Part 3 out of 3
since of the great days of Creation, which are believed to have been
years of our time, I have thought of that day, and it has not seemed
necessary that the old time should have been different from ours. It
seemed an age since I had left the village in the morning, and every
thing looked as it does when we go home at the end of term."
"We seem so much older, too, then," said Fanny, "and as if we had seen
so much, and should meet ourselves at the gate, little things as we
were when we left."
"I thought of myself, and my little sketches of the morning, as if I
had been a tame pigeon pecking about before the door, with its little,
short feet; and now I had seen the eagle which I had heard of, and his
great wings had opened for me all the wide space behind the rim of the
hills which enclosed the village. And yet it looked all the more like
home for being encompassed with that great region. Every thing looked
so old, with a new meaning, and as I approached the house, it looked
as it had when I saw it through the spy-glass, and the gate, as I
opened it in the stillness of the twilight, seemed to say, with its
creak, 'The familiar made strange;' for these words were to me like a
sentence in old German text in an English book.
"As I was dressing for tea, I heard the sound of a horse's hoofs, and
a moment after a knock at the door. Could I ever know the meaning of
those other words of his, 'The strange made familiar,' as I did when I
heard it in the sound of the stranger's voice?
"He had called with my portfolio, which he had carried for me, and I
had forgotten to take from him. I heard my father inviting him in, and
when I went down, there was my eagle sitting at the tea table, bending
forward, courteously, to take a cup from my sister, like any other
"'You see I am keeping my promise,' he said, 'not to forget the house
which I treated with such neglect in the morning.'
"I was too bewildered with the joy of my surprise to make any reply;
and taking my seat, which happened to be next his, I could only sit in
silence, and try to comprehend my happiness. It was as if I understood
perfectly the answer to some riddle, without knowing what the riddle
was. The china on the table, and the people, had always given me the
feeling of being fixed to it, like a doll's tea set, where the table
and dishes are all in one piece; and it made no difference how learned
or profound my father's visitors might be; when they spoke it gave me
the unpleasant sensation of taking up your cup and having the saucer
come with it.
"Then, too, we were all so near at home, that we never gave each other
room; and if we did, it was by going away entirely.
"But here was a person who set every one off at a respectful distance,
himself among the rest, and yet preserved their relation to himself
and each other by encouraging their peculiarities, outside of that
limit, and set us all agoing by placing us at the right point of view,
with, in some mysterious way, the common sense of the whole party as
spectator; so that we were like figures in a landscape, which, while
we were looking at them, I knew, without knowing why, to be ourselves.
"Even grandmother, who always comes dead upon a stranger, and there is
no shaking her off, could not get within the charmed circle, but had
to keep in her orbit; and really she appeared like quite an
entertaining old lady, and all the more so for her peculiar style of
conversation, which is apt to be the family consternation at table.
Our little group that evening reminded me of a system of stars
revolving around each other, with a general motion of the whole in
reference to some point without, which I had a sense of, though I did
not understand it; but I felt sure that our stranger did; and this, I
think, was what attracted me towards him, for I felt the need of
something out of the sphere of everlasting praises for wretched little
drawings, which I knew were only good so far as their defects showed
there was something better. Now, he stood on the outside of all the
things that he drew, and I knew he could see them as they were."
"I am sure I am on the outside of all you are saying," interrupted
Kate. "Which of us was it who hoped to get rid of moralizing by
calling upon Nora for a story?"
"Pictures themselves, as Anna said, may perhaps have no moral; at
least, they are not so prosy in telling it as I am; but those who have
no moral, no idea, are not usually the persons who paint them. But I
see I have been going out of my province; for a picture, whatever else
it may be, should be intelligible, and the painter's account of
himself ought to be no less so. So I will not tell you how I learned
from one person, who had a place to stand upon, how nothing can be
seen as it is by one who has none. I have at least learned to prefer
standing on my feet to having even so excellent a teacher as Mr. Moran
for palanquin bearer."
"No doubt he would be glad if we all would relieve him, in the same
way, of a burden which he carries with such resignation," said
Anna. "But he certainly will be much indebted to you for the valuable
information you can give him in regard to your fixed point, although I
believe the only point he thinks of when here, is that on the clock,
which marks the end of his hour."
