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Old-Fashioned Fairy Book, The

THE FAIRIES AND THE FIDDLER.

IN In the pretty little village of Hayfield, not far from the borders of a thick forest, lived a good-natured, idle fellow, named Simon, who supported his wife and two children by trapping or shooting in winter, and by fishing or doing odd jobs of harvest work in summer. Simon could play upon the fiddle in a way to make the tears come into your eyes; or if he chose to be merry, his tunes would set every foot in motion, as the wind starts the leaves upon an aspen tree. This accomplishment caused him to be much in demand among the young people of the village, who dropped many a bit of silver into his worn old hat; and at all the weddings and barn-dances, Simon might be seen with a huge bunch of flowers in his buttonhole, and his fiddle under his arm, footing it in the procession. Then, too, Simon was the best man[108] in the village to coax stories from, especially the old-time gossip about the little folk in green, for whom in former days Hayfield had been famous. Simon knew how the fairies dressed, what they ate and drank, how they punished saucy human beings who offended them; and could point out the smooth rings of short fine grass where they had held their midnight revels. That the fairies really had haunted Hayfield and its surrounding woods, nobody in the village doubted. They had heard too many things to prove it from their grandparents, whose parents were said to have lived on the best of terms with the little people—setting pans of cream by the hearth-stone at night for them to skim—leaving, when the holidays came around, a cheese and bag of nuts in a hollow tree at the entrance of the wood—and getting all sorts of kind offices from the fairies back again. Although it had now been a long time since any one could testify to having actually seen a fairy (as it was well known that the band were frightened out of Hayfield when the first stage-coach, with its noise and clatter, took to dashing along the village street), many people believed the men in green to be still lurking in the neighborhood. What else could account for the trouble some of the good wives[109] had with their butter and their bees? What could it be but fairy thumps and pinches that kept the lazy folk from sleeping soundly, when their houses were not to rights before they went to bed. And what could explain the silver penny often found in the shoe of a tidy housekeeper, when up she jumped at break of day to set her maids to work? For fairies never show by day, and it is only when the people of a house are fast asleep and snoring, that they glide in by key-holes, through cracks and broken panes of glass, and swarm over the rooms, spying out everything amiss, and leaving tracks on the dust of[110] shelves or tables, scattering the ashes of an unswept hearth, and bewitching the inside of a dirty iron pot, so that it never more may cook sweet porridge!

Of all the villagers, as I have said, Simon alone professed to have any recent acquaintance with the little folk, and the wonder was how they, who were known to be sworn enemies to idleness, could keep him in their favor.

Simon's house was a poor little cottage on the outskirts of the town. His wife, once a pretty, rosy lass, had taken to drink, and the husband and children led a dog's life within doors. Consequently, their one pleasure was to roam the woods and fields, and the children were growing up brown and barefoot as two[111] young gypsies. They were a boy named Timothy and a girl named Bess, of whom Simon was very proud, their fresh young faces making a strong contrast with his wizened visage, crossed with a hundred lines, and topped with a sunburned mop of hair. As they grew old enough to understand, their father instructed them in all the arts of woodcraft. There was no tree or plant for which he had not a name or a virtue. The habits of all birds and fishes and animals were as familiar to him as their haunts. In this way, the vast green forest, with its great tree-boles and twisted boughs, its verdant moss-carpet and hidden streams, became to them an enchanted world, through which the children strayed like a sylvan king and queen. A sad change it was to come back to the dirt and confusion of their miserable home, where the mother received them either with grudging welcome if they brought berries or a string of brook trout, or with blows and drunken curses if they came empty-handed. As his wife's intemperance increased, Simon stayed less and less at home, and the children dreaded lest some day their poor father would be driven to desert them altogether. So they resolved to keep a close watch on his movements, and to follow him should he go away.[112]

One night the harvest moon was riding her glorious way across the heavens, and the little village of Hayfield lay steeped in silver light. Not a lamp or a taper glimmered in the hamlet, and every one of the brown thatched cottages was buried in profound repose. Not even a watch-dog barked; and the forest-leaves yielded to the universal spell, and ceased to rustle.

