
In this village lived a schoolmaster with his wife and family consisting of a daughter, twelve years old, and a baby boy. They were not really poor; for, besides their income, they had a piece of land to grow potatoes and vegetables; also a strip of vineyard and fine strawberry fields on the Dachberg, the produce of which they sold in Frankfurt for a good price. Moreover, they kept pigs and chickens and geese, and two dear little goats that gave them milk.
On a fine September day Kaethchen (that was the daughter's name) was on the Dachberg, helping her parents to gather up the potatoes for the winter. Two sacks stood already full, looking from a distance like funny old peasants. Kaethe liked to watch the potato fires that are lit to burn the refuse of the plants, smouldering and crackling in the dry autumn air, and the smoke curling up in the clear sky.
It was now about five o'clock, and as she had worked all day, she was tired and began to groan and grumble. So her mother said: "Hurry up and go home now, child, before it gets dark. Fetch the baby (the neighbours had taken charge of it for the day), light the fire, put on the kettle, and peel and boil the potatoes for supper."
Kaethe was only too glad to be let off; her tiredness soon vanished as she flew down the steep, grassy slope of the Dachberg, slipping and tumbling every minute. The sun was low, and glowed through the pines and larches, which stand here together, making a wonderful contrast.
Kaethe found her way across the wet emerald field coloured with patches of exquisite lilac from the autumn crocuses growing there in thousands, hanging out their cheeky little orange tongues. She sang and shouted for joy, and a feeling half sadness, half exhilaration, that comes to us often at the twilight, came over her. She wore a little red skirt and loose cotton blouse, and a tidy pinafore put on in order to cover her soiled frock on the way home. Her hair was ash blonde, and braided in two plaits round her head. Her eyes were dark and deep-set, and were a strange contrast to her hair. She passed over the tiny bridge where the brook crosses the field, and gathered a bunch of wild flowers, meadowsweet and harebells, water forget-me-nots and ragged robin, and made a pretty nosegay. She also picked a graceful spray of hops, the leaves slightly tinged with red, and wound it in and out of her hair. She had forgotten the baby and the supper and all the things for which she was responsible, and was just a little maiden living in her own enchanted land.
Now the path wound close by the pine woods, and the air seemed to grow chillier and more solemn. She saw great white clouds resting on the Dachberg above her. She seemed so far away, down in this valley and so alone. But she knew that her father and mother were near, probably watching her from the hill-top; it was silly to be frightened, she knew the way so well.
Suddenly something sprang out of the bushes on to the path in front of her. She gave a great jump, but then so did he and she saw that it was only an old green frog. He cheered her up at once, and she began to poke at him with a stick and to sing:
"The frog sits in the rushes, The funny fat old man, And sings his evening ditties As sweetly as he can, Quark—Quark—Quark."
But as suddenly as he had appeared on the scene, the frog vanished again with a leap and a bound into the dark waters of the little brook that ran along by the side of the way.
Then she heard a rustling of the bushes and saw a little red squirrel peering at her with his bright, inquisitive eyes. Round and round the tree-trunk he went, enjoying himself thoroughly, and making fun of Kaethchen, playing peep-bo like a baby.
The sun glowed through the tree trunks. It must be about six o'clock. "I must hurry up or supper will not be ready when my father and mother come home," she thought.
She then became aware of the sound of footsteps coming towards her along the path.
"Probably a peasant from Altenhain," she thought, and was pleased to think of meeting a friend. But the footsteps sounded strange and light, more like the pattering of raindrops through leaves, and then for a moment, she turned giddy; it seemed to her as if the trees were really rushing past her, as they seem to do when we look at them out of a railway carriage. One of the young oak trees seemed to be running towards her down the path; but as she looked more closely, and her head became steadier, she saw that it was a boy a little older than herself, who came running towards her, and very queer he looked.