"I am not so presumptuous as to think a school girl's ideas could be
of any value to an artist like him, though, if we may believe men,
they all draw from us their best inspirations. Perhaps, after all, it
is the destiny of us girls, in some unconscious way, with the finer
instinct which men attribute to us, to spend our lives in winding up
Linda's ball of yarn for them to throw out again."
"Thank Heaven the ball is wound up so far!" said Kate. "Now, Ella, do
break off the thread, and give it to the fairies to play with."
"O, yes, Ella, do! After all this scraping and tuning, let us have the
dance at last," said Effie.
"Positively I have not a word of it ready," answered Ella. I thought
of something when I spoke, but it was like turning a kaleidoscope;
with every turn it became something else. And then I began to listen
to Linda, and to Leonora, and my story became so confused with theirs,
that you would not know it for a fairy story, if I should tell it to
you; but if you will let me off until I disentangle it, Anna, I know,
will take my place, for she never wants a moment's notice. If you
should wake her up in the middle of the night, and ask her for a
story, she would immediately begin with 'Once upon a time,' and go on
telling it after we were all asleep. Come, Anna, take the
kaleidoscope, and I will give you the princess, the castle, the grim
father, and the disappointed suitors for beads to put in it. So give
it a turn, and let us see what it will be."
"There was once a princess, who was the most beautiful who had ever
"O, of course!" interrupted Kate. "Who ever heard of a princess, in a
story, who was not?"
"Did you ever hear, my dear, of one who was so beautiful that of all
her maids of honor (each of whom was so beautiful herself, that a
whole village would go crazy about her if she but drove through it)
not one, however they might dispute for the preference among
themselves, ever thought of raising the least pretension to beauty in
her presence? There never was but one such, and that was my princess.
"Although her father, who was the wealthiest and haughtiest prince of
all that region, lived in a castle so grand and stately, and although
in sight of the highway, separated from it by grounds so severely
elegant and august, that except for the beautiful princess no one
would have ventured to approach it, yet it was open to all, and many a
bold youth, who had heard of her fame, preserved his courage all along
the avenue, until he reached the stately front door, nor remembered,
until it was opened by the awful footman, that he did not know whom to
"For it seems the people, through the influence, probably, of the
maids of honor, had begun to copy the manners of the court, and every
pretty girl in the country had begun to fancy herself a princess; and
one day when her father was walking through the town, he was so
annoyed at hearing every third child called by his daughter's name,
that he went home, and shut her up in the castle, and declared she
should never again be called by any name, until some one should come
who would give her his own. You may be sure there were not wanting
youths who would have been happy to present her with such a gift; and
it was not long before she numbered among her suitors the princes of
all the provinces in the kingdom, each of whom had appeared at the
castle gate with full assurance that his name would be one which the
princess would be only too happy to accept. But their names were not
so powerful at court as at home. The maids of honor, each of whom was
a princess in her own country, did not fail, like mischievous things
as they were, to take advantage of the confusion arising from there
being no name for the princess, to go down when any one was announced,
in one of her dresses,--of which you may imagine the number when I
tell you she never wore the same twice,--and impose herself on the
unsuspecting visitor, as the princess whom he wished to see. What
fun, to be sure, all the rest must have had, listening at the
half-open door of the next room, to hear the protestations, one after
another, of these poor, deluded lovers, each to a different lady! They
did not once think what troubles might arise among so many suitors,
each of whom considered himself as the chosen one, if they should
happen to meet where the princess was the subject of conversation.