There had been held a harvest-home that day, and Simon had been hard at work with his fiddle, playing jigs and reels for the dance in the squire's great barn. Between every dance, he had quenched his thirst at the cider-barrel, or quaffed the big brown mug of beer they kept brimming at his side. Naturally, Simon's brain was a little the worse for such free potations; and when the last strains of the "Wind that Shakes[113] the Barley" had died upon his fiddle-strings, and all the gay company had gone their homeward way, Simon with his pocket full of silver pennies staggered out into the field, and lay down under a haystack to take his well-earned rest.

There, just before midnight, his two children, who had come in search of him, found their father peacefully sleeping, his fiddle on his breast. Not wishing to disturb him, the children decided to have their own night's sleep in the same fragrant nest of hay; and curling up at some little distance from the slumbering fiddler, they whispered together for a while, and then were about to drop asleep. Just as their eyes were closing they heard an odd sound, as of hundreds of little pattering feet, and out from the shadow of the[114] wood came into the unbroken argent of the field a long train of little men, women, and children, dressed magnificently in cobweb gauze and green, bespangled with glittering gems, and wearing each a tiny crimson cap with a golden bell upon its peak. The two children were broad awake in a moment, for they knew that these were the fairies they had so longed to see, all dressed in holiday costume, and proceeding to their famous midsummer festival. The procession wavered like a gleaming snake across the field, and, when passing near the haystack, came to a halt. To the children's surprise, two queer little old men, holding carved ivory wands, came straight up, and tapped the sleeping fiddler across the bridge of his nose.

"Nay, I will play no more for you, you light-of-head and light-of-heel," said sleepy Simon, believing himself to be still perched upon the barrel that served as the fiddler's throne.

"Aye, but play you shall, at his Majesty's command," said the little old man, thumping him more sharply. "Isn't that part of your bargain with us, if we allow the trout to haunt your brook, and the hares to run into your traps? Come, mortal! Up with you and follow. Here's the bandage to blindfold your eyes, as[115] usual; and remember that, if you peep, you are our prisoner for life."

By this time thoroughly awakened, Simon stumbled upon his feet, and stood making abject bows before the angry little fairy chamberlains. He let his eyes be bound with a green silk ribbon, and leading-strings were passed around his waist. At the blast of a golden trumpet, the procession moved forward with a sound of tripping feet and whirring gauzy wings and tinkling bells most lovely to the ear.

Last of all came Simon, in fairy leading-strings, and the two children, unable to resist the impulse, followed noiselessly.

Their way led again into the forest, through the dense underwood, to a smooth circle of velvet sward, set around with hundreds of little mushrooms, on which the fairies took their seats. In the centre was a hammock of silver cobweb, swinging by jewelled chains from the crossed stems of two tall white lilies, under a bower of maiden-hair ferns. Sweet blue violets were sprinkled in the grass, making a path where the king and queen of the fairies marched to take their places on the cobweb-throne. Dew was handed around in acorn-cups, of which the fairy guests sipped daintily,[116] followed by bark trays containing every variety of fairy refreshment. There were delicate fried butterflies, marrow-bones of a field-mouse, snail soup served in nutshells, and wild strawberries in baskets made of moss.

When the banquet was at an end, the chamberlains gave notice to Simon, who had been bound with ropes made of plaited grass to the trunk of a wide-spreading oak; the fiddle struck up a tune, and at once the dance began. Such a mad and merry dance the wondering children had never seen before! Old and young joined hands and trod a circle, then, breaking the chain, formed into a hundred fantastic figures; and at each touch of a light footstep, the earth opened to give birth to a flower, until the entire fairy ring was enamelled with fragrant blossoms. Fast flew the fiddle-bow, but faster flew the tiny feet; and when the mirth was at its height, Simon who, as we know, had taken a drop too much, was suddenly inspired to tear the bandage from his eyes, and crying, "It's my turn now," capered right into the middle of the magic ring.

The honest fellow had meant no harm, but his offence was a mortal one!