He had a great mass of brown curly hair tumbling about his head; green ears—it seemed to her, could it be possible? No, it must be that he had stuck oak leaves into his curly locks for ornament, pretty oak leaves tinged with soft red. Moreover he had the bluest and strangest eyes she had ever seen. They shone like wonderful jewels at one moment, and then turned dull and opaque and looked almost dead. He had on rough green trousers, and a white shirt with yellow embroidered braces; his feet were bare and very brown. When he saw Kaethe, he gave a wild kind of Indian whoop, and danced round and round her, much to the poor child's dismay, his eyes flashing all sorts of colours. Her heart beat fast, but not a word or sound would come out of her mouth.
The boy then made a deep bow, and took her by the hand. Soon he had his long arms round her waist and was trying to kiss her.
Kaethe began to cry with fear and indignation, "You rude, naughty boy," she said, "I will tell my mother of you."
The imp seemed much surprised, caught one of her tears on his finger, held it up to the light and then sucked it, making funny faces all the time. Kaethe could not help laughing, and then she dried her tears with a corner of her apron. She sat down on a tree-trunk for a moment and tried to think.
Immediately the boy sat by her, and begged her to give him a kiss. He looked quite nice and pretty for the moment, and Kaethe thought she had better do as he wished, or he might begin his antics again. So she gave him a motherly kiss, just as she would give to her baby brother, smack! on the cheek. Immediately the queer look went out of his eyes, and a more human expression took its place.
"Kaethe," he said, "Kaethe, I am but a lonely little imp of the forest, but I love you, Kaethe, and I want you to marry me, and live with me always, and be my own little wife. Will you, O will you? O do, do, do," he said, dancing up and down in wild excitement.
"O goodness gracious me, you are certainly quite crazy," said Kaethe, "I will tell my mother of you!" She began to cry again, and smacked him whenever he tried to come near her.
Then he seized her by the hand and dragged her after him into the wild woods, till they were lost in the forest.
"O dear, O dear, whatever shall I do? what will mother say when she finds no Kaethe, no supper, and no baby. Boo-o-o-o!"
"Never mind," said our imp consolingly, "you can't help it now, you have run away with me you see."
"I didn't, indeed I didn't," interrupted Kaethe indignantly.
"I will send a moonshine Kaethchen to take your place for the night. You are fond of dreaming, aren't you?"
"O yes, mother often calls me 'Traeum Lies' (Dreaming Liese)."
"Well then, it's all right, she will not notice anything, and you and I will have fine times together. If you won't marry me, at least, we can get engaged you know, that will be fine fun."
"Hum——" said Kaethe, "that would be amusing. We might play at being engaged! that would not matter."
"Have you a gold ring for me?"
"O we will go and buy one at the flower shop," said he.
"At the flower shop, that is a funny place to buy rings at," said Kaethe.
"Buttercups and dandelions melted to a yellow heat make splendid fairy gold," he replied.
"Ah, then you really are a fairy!" said the little girl.
"Why of course, did you think I was a human child like you? What did they teach you at school?"
"Reading, writing and arithmetic, history and geography and scripture and sewing," said Kaethe.
"But not how to know a fairy when you see one, O my stars!" said our hero.
"What is the good of learning To read and write and sew, To count and do addition If fairies you don't know?
How do you know a fairy? O by his glittering eye, And by his light, light footsteps You know when he goes by.
O what are school and lessons, My little maiden, pray, If to the land of fairy They do not show the way?"
So he sang, and Kaethchen thought to herself: "I've always suspected that we did not learn everything at school."
By this time her little head was completely turned; she thought no more of supper or mother or baby, but only wondered with round eyes what would happen next.
The moon shone brilliantly through the branches, and she noticed that the trees began to move, and some of them quickly changed places.
"Have you ever seen the trees dance?" said our hero. We will call him Green Ears; for I had forgotten to say that being a tree-imp, his ears were shaped like oak leaves, and were green tinged with pinky red. It was peculiar of course, but not so very noticeable on account of his thick curly hair. He was able to move them if anything startled him, to prick up his ears in very truth; then you saw that they really belonged to him.