However, this very circumstance, which occurred, turned out for the
benefit of the princess, if not of the suitors; for a young nobleman
in their company, hearing them disagree so widely in their
descriptions of her beauty, very naturally concluded that each had
seen a different one, and that neither, perhaps, had seen the princess
herself. So he called the next day to see for himself, and soon found,
charming as the young lady was who came down to see him, that she was
assuming the air of a higher personage than herself; for one who knows
what he seeks is not so easily put off by appearances. So he took
leave, and coming next day in disguise, beheld another lady; and so
every day, until he had seen them all, and satisfied himself that he
had not seen their mistress. With all their grace and beauty there
was an air about them as of reflected light, and he fancied he
detected now and then a listening kind of look, as if the main life of
the house was going on somewhere else. Yet he did not wonder at the
passion of the suitors, for each of these maids of honor was so
lovely, that the lifetime of almost any man would not have been too
much to devote to her. But he looked at them as one looks at the moon
when waiting for the daybreak, and was not long in sending a message
by the footman, that brought down the princess herself, who entered
the room in all her loveliness, leaning upon the arm of her father. A
single glance sufficed to tell the youth that she was indeed the
princess that his heart had foretold, but also that he never could win
her without the consent of the stern old monarch upon whom she
leaned. Nor did he feel dismayed, for he also valued that ancestral
pride, nor without reason; for in the veins of the poor young nobleman
also ran the blood of a royal line, although the sword that hung at
his side was all that was left him of its former glory; and the old
king might have seen it flashing in his eye with a trace of the old
splendor, as he boldly asked the hand of his daughter. But though the
father frowned, the daughter smiled, for the glance of the youth had
sparkled in her heart, as if it were already the marriage ring upon
"'Come hither,' said the sire; and the youth followed him to the
balcony which overlooked the country about the castle. 'On every
side,' said he, 'farther than the eagle's flight can measure in a day,
behold my domain. Think'st thou I will permit this inheritance of my
fathers to go into the hands of a man of yesterday? Let him win it,
then I may know that he can keep it. Go down again, and look up over
the castle gate, and see the escutcheon of this house. No heraldic
device is that, but the veritable coat of arms which the founder of
this house placed there as the seal of his work. Know also the
traditionary challenge to whoever aspires to the hand of the daughter
of the house. Only as an equal can he win her from her father's hand,
who will condescend to meet in arms none but those who can take down
and wear that armor.' Then with an inclination of the head that seemed
to freeze the air about him, he dismissed the youth, who feared him
not, but saw in him only the massive foundations of that stately
castle, from the upper window of which the fairest princess in the
world waved him a farewell of hope.
"When he was outside the gate he looked up, and there was the coat of
arms, not, as one would suppose from the careless glance usually given
on entering the door of a palace, an ornamental escutcheon,--though of
enormous size, as befitted the proportions of the edifice,--but the
veritable arms themselves, which must have come down from a race of
giants. Even if he could have worn them, it would have been impossible
to take them down, as they were built into the wall of the house, and
indeed seemed so essential a part of the structure, that it was, as it
were, the face of the whole front, and could not be taken away but
with the whole body. No wonder he felt for a moment disheartened, as
he stood before the frowning portal; and perhaps he would have turned
away in despair, had not his eye caught at that moment the merry faces
of the maids of honor peering out, one over the other, at the side
windows, and been drawn thus to a golden gleam at the great oriel
window above, which was no other than the radiant face and arm of his
princess; and although she disappeared the next minute, yet that light
seemed for a moment to lift, from within, the whole dark castle, and
to fall upon the device on the shield of the escutcheon, which was so
effaced by time, that he had not observed it before. With a smile that
would have become the stern face of the lord of the castle himself, he
gayly turned, and walked down the long avenue, not for years to
return, touching now and then the hilt of his sword, as one would pat
the neck of his war-horse, which was pawing for him to mount; and well
did that sword deserve his trust, for though it was his all, a king's
ransom would not have purchased it. It had been the sword of his
greatest ancestor, and possessed the charm of giving to the arm of its
wearer the strength of every one it overcame.
"But before he left, in return for the information the deluded suitors
had so unwittingly given him, he told them of the arms, and the
condition upon which the princess was to be won. Did he not fear that
in his absence the prize might be carried off by one of these other
suitors, so much more powerful in name than himself? Or had he a
reason of his own for keeping them from their own dominions?
"Now, each of these suitors was the ruler of one of the provinces of
the kingdom, and each had been attracted thither by the fame of the
princess's beauty. In the old time the kingdom had belonged to a race
of giants, and the provinces were departments, bounded by no
territorial limits, and the tenure upon which they were held was the
right of the strongest.