Instantly, he was surrounded by a swarm of the[117] furious little men in green, who, without waiting for an excuse, stabbed out both his eyes, and taking away his fiddle and bow, bound his arms behind his back. Again the procession—this time sad and silent—was formed, and the king striking the nearest tree with his wand, it flew open; the whole party, leading Simon behind them, entered the aperture, and before the children knew where to turn, it had closed upon their father.

And now, in what a distressing condition were the unhappy Timothy and Bess! Not knowing what better to do, they sat down at the foot of the great oak-tree which had swallowed up their father, and from sheer weariness fell asleep. When morning came, and the birds piped upon the boughs, the children awoke and looked in wonder about them. All was dewy, green, and fragrant in the deep woods, but no sign remained of the fairy revel, except a fine fringe of newly sprung grass, growing in a circle where their ring had been.

The bark of the great oak tree was unbroken, and above stretched a broad canopy of dark-green leaves, which whispered in the morning breeze, but told no tales of what the children longed to know. Hunger[118] drove them to retrace their steps homeward; and when they reached the cottage, their mother was so cross at her husband's failure to fetch her the usual stock of silver pennies earned at the harvest-home, that she beat them both soundly, and gave them but a dry crust apiece for breakfast.

Still the children hoped their father might return; and, not knowing to whom to confide their wonderful tale, they kept silence. When it was found Simon had disappeared in earnest, all the wise heads in Hayfield decided that he had run away to escape from his good wife's tongue, an act of independence which had the bad effect of making more than one married man in the village unduly restless.

A month passed, and the two children were again wandering in the forest trying to find a few berries to appease their hunger (for things at home were now worse than before), when they fancied they heard a child crying close at hand. They searched everywhere, and at length the sound was renewed, seeming to come from a thicket of tall ferns. Falling on their knees, the children worked their way under the bushes and through the brakes, until they came in view of a lovely chubby elf sitting forlorn upon a mushroom on a[119] hillock of soft green moss, beneath a screen of ferns and wild flowers, and letting fall a flood of tears from his big blue eyes. He wore no clothing, if we may except a pair of drooping wings, and in his hand he held a stalk of snowy lilies.

"Who are you, dear little one, and how came you here?" they asked.

"I am a fairy," the tiny creature sobbed. "Last night was the monthly revel, and we sported till the moon set. But I saw these lilies growing over in yonder swamp, and I wanted them so; and as I ran, they seemed to run too. I had such hard work to gather them; when at last I succeeded, my red cap dropped off; and without it I am as helpless as a mere mortal. While searching for the cap, which I have not found, a cock in the village crowed, and the fairies all fled away and left me. The door of the mound is closed, and for a whole long month there is no hope of my getting in again. Oh! I wish I could find my cap."

"If we help you to find the cap, will you stop crying?" said the children.

The shivering sprite wiped his eyes and promised that he would weep no more. The girl wrapped him[120] in her apron, and then all three of them set out in search of the missing treasure. At last Timothy saw in the water around some reeds a red object which a bull-frog was opening his mouth to swallow; and, wading into the stream, he was able to rescue the magic cap, dry it in the sun, and restore it to its happy little owner.

"And now," said the smiling elf, who appeared to have suddenly grown old and wise, "as for a whole long month I am without a home, what do you say to taking me to yours? You will never regret it, that I promise you."

The children told their new friend what a poor place their home was, but the elf smiled and shook his head as if he knew what he was about. He bade the children lead him to their cottage, and once across the threshold of the wretched place, where the drunken mother was sleeping heavily on a pallet of straw in the loft above, the elf took his perch upon the mantel-shelf.

"Next, since I am obliged to live with mortals, let me see what the magic cap can do."

He put on the cap and immediately disappeared from the children's sight. When night came, Timothy fell asleep, but Bess watched; and at midnight she saw[121] her new friend appear upon the hearth, conducting a perfect army of little workmen and workwomen. He waved his cap thrice around his head, and at once little carpenters set to building up the cottage-walls, little whitewashers made the ceilings wholesome, little painters covered all the woodwork with a coat of yellow. By sunrise what a change! The broken bricks of the floor were transformed into pretty blue and white tiles, lattice windows took the place of their old and dim ones, the pots and pans were scoured until they shone, roses looked in at the outer door, where rows of larkspur and of gillyflower, of bachelor's-button and "Love-in-a-mist" were growing on either side of a neat flagged walk to the garden gate. Instead of Timothy's old straw mattress, the boy lay on a clean white bed; and his sister, who had kept awake all night in utter wonderment, falling asleep at dawn, because her eyes refused to stay open any longer, found him shaking her arm, and begging her to come and share in the nice hot breakfast that—wonder of wonders!—their mother, sober, and clean, and smiling, had made ready at the fire.

