DOWN among the grass and fragrant clover lay little Eva by the brook-side, watching the bright waves, as they went singing by under the drooping flowers that grew on its banks. As she was wondering where the waters went, she heard a faint, low sound, as of far-off music. She thought it was the wind, but not a leaf was stirring, and soon through the rippling water came a strange little boat.
It was a lily of the valley, whose tall stem formed the mast, while the broad leaves that rose from the roots, and drooped again till they reached the water, were filled with gay little Elves, who danced to the music of the silver lily-bells above, that rang a merry peal, and filled the air with their fragrant breath.
On came the fairy boat, till it reached a moss-grown rock; and here it stopped, while the Fairies rested beneath the violet-leaves, and sang with the dancing waves.
Eva looked with wonder on their gay faces and bright garments, and in the joy of her heart sang too, and threw crimson fruit for the little folks to feast upon.
They looked kindly on the child, and, after whispering long among themselves, two little bright-eyed Elves flew over the shining water, and, lighting on the clover-blossoms, said gently, “Little maiden, many thanks for your kindness; and our Queen bids us ask if you will go with us to Fairy-Land, and learn what we can teach you.”
“Gladly would I go with you, dear Fairies,” said Eva, “but I cannot sail in your little boat. See! I can hold you in my hand, and could not live among you without harming your tiny kingdom, I am so large.”
Then the Elves laughed gayly, as they folded their arms about her, saying, “You are a good child, dear Eva, to fear doing harm to those weaker than yourself. You cannot hurt us now. Look in the water and see what we have done.”
Eva looked into the brook, and saw a tiny child standing between the Elves. “Now I can go with you,” said she, “but see, I can no longer step from the bank to yonder stone, for the brook seems now like a great river, and you have not given me wings like yours.”
But the Fairies took each a hand, and flew lightly over the stream. The Queen and her subjects came to meet her, and all seemed glad to say some kindly word of welcome to the little stranger. They placed a flower-crown upon her head, laid their soft faces against her own, and soon it seemed as if the gentle Elves had always been her friends.
“Now must we go home,” said the Queen, “and you shall go with us, little one.”
Then there was a great bustle, as they flew about on shining wings, some laying cushions of violet leaves in the boat, others folding the Queen’s veil and mantle more closely round her, lest the falling dews should chill her.
The cool waves’ gentle plashing against the boat, and the sweet chime of the lily-bells, lulled little Eva to sleep, and when she woke it was in Fairy-Land. A faint, rosy light, as of the setting sun, shone on the white pillars of the Queen’s palace as they passed in, and the sleeping flowers leaned gracefully on their stems, dreaming beneath their soft green curtains. All was cool and still, and the Elves glided silently about, lest they should break their slumbers. They led Eva to a bed of pure white leaves, above which drooped the fragrant petals of a crimson rose.
“You can look at the bright colors till the light fades, and then the rose will sing you to sleep,” said the Elves, as they folded the soft leaves about her, gently kissed her, and stole away.
Long she lay watching the bright shadows, and listening to the song of the rose, while through the long night dreams of lovely things floated like bright clouds through her mind; while the rose bent lovingly above her, and sang in the clear moonlight.
With the sun rose the Fairies, and, with Eva, hastened away to the fountain, whose cool waters were soon filled with little forms, and the air ringing with happy voices, as the Elves floated in the blue waves among the fair white lilies, or sat on the green moss, smoothing their bright locks, and wearing fresh garlands of dewy flowers. At length the Queen came forth, and her subjects gathered round her, and while the flowers bowed their heads, and the trees hushed their rustling, the Fairies sang their morning hymn to the Father of birds and blossoms, who had made the earth so fair a home for them.
Then they flew away to the gardens, and soon, high up among the tree-tops, or under the broad leaves, sat the Elves in little groups, taking their breakfast of fruit and pure fresh dew; while the bright-winged birds came fearlessly among them, pecking the same ripe berries, and dipping their little beaks in the same flower-cups, and the Fairies folded their arms lovingly about them, smoothed their soft bosoms, and gayly sang to them.
“Now, little Eva,” said they, “you will see that Fairies are not idle, wilful Spirits, as mortals believe. Come, we will show you what we do.”
They led her to a lovely room, through whose walls of deep green leaves the light stole softly in. Here lay many wounded insects, and harmless little creatures, whom cruel hands had hurt; and pale, drooping flowers grew beside urns of healing herbs, from whose fresh leaves came a faint, sweet perfume.
Eva wondered, but silently followed her guide, little Rose-Leaf, who with tender words passed among the delicate blossoms, pouring dew on their feeble roots, cheering them with her loving words and happy smile.
Then she went to the insects; first to a little fly who lay in a flower-leaf cradle.