"In the mining district, the ancient ruler had been the mightiest
"In the forest he had swung the largest axe.
"And so, through all the provinces of that kingdom, each ruler had
been the master of his own craft. But the ancient heroes, thinking the
posterity of the strong are the strong, and that no state is safe
unless maintained by the same power which won it, had left a
challenge, each, on his castle gate, which was open to all who should
come in after times; and whoever should accept it might contest with
its occupant the possession of the castle and its domains. In former
times this challenge had been no empty form; but for many years no one
had appeared to accept it, and it now hung at the castle gate
unnoticed, as a portcullis, whose chains have rusted with centuries of
"Now, the rulers were absent, with no thought of their provinces,
wasting their strength in useless efforts to take down the king's
armor, not dreaming that they might be losing their own and fighting
among themselves in rivalry for the hand of the fair princess, whom
neither of them had ever seen. How many of them flattered themselves
that they should succeed in single combat with the old monarch, whom
they could not even meet in his grounds without awe, cannot be known,
but the coat of arms had many a tug from that day; and we can imagine
the feelings of each suitor, as he retreated ignominiously down the
long, straight avenue, the subdued laughter of those tantalizing maids
of honor behind him, at the windows, stiffening his elbows, and
twitching his knees, till by the time he reached the highway, he was
breathless, as if he had been fighting the ancient wearer of the armor
"Meantime, where was the youth upon whom the princess had smiled? In
the remotest hamlet of the kingdom, disguised as a peasant; in his
hands the charmed sword had become an axe, with the fame of whose
exploits the woods still ring. Nor was he long in winning the strength
of every woodman's arm, and with the last stroke the axe in his hands
became a hammer, with whose lusty blows, ere long, every anvil in the
neighboring province echoed, till with the last blow the hammer in his
hands became a ploughshare; and thus, through each province, beginning
at the foot and leaving at the head, until there was not an acre in
that vast domain which he did not know better than those who tilled
it; no forge or furnace at which his arm had not proved the strongest;
no art or craft that did not own him master. Then the sword returned
to its sheath, and he said, 'I have served my apprenticeship; now let
me take my degrees.'
"Then he boldly presented himself at each castle, and demanded the
ancient right of trial.
"At the gate of the first hung a mighty axe, which the giant arm of
the ancient lord had placed there, as a defiance to after times, with
the inscription, 'To him who can wield it.'
"He took it down as if it were a toy, and sunk it to the helve in the
gate post, carving on the handle the words, 'To him who can draw it.'
Then he entered the castle, and investing himself with the rights and
titles that belonged to him as victor, and leaving the province in the
keeping of a suitable deputy, he went on to the next, at whose castle
gate hung the ponderous hammer of the royal smith, its former owner,
with the inscription, 'To him who can swing it.' This he not only
swung around, as if it were a walking stick, but left buried to the
head in the gate of massive oak, and with unmoved breath bade the
chamberlain, who, with all the retinue of servants, had flown to open
it at his thundering summons, to carve upon the handle the words, 'To
him who can take it.'
"Then entering, and assuming his rightful authority, and leaving the
administration of the province in proper keeping, he went on to the
next castle, where at the gate stood a huge plough, with the
inscription, 'To him who can hold it.'
"Breaking to the yoke the wild bulls of the old stock,--for there were
none of the present race who could move it,--he ploughed a furrow half
round the castle, and left it buried to the beam, cutting upon it the
words, 'To him who can finish it.'
"He turned loose his team into the forest, and entering the castle,
left it, as he had the rest, in the charge of his own deputy; and thus
proceeding from castle to castle, and leaving each province as its
lord, because its master, he completed the round, and thus became
possessed of all that kingdom, save one castle; but that was the
king's. 'I have the parts--now for the whole,' he said, laying his
hand on the hilt of his sword.
"But before he went forth on his last trial, he gave a year to the
ordering and uniting of his separate provinces. 'The body is ready for
its head,' he then said, and went forth to the king's castle.
"As he drew near, he observed the suitors still tugging at the armor,
the maids of honor still watching them from the windows, though with
less mirth, and each with more interest, he thought, in some one whom
her eyes followed.