It was a day of marvels! The mother seemed to have entirely forgotten her past degraded life, and[122] was once more the brisk and rosy woman Simon had fallen in love with. A dozen times a day she paused in her spinning, or weaving, or baking, to run to the gate and wonder when dear father would come back. Timothy worked in the garden, Bess sewed and helped her mother, not daring to tell what she alone knew of the magic change. That night Bess slept, and Timothy kept watch. At midnight the fairy appeared upon the hearth, leading a dozen little bakers in white caps and aprons.

"Now make ready fifty loaves of your best white bread, that the goodwife may sell them on the morrow!" the fairy ordered; and at once the tiny men set to work mixing and kneading and baking, and at daybreak there were fifty of the sweetest white loaves money could buy. The fame of Simon's widow soon spread through the village, and every one was eager to see the wonderful reform worked in her, no less than in her cottage. Her bread was bought up as fast as she could furnish it, and next night Bess watched while Timothy slept. Then Bess saw the fairy appear at midnight, followed by a swarm of bees like a cloud.

"Make fifty pounds of your clearest honey, that the goodwife may sell it on the morrow."[123]

The bees flew out of the door, and next morning the hives were found overflowing with luscious honey that smelt like a bed of clover all a-blow.

Next night came the bakers, and next night again the bees. Money flowed into the widow's purse as rapidly as it had once flowed out. Now was there lacking but one thing to complete their happiness, and that was the return of Simon to his family. Bess and Timothy together planned what they should do, and when the month had passed away, and the night of the full moon had come once more, neither went to bed, but both hid, watching for the coming of the sprite. Exactly at twelve o'clock, their kind little friend made his appearance, and summoning cooks and bees, ordered them to keep up their service on alternate nights, until the dame's coffers should be full to last a lifetime. Seeing him about to take leave, out rushed Timothy and Bess, threw themselves on their knees before the fairy, and, thanking him a thousand times over for his goodness, begged for one more act of grace—their father's release and restoration to his family. The fairy looked graver than they had ever seen him, and his brows puckered in a frown.

"Your father has committed an offence we never[124] pardon," he said, after a short silence. "He has been punished according to our laws, and must abide by the sentence, which is imprisonment for life."

The children burst into tears at this, and cried so that the fairy sneezed several times.

"I believe I am taking cold in all this dampness," he said, shivering slightly. "Come, dry up that deluge, and say good-by to me. The utmost I can do is to look up your father when I get back again, and tell him you are well and happy. I suppose you do not know that for some years past he has been attending our holiday frolics as musician, since our own best player broke his arm. Simon was under oath never to look at us, or to betray us, and this was the first time he transgressed. But our laws are very strict, and I am afraid to bid you even hope to see him again. One thing I may tell you. The king's chief counsellor has a mantle of red, worked with a device of six golden birds flying into a serpent's open jaws. If you should ever find that mantle, walk boldly to the oak-tree in the forest, knock three times, and cry, 'The King's Chief Counsellor!' Then you may be able to secure your father's freedom, but not else. And now, good-by to you."[125]

The good elf vanished, and Timothy and Bess spent more time than ever in the forest. They had now taken their mother into the secret, for she, poor woman, had become as gentle and loving as she had before been hard and cruel. The one desire of the entire family was to get possession of the chief counsellor's mantle, but nothing seemed more unlikely.

A year passed, and Timothy had gone out to look at his rabbit-trap without particularly thinking of what it might contain, when a tremendous bustle inside attracted his attention. Cautiously he lifted the door, and up sprang an angry little man in green, having a long white beard, and a hump upon his back, who vanished from sight as quickly as he had appeared. Timothy lamented the loss of such unusual game, and then espied at the bottom of the trap nothing less than a tiny cloak of red, embroidered with six golden birds flying into a serpent's open jaws!