The trees did not wait for Kaethe to reply; they formed themselves in long avenues and began a stately dance, something like a quadrille.
A soft fairy music was played by an invisible band. Squirrels sprang at intervals from one tree to another, spreading out their bushy tails and uttering strange cries like new-born babies.
Birds flew in and out singing and keeping time to the music and rhythm of the dance. It was a strange sight, grotesque yet beautiful; the trees took half human forms and faces; it was funny to see how they joined hands (or branches) from time to time in the dance. After they had watched for some time and the sport had become monotonous, Green Ears took Kaethe to the top of the hill, and there they saw the beautiful peaked mountain called the Rossert, bathed in the moonlight.
"Well, children, enjoying yourselves on this fine night, I hope?" said a woman of tall and commanding presence. "Will you come home and have supper with me? I am sure Green Ears has forgotten to offer you anything to eat."
Here she chucked him under his pointed chin.
The two children, fairy and human, turned and followed her, they felt that she was a person of authority and must be obeyed. Her fair hair fell in waving masses almost to her feet, it was covered with soft feathers, as if she had recently been filling feather beds.
The children saw a lighted cottage before them, with red roof and black-beamed walls like so many in the Taunus. A strong smell of honeysuckle was wafted towards them.
"This is my wood cottage, it is quite close to the Rossert, as you see. Some people call me the wood-woman, others Frau Holle," she said. "The Old King (the mountain called Altkoenig) is my brother; Olle (slang in German for old) or Holle, it is all the same, we are all relations in the Taunus, you must know!"
In front of the house was a dear little garden. The moonlight shone brightly on the flower-beds. The fairies were awake and peeped out with the greatest interest as the children entered.
Over the door was written in letters made of light, like those beautiful advertisements of beer and chocolate which so adorn the city of London by night:
THIS WAY TO FAIRYLAND.
Kaethe felt that she was learning more in one night than in all her life before of that strange dream-world on the borders of which we live.
The house was so neat and tidy, that it looked as if it had just been spring-cleaned; the windows stood wide open, the moonlight streamed in. A little table was laid for supper.
Frau Holle invited them to sit down and they did so at once.
Green Ears sat opposite to Kaethe staring at her with a wistful expression of adoration and love in his eyes.
A chocolate pudding with cream and sugar and a bilberry jelly stood on the table, also rolls which were thickly buttered and spread with various kinds of fairy sausage purely vegetarian in character. Mugs of delicious-looking milk were ready for each child.
But the supper reminded Kaethe of her home and she felt a little uneasy.
However she had at the bottom of all a comfortable feeling that all was right. This is the way with many of our self-imposed troubles, big people's as well as little people's. We groan and grumble, and express our views that everything is very wrong, and the world is soon going to the dogs, but at the bottom of all, we know that it is all right, and that all things work together for good.
Green Ears began to fidget; he was like a little girl I know, and could not sit still for more than one minute.
"Frau Holle," he said, "Frau Holle, Gracious Lady, we want to get engaged."
Frau Holle burst out laughing: "A mortal child and a Kobold of the forest! nonsense, it's impossible!"
Kaethchen lifted up her brown eyes. "We might play at it," she said. "It would be a beautiful game."
Frau Holle chuckled so much at this that she nearly upset the milk jug.
"How do people get engaged?" said Kaethe. "I have often thought about it, but I never could imagine how they do it?"
"Didn't they teach you that at school either?" said Green Ears. "My stars! What did they teach you at school?"
"Children," said the wood-woman, "children, do you mean it?"
"Certainly," said Green Ears.
"I think so," said Kaethe.
"Do you wish to buy rings?"
"O yes," decidedly from both children.