"But above all, in the great oriel, his own fair princess, fairer than
ever, held out both arms to him in welcome.
"One glance at the armor, and the inscription on the shield, 'To him
who can wear it,'--which he could hardly see, so covered was it with
the figures of the suitors,--and a smile to think how the armor was
wearing them, and he boldly entered the castle, sending his challenge
to the king to meet him in equal arms, according to his
promise. 'Where is the armor in which yon were to meet me?' said the
monarch, on entering, with submissive dignity.
"'To him who carries the kingdom on his shoulders, the castle is a
helmet, and the arms a crest,' said he, and demanded the hand of the
princess. As he spoke, the sword in his hand became a sceptre, and the
king, bowing low, with a reverence in which knelt the proud humility
of the dethroned sovereign, said, 'Brave prince, we can only have what
we earn. I have no power to say that what you have earned you shall
not have. You have won it; Heaven grant you a long life to keep it.
Long last the throne whose wood the king's own hand hath hewn!'
"Then he placed the princess's hand in his, and gave him, what he
already had, yet what without her were not worth having, the kingdom,
for her dowry.
"At the marriage which took place, the maids of honor were affianced
each to her favored suitor, who loved her no less than if she had been
the princess for whom he had mistaken her; and each was better pleased
to be the princess of a province than to play at being princess of a
kingdom. For to each was given, with the consent of the bridegroom, a
province in the dowry of the princess, with a recommendation by him to
each restored ruler, who was to hold it in trust to observe the words
inscribed upon his castle gate, and to stay at home hereafter and
attend to his own department.
"But before the marriage was completed, the father of the bride drew
the prince aside, and reminded him that he had sworn his daughter
should have no name until one should come who should give her his own.
"'Names are for commoners,' he said; 'kings have none. Know then that
the kingdom which I have again made good from the foot, has come down
to me from the head, and that the princess's ancestry and mine go back
until they meet in the same name. But let her whose name is profaned
by all, be ever nameless for me; and lest her maidens again compromise
her by assuming it, let them keep it for a surname, and I will couple
it with a distinction.'
"Then he named each of them from the name of her province, and their
mistress is never spoken of by them but under the title of their
"Now, Ella," said Fanny.
"The beginning of Anna's story will do for mine with the change of a
word. There was once a brother, the most critical who had ever been
"It must have been mine," interrupted Kate.
"Did you ever venture to tell him a story? If you have, you may know
how much spirit I must feel at the idea of repeating mine. But as my
brother has so large a part in it, I may as well tell you something
"O," said Fanny, "if we get on the subject of brothers, we shall never
come to your story."
"But as without mine we never should have come to it at all, as you
will see, he is a part which cannot be left out," said Ella.
"My brother had the gravest way of telling the strangest adventures,
as if they had really happened, so that although I might have been
taken in by him a thousand times, I invariably yielded the most
implicit trust to every new story; while I had such a way of telling
real occurrences that no one would believe they were not inventions.
If he could tell my stories, I believe they would be better than his;
for, telling them in his plausible way, he would need to leave nothing
out, as I do, for fear of being laughed at; and they would have the
advantage over his, of not only appearing true, but really being so,
which is all the praise I can claim for them now. Yet he would insist
that he never told any thing but what he had actually seen.
"'Facts for men, fancies for girls,' he would say; for he had a way of
setting up one thing against another, as if nothing could stand
alone. Thus he would say the oddest things with the gravest face, and
would set me crying with a look like a harlequin.
"But although he laughed at my 'fancies,' I could not but notice he
was always getting me to tell them, yet as if for some end of his own
which I never could discover; for often when he had set me going in
this way, I could feel myself pushed forth from him, as if I were the
antenna of some insect with which he was exploring unknown regions,
and making in his own wise head conclusions with which I had nothing
"Then he was always fond of having me with him, and had always a new
name for me, which I liked because he gave it to me, although I could
never see its significance. Now I was his witch-hazel, though I never
knew what springs I found for him. Now I was his ger-falcon, but could
never see what game he loosed me at, although, certainly, no falcon
was ever kept more closely hooded.