He made a joyful dive after the little garment, but, strange to say, it stuck tight to the fingers of his right hand, dragging after it the trap. Timothy shook it and pulled at it in vain; there it was, and not to be dislodged.

He ran home and called Bess to his assistance. The[126] little girl came out, and no sooner had she touched her brother than she stuck fast to him. The mother flew to the rescue, and became fastened to her daughter; and there they all were, in a long string, not knowing whether to laugh or cry at their strange predicament. The only thing was to make a pilgrimage to the oak-tree in the forest. Timothy's dog followed them, and rubbed against his master's coat. He, too, stuck fast, and so did Bessy's cat. Everybody they passed upon the way was attracted to the queer family party, and before long a little army of curious people were compelled to walk along in the direction of the forest.

Timothy did not know the secret of the little cloak, which had power to attract everything to it, drawing even people's thoughts out of their hearts, as a magnet draws the needle. Only in fairy-land could the objects so attracted be set free.

When they reached the oak-tree in the forest, Timothy struck upon it three times and called with a bold voice, though not without a trembling of the legs, for the king's chief counsellor. The bark of the great tree cleft slowly open, and out came the same old white-bearded fairy he had captured in the rabbit-trap. Bowing[127] with mock humility, the old fellow asked what his visitors would be pleased to have.

"I demand my father, and also to be rid of this wretched little rag," said Timothy hotly.

"Step inside, step inside," said the elf with a malicious smile, for he knew that, once within, he might get the audacious mortals in his power, and force them to work his gold mines.

"Not a step will I go inside until I see my father," said Timothy firmly.

"Then here may you abide!" cried the old man, turning white with rage.

Timothy put one hand within the tree, holding the magic mantle at arm's-length.

"I demand my father," he cried in a loud voice.

The power of the mantle did not fail, for, rising from the darkness within, came poor blind Simon, stretching his arms toward his child, but holding tight his fiddle. At the moment Timothy's hand had come inside the fairy kingdom, the spell of enchantment was broken, and all of the strangely linked people were set free. Simon's wife and children threw their arms around him, and welcomed his return, while his neighbors shook his hand in warm congratulation. As for the[128] old fairy, he fairly danced with rage. With the mantle in Timothy's possession, half the chief counsellor's power and reputation for wisdom would pass away. He offered rich bribes of gold and jewels, he threatened, he howled, he grinned, he hurled curses on their heads, but Timothy was firm.

"Then name your price, you wretch!" cried the angry fairy.

"It is that you shall restore my father's eye-sight," said Timothy.

This went very hard with the wicked old elf, who had been congratulating himself that Simon would bear away at least one mark of fairy vengeance. But he had met his match in Timothy, and there was no escape for the chief counsellor, who, diving down into the cavern beneath the hollow tree, reappeared fetching a box of magic ointment, which, rubbed upon Simon's eyes, made them better than ever.

When Simon saw not only the light of day, but his two dear children, and his wife looking as he had known her in her blooming youth, he uttered a cry of delight.

Then, to relieve his feelings, he struck up the old "Wind that Shakes the Barley," when, behold, not only[129] all the people there assembled, but a score of little green folk, who had been in hiding, enjoying the discomfiture of the cross old counsellor, began to foot it on the greensward. Simon himself danced, and the old counsellor, sorely against his will, was forced to skip until his legs ached, for Timothy still held the mantle in his hand.

At last, when all were out of breath, the elf received his mantle. With a storm of angry words, he disappeared from sight. Immediately the sky darkened, a cold wind blew, and a shower of hail-stones fell upon our friends, sending them scampering and laughing away from the region where the fairy's spite prevailed.

Under the spell of the kind little sprite who had been their guest, the cottage was never approached by any unkind visitors. Simon fiddled and grew fat, his wife remained as sweet as fresh cream to the last day of her life, and their children came to be the pride of all the village.

So far as I have heard, that is the last visit Hayfield has had from the little men in green.


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