"Now listen; there is a passage from my house leading to the shops, most convenient I assure you," said Frau Holle. "Everything delivered punctually on the premises within one minute of purchasing it. No lifts or motor-cars necessary. You see I know the ways of the world." So saying she opened the back door, and they passed into a lane lighted by many lamp-posts. These lamp-posts gave a very bright light and had queer faces like the man in the moon. They grinned and winked as Green Ears and Kaethchen went by.
It was a lovely fair; a fair in fairyland you may imagine how gorgeous that must be!
There were stalls on which lay all sorts of tempting things, cakes, sweet and toys. Kaethe felt sorry that she had no money.
At the flower stall they paused; the flowers were exquisitely arranged, and out of each peeped a little Fee.
In big gold letters was written:
CONDENSED FLOWERS FOR SALE.
As Green Ears asked boldly for engagement rings, a fairy who stood behind the stall, handed him two little gold rings made to fit any finger; they were a new patent and self-adapting, the fairy said.
Green Ears was so pleased that he turned head over heels again and again for joy, a funny proceeding for a would-be husband.
"Do you know how to get engaged," he said to the fairy.
"Why no, not exactly, but I have heard it is very simple," said she. "Mother Holle (here she made a deep curtsy), Mother Holle knows all about it."
Kaethe looked out of the corner of her eyes at her lover, and wished he would behave with more dignity. Now he was cramming his mouth with sweeties.
"Aren't you going to give me any?" she said.
"O my stars!" he said again, surprised; it had never struck him. Imps are usually egoists; that is to say they think first of themselves. There are exceptions, but this is the rule.
He went rapidly from stall to stall and returned with his arms full of parcels done up in pink paper which he presented to Kaethchen with a low bow. She accepted them with much delight and they fell to munching chocolate together; it was a real bond of union, and they were not the first sweethearts who discovered it.
They reached the end of the street and suddenly found themselves alone once more on the slopes of the Altenhainer Thal or Valley.
Green Ears sat down by Kaethchen, and squeezed himself up closely to her.
"Give me your pretty little hand," he said. "Do you know which is the right finger?"
"O yes!" Kaethchen knew that quite well, though I have heard that it is a disputed point in Germany.
She stuck out her little hard-worked fingers, and he put the gold ring on the third finger of the left hand. It fitted exactly and with a cry of joy Kaethchen put the other on his long brown finger.
Then both the children laughed and clapped their hands, and danced merrily about. "Now we are engaged," they cried, "really engaged to be married!"
They made such a noise that the squirrels were cross and threw sticks at them for disturbing their early-morning sleep.
Then, goodness knows why—let us call it reaction—Kaethe began to cry again, great, big drops.
Green Ears was much puzzled.
"You are clever, now I can't do that," he said. "You must stay with me always, and live with me in the woods, and be my own little sweetheart."
"O no," said Kaethe, "I should never be allowed to do that; I must go to school every day, and then I have my exercises to do, and to help mother with the housework; the baby to mind; and—O I am always so busy."
"I will come and help you," said Green Ears.
"But you can't, you are not real, you know," said Kaethe and began to cry again.
"Kaethchen," said Green Ears, and he looked quite serious and thinky all at once. "Listen to me. I will go to the Old King; he is the ruler of all the fairies here, and I will beg him to teach me how to become human. It may be years before we meet again, for the way into your world is very hard for me to find. Yes it is easier for you to find the way into our world, than for us to enter yours; but cheer up, I will dare it and do it for your sake! but O sweetheart wait for me; O wait for me!"
"Wait for me, my little sweetheart, Till I come to you again, Win the world for you, my sweetheart, With its joy and with its pain.
Wait for me, my little sweetheart, For when falling on the ground I beheld those curious dewdrops To your heart my heart was bound.
All my fairy life is nothing, All my fairy joy I give, Just to hold your hands, my sweetheart, In your world with you to live.
Wait for me, my little sweetheart: I will find the way to you, As a grown man I will seek you, Seek and find you ever true."