"Very different was the confidence I had in him; for whatever was in
my mind, I was sure to go to him, and he was always ready to satisfy
me. There was nothing so strange that I wished to see, but he could at
once tell me, with the most explicit directions, where I could find
it; but when I returned, as I almost invariably did, without success,
the only explanation he would give was, that I had not found the
place. Many a fool's errand of this kind he sent me upon, from which I
came back as wise as I went. But one thing he told me which turned
out exactly as he said, and it may prove so with others which are a
puzzle to me to this day.
"One day, when I had been reading about the fairies until I had the
greatest desire in the world to see them, I went to my oracle, whom I
found sitting beside the stream above the mill, for our father was a
miller, and this had been our favorite spot from my earliest
recollection. He was looking at the water, apparently thinking of
something else; but when he saw me coming, he appeared absorbed in a
book, which I observed was upside down.
"'Tell me really and truly,' said I, 'do you think such creatures as
fairies actually exist?'
"'Certainly,' he answered, 'for I have seen them myself.' I looked at
him in amazement, but his serious face assured me he was not joking;
and I begged him to tell me where he had seen them, and why, if they
really existed, every thing was not known about them. 'There is also a
nation in the heart of Africa,' said he, 'supposed to be somewhere
about the source of the Nile; but no one has ever discovered them, or,
if he has, has not returned, and we have no information about them.'
"'If I lived on the Nile,' I replied, 'I should never rest until I had
"'But,' said he, 'as we live on the mill stream, perhaps that will do
as well for us. And, now I think of it, it is the very thing, as I
learned from a conversation which I overheard when among the
"'But tell me first,' said I, 'how you came to be there.'
"'O,' said he, 'I came upon them once by accident, which is a rare
piece of good fortune. I had often before come upon them suddenly in
the same way, but they were off before I could fairly see them, or lay
like a brood of partridges, taking the color of every thing about
them, so that I might look for them an hour, I could never find
them. It is no use to wait, for they can wait longer than you can. The
only way is to go off and come back again when the affair is blown
over, and take them again unawares, when they will again, perhaps,
spring up under your very feet, and be off before you know they are
there. But by repeated attempts, at sufficient intervals, coming
nearer each time, and looking with a certain attentive indifference,
you may succeed in seeing them. But it is useless to chase them
whither they appear to have flown, unless you have a dog perfectly
trained; for Diana's hounds, I believe, are the only ones who have
ever been able to follow them up. But as they frequent the same spot,
if you leave it, they will be sure to come back, only you must mark
the trees as you go away, or you will not find the place again; for
otherwise you might be close by and never know it. I did not neglect
this precaution when I saw them; but though I marked the trees, I
forgot the mark, and have never been able to recall it. Perhaps you
may have better fortune, for there is another way which I learned, as
I said, from the conversation I overheard when there. But if I tell
you, it must be on one condition--that you will break the twigs, or
otherwise mark the way as you go along, so that I can follow.'
"On my giving the promise demanded, 'It seems,' said he, 'the fairies,
though living so far apart from men, are still dependent upon them for
their bread, and must come down now and then to the mill for their
grist, which John takes good care to leave out for them, or they would
turn off the water from above, he says. When they are on their way
back, they are always in good humor if they have found their grist,
and are willing to take up a passenger in their boat. But it must be a
girl, and therefore I have never been able to go up in that way
myself. They say that women can find the way to their camp, but can
never find the way back; but if men should once get in, they would
think of nothing but getting back to report it, and it would be
overrun with visitors, who would bring nothing with them, and carry
every thing away. For it is a custom of their hospitality to present
every guest with a gift; to the women an ornament of their beauty with
which they would never part, but to the men they could give nothing
which they would not carry home to convert into money. So that it is
doubtful which of us has the advantage; you who can get in, but can
make nothing of it, or I, who could turn it to account, but cannot get
"'O, I, to be sure!' said I; 'for the great thing after all is to get
in. But how am I to secure a passage in their boat?'
"He told me I must be asleep on the bank of the stream at the time the
fairies' boat would be going up, and they would take me in when they
saw me. He had tried to find out from John when they were in the habit
of coming for their grist; but John could not tell, or would not, as
he did not care to watch their comings or goings, he said. So long as
they allowed him sufficient head of water to keep the mill going, it
was none of his business, and they were not people that he cared to
meddle with. But he supposed they came, when they did come, at night,
or sometimes, perhaps, when he was taking his nooning.
"After that I went every day to the bank of the stream, and did my
best to compose myself to sleep; but in vain: the more I tried to
sleep, the more I would be awake, in spite of the counsel of my
brother, who gave me no peace on the subject of sleep, and was
continually telling me of Napoleon, who had the power of going to
sleep whenever he chose. At last, one day when I had fairly given up
in despair, and had forgotten all about the fairies, and every thing
else but the rippling of the stream,--for it happened to be the hour
of noon, and the mill wheel was still, which usually drowned the voice
of the brook,--I must have been falling into a sound sleep, when the
rippling changed into the silver laughter of infant voices, and then a
murmuring and consulting, breaking into faint acclamations, as of a
busy throng, babbling, in an under tone, of some mysterious plot
against some one they were fearful of waking. And then I felt myself
borne away on little undulating arms, too far gone in sleep to resist,
and then dancing and flickering on tiny waves, and lulled by their
liquid echoes, till I lost myself in a deep sleep, which seemed to be
pillowed on a sense of being carried on and on into a realm of
silence, and then being lifted and carried, as on a living bier, with
new senses waking clearer and clearer, as if naked in the delicate air
of a new life, and at last waking and finding myself alone in an open
space of forest, shadowed by trees of an unknown grace, and lighted by
magic vistas where the distance found its last repose on the summits
of sun-lit mountains.
"A perpetual afternoon shaded that sward of loveliest green, alive
with fairest flowers, with not a breath of air stirring the heavy
leaves; and if the slender stems of the undergrowth waved ever so
lightly, it was with an almost imperceptible motion of their own. Yet
was there not at that moment the same slight movement in every shrub
and leaf? and where were those who had brought me hither? Was it a
whispering I heard behind me? There was no one there, but, gradually,
as in the silence of the night the air is oppressed by the sense of
some one being in the room, I became aware of being surrounded by
invisible beings, who were holding their breaths with a general hush,
that I might not know they were there. In a moment every thing lighted
up with the thought that I was within the charmed circle of the
fairies, and a mysterious influence from something close at hand
brought back the most distant recollection of my childhood, as the
magic word that would compel the fairies to appear. A faint perfume
drew my eyes downward, and at my feet was the little violet, my first
and earliest love. I stooped to pick it, but an '_Ah_!' of horror
stayed my hand, which already held the stem. 'No,' I said, shutting
my eyes as if to enclose the dear recollection of my childhood safe
from harm, 'thy life is more to me than to know all.' When I opened my
eyes the violet was gone, and in my hand I held a wand, as if a line
from the purple edge of a rainbow.
"I waved it around my head, and every thing stood clear and perfect in
a light that seemed to crystallize with distinctness the texture of
every flower and leaf. I waved it again, and it was as if a page of
Hebrew had become the most domestic English.
"Was not this enough?
"But I waved it a third time, and Heavens! every tree, and shrub, and
flower had disappeared, and in the place of each was a human figure,
but one transfigured into a form of inconceivable majesty, grace, or
loveliness. But each stood fixed as by its root to its place, and I
thought, 'Could I only say the word that would set them free!' A voice
whispered in my ear, 'The free only can set free.' Then I felt for the
first time how heavy I was in the presence of those graceful
creatures, and my weight seemed to sink down into a root that fastened
my feet to the ground.