So singing they walked arm in arm through the long winding valley, till the dawn approached like a golden bird opening its great wings to fly.
Kaethchen reached her cottage door. All was silent within. "Good-bye," she said, and their eyes met in one last farewell.
"Auf Wiedersehen!" said Green Ears (that pretty German farewell greeting which means so much more than good-bye), and then he stole back down the stony street, kissing his hands again and again to the little girl.
In some strange way Kaethchen passed through the door of her little cottage; she had become for the time incorporeal; through the touch of a fairy her body and soul had become loose, that is to say, and she was able to enter the house as silently as a person in a dream. She went through the kitchen and up the steep wooden stairs. It seemed to her as if her feet did not touch the ground, she floated rather than walked. She reached her own little attic, and saw the room as if it were a picture, the square window-frame, the branches of the trees outside, the old pictures on the walls that she was so fond of.
But what was her surprise to see herself curled up asleep in her big wooden bed!
The horror of it made her faint, and she remembered no more until she found herself in her own bed under her own big feather sack. In order that she should not forget her night's adventures, or think it was all merely a dream, she found a ring of yellow grass wound tightly round her third finger. From that hour, though the ring fell to pieces, the mark of it was clearly to be seen on her finger. It was a fairy ring, you see.
Her mother apparently had not missed her, and the baby was as jolly as ever.
"What was the matter with you last night, Kaethe?" said her mother. "You were dreamier than ever; not a word could we get out of you. You must have been tired out, you poor child!"
"But everything was all right, wasn't it, mother, the potatoes were boiled and the supper ready?"
"Why of course you managed very nicely. Now hurry up and let us have breakfast."
Now I feel sure that all the children who read this story will want to know what happened to Kaethchen and Green Ears later on.
Did he really come back to visit her as a grown man?
Did they marry and live happy ever after?
Had he green ears as a mortal?
But alas the fairies who told me this story, have left these questions unanswered, at all events for the present, so I can only guess at the conclusion.
I think myself that Green Ears was pretty sure to succeed in his quest, because if you want a thing intensely enough, you can usually get it.
They would make a rather funny married couple, that is true, and we will hope that Green Ears did not turn head over heels on his marriage day.
But the fairies assure me that the trials necessary to pass through in order to become a mortal, have a very sobering effect on the character, and so we can think of Green Ears as quite different, though still fascinating and charming.
I would have liked to be present at their wedding, wouldn't you?
"O joy when on this solid earth Is heard the sound of fairy mirth! O joy, when under earthly things Is heard the sound of fairy wings, When the impossible is true, When I come back and marry you!"
THE OLD KING
Walter had been playing with his kite in the garden. Somehow or other it would never mount properly, unless his father was there to help him. It was apt to fly up a little way, and then to fall into a bush or fence, and there to perch like a big bird, until Walter and his friends rescued it with difficulty. But on a windy day when his father took him into the open fields, away the kite would sail, until Walter grew anxious lest it should disappear altogether in cloudland.
It was a fine afternoon, about three o'clock, a lazy, sleepy time of day. A queer jumble of all the fairy stories that the boy knew, passed through his head as he sat on the lawn, day-dreaming, while his kite flapped its wings on the ground beside him.
Now you must know that it happened to be Midsummer Eve, the summer fete day of the fairies. Walter stared at the mountains whose great purple heads he could see in the far distance across the green plain. How they changed from moment to moment, as the clouds cast their shadows on them, till the sun shone out bright again and chased away the shadows. As Walter looked intently at his favourite peak, a mountain called the Old King, he saw a shining cloud on the summit against the sky, that he had never noticed there before. As he gazed and gazed, the cloud seemed to form itself into a wonderful castle. Each turret and tower was of an exquisite hue like the clouds at sunset. Grey mists wreathed round it, and made a soft, mysterious background: the castle became more vivid and shone like gold.