"Was there still another set of fairies, invisible to the eye? I felt
myself lifted by unseen arms, and could feel harmonious breaths around
me like an atmosphere which I was inhaling through every pore, and
which was swelling every fibre with a thrill of lightness, until I
only touched the ground like a bird ready to fly. I raised the wand,
and a strain from an unseen band lifted on its wings the whole
assembly surrounding the green, who nodded, and waved, and swayed with
the opening movement as if catching the time of a tune to which they
were to dance; the flute and the violin catching, like a flame, from
one to the other, the tortuous wreathing of the bass-viol, with
labored ease possessing their limbs, and the bugle and the trumpet,
with a gush of melody in which all the rest joined, leaving their
graceful heads floating in the loveliest confusion of harmony. Then a
pause fell like a shadow, pointing across the greensward; and when it
ended, faint as figures in a deep valley, burst forth a chorus of tiny
voices, and there were the fairies themselves, in groups on groups,
and wreath involved in wreath, dancing to their own song, countless as
the fireflies in a meadow on a summer evening.
"'If I were only small enough to dance with them!' said I, listening
so intently that I felt myself contracting into the compass of their
song, and the wand diminishing in my hand, till there we were, myself
and the loveliest little fairy queen dancing together through the
mazes of the tiny troop, bewildered by the grace of the faces that
passed us like dreams of beauty, and the soft crush of bewitching
dresses that wafted, as they swept by us, such dizzy perfumes as only
the bee or the butterfly could imagine. The songs to which we danced,
every group singing a different one, and yet all in harmony, were
without words; but our feet, pattering, innumerable as the drops of a
silver rain, or the softest piano and flute accompaniment, echoed with
their meaning, and every step was the understanding of emotions, for
which language had no name. For we were so slight and pure that there
was no interval between the music and the meaning, but our forms,
which were only the harmony and enjoyment of both, sparkling into life
each moment our footsteps touched the ground.
"'The dance for thought, the waltz for love,' said my fairy queen,
looking at me with velvet eyes, and wreathing her arms around my
waist. Then we floated off on the violin accompaniment, that seemed to
fly from under our feet at every step, gliding through the sinuous
mazes of a movement interweaving and unfolding into newer and newer
combinations, till we swam in a delirium of uncomprehended harmony,
buoyed up so lightly, as if on half-open wings, that our feet only
occasionally touched the ground to remind us of the earth.
"'O, let us fly!' I exclaimed.
"'The fairies belong to the earth, like yourselves,' she answered;
'but would you learn the dance?'
"'O, yes; and I will love you and live with you forever!'
"'Till I have learned it, and can take it home with me.'
"'Dear child,' said she, 'the fairies have no homes but yours, and we
can only come down to them on your feet. Without you we are only eyes
without a smile. But if we cannot come down to you of ourselves, how
happy are we when one comes to us who can carry us back with her! How
did you come hither?'
"'I sailed up on the stream.'
"'Then take me down with you,' she said, sinking upon my face with a
kiss, into which she dissolved like a mist, and I closed my eyes to
clasp her to my heart forever.
"When I opened them, the stream was rippling at my feet, and my
brother was raising his face from mine with a smile that left me in
doubt if I was not still in Fairyland. 'Now tell me, Violet Eyes,'
said he, 'all about the fairies.'
"'How do you know I have been there?' I asked.
"'Have you never heard that whoever looks first into the eyes of one
who has been there, catches a glimpse of Fairyland? But tell me
quick, before you forget. You know you promised to break the twigs as
you went, to mark the place for me.'
"'O, I forgot all about it!' said I.
"'Never mind,' said he; 'but tell me what you remember.'
"So I told him all I could, and much more than I have told you now,
for he had such a comical look on his face when I was describing the
best part of it all,--after betraying me, too, as he had, into telling
it, with the greatest appearance of interest,--that I resolved I never
would tell it again; so you must blame him, and not me, if I have left
the best part out."
"O, we all know the best part of a story is always left out!" said
Kate, "particularly by those who have taken the most pains to put
every thing in. But there goes the school bell. I wonder if the
fairies ever come down so far into the world as to visit the school
room. Fancy Ella dancing with her fairy queen, with an 'Algebra' under
one arm, and an 'Elements of Criticism' under the other."
"There is nothing so heavy that the fairies cannot make it dance,"
said Ella. "The trouble is to get their assistance. And what a
capital story it would make,--the fairies coming at night and setting
our books to waltzing on the school room floor! There is no end to
the funny contrasts it suggests."
"The best stories always come when it is too late to tell them," said