“Do you suffer much, dear Gauzy-Wing?” asked the Fairy. “I will bind up your poor little leg, and Zephyr shall rock you to sleep.” So she folded the cool leaves tenderly about the poor fly, bathed his wings, and brought him refreshing drink, while he hummed his thanks, and forgot his pain, as Zephyr softly sung and fanned him with her waving wings.
They passed on, and Eva saw beside each bed a Fairy, who with gentle hands and loving words soothed the suffering insects. At length they stopped beside a bee, who lay among sweet honeysuckle flowers, in a cool, still place, where the summer wind blew in, and the green leaves rustled pleasantly. Yet he seemed to find no rest, and murmured of the pain he was doomed to bear. “Why must I lie here, while my kindred are out in the pleasant fields, enjoying the sunlight and the fresh air, and cruel hands have doomed me to this dark place and bitter pain when I have done no wrong? Uncared for and forgotten, I must stay here among these poor things who think only of themselves. Come here, Rose-Leaf, and bind up my wounds, for I am far more useful than idle bird or fly.”
Then said the Fairy, while she bathed the broken wing,—
“Love-Blossom, you should not murmur. We may find happiness in seeking to be patient even while we suffer. You are not forgotten or uncared for, but others need our care more than you, and to those who take cheerfully the pain and sorrow sent, do we most gladly give our help. You need not be idle, even though lying here in darkness and sorrow; you can be taking from your heart all sad and discontented feelings, and if love and patience blossom there, you will be better for the lonely hours spent here. Look on the bed beside you; this little dove has suffered far greater pain than you, and all our care can never ease it; yet through the long days he hath lain here, not an unkind word or a repining sigh hath he uttered. Ah, Love-Blossom, the gentle bird can teach a lesson you will be wiser and better for.”
Then a faint voice whispered, “Little Rose-Leaf, come quickly, or I cannot thank you as I ought for all your loving care of me.”
So they passed to the bed beside the discontented bee, and here upon the softest down lay the dove, whose gentle eyes looked gratefully upon the Fairy, as she knelt beside the little couch, smoothed the soft white bosom, folded her arms about it and wept sorrowing tears, while the bird still whispered its gratitude and love.
“Dear Fairy, the fairest flowers have cheered me with their sweet breath, fresh dew and fragrant leaves have been ever ready for me, gentle hands to tend, kindly hearts to love; and for this I can only thank you and say farewell.”
Then the quivering wings were still, and the patient little dove was dead; but the bee murmured no longer, and the dew from the flowers fell like tears around the quiet bed.
Sadly Rose-Leaf led Eva away, saying, “Lily-Bosom shall have a grave tonight beneath our fairest blossoms, and you shall see that gentleness and love are prized far above gold or beauty, here in Fairy-Land. Come now to the Flower Palace, and see the Fairy Court.”
Beneath green arches, bright with birds and flowers, beside singing waves, went Eva into a lofty hall. The roof of pure white lilies rested on pillars of green clustering vines, while many-colored blossoms threw their bright shadows on the walls, as they danced below in the deep green moss, and their low, sweet voices sounded softly through the sunlit palace, while the rustling leaves kept time.
Beside the throne stood Eva, and watched the lovely forms around her, as they stood, each little band in its own color, with glistening wings, and flower wands.
Suddenly the music grew louder and sweeter, and the Fairies knelt, and bowed their heads, as on through the crowd of loving subjects came the Queen, while the air was filled with gay voices singing to welcome her.
She placed the child beside her, saying, “Little Eva, you shall see now how the flowers on your great earth bloom so brightly. A band of loving little gardeners go daily forth from Fairy-Land, to tend and watch them, that no harm may befall the gentle spirits that dwell beneath their leaves. This is never known, for like all good it is unseen by mortal eyes, and unto only pure hearts like yours do we make known our secret. The humblest flower that grows is visited by our messengers, and often blooms in fragrant beauty unknown, unloved by all save Fairy friends, who seek to fill the spirits with all sweet and gentle virtues, that they may not be useless on the earth; for the noblest mortals stoop to learn of flowers. Now, Eglantine, what have you to tell us of your rosy namesakes on the earth?”
From a group of Elves, whose rose-wreathed wands showed the flower they loved, came one bearing a tiny urn, and, answering the Queen, she said,—
“Over hill and valley they are blooming fresh and fair as summer sun and dew can make them. No drooping stem or withered leaf tells of any evil thought within their fragrant bosoms, and thus from the fairest of their race have they gathered this sweet dew, as a token of their gratitude to one whose tenderness and care have kept them pure and happy; and this, the loveliest of their sisters, have I brought to place among the Fairy flowers that never pass away.”
Eglantine laid the urn before the Queen, and placed the fragrant rose on the dewy moss beside the throne, while a murmur of approval went through the hall, as each elfin wand waved to the little Fairy who had toiled so well and faithfully, and could bring so fair a gift to their good Queen.
Then came forth an Elf bearing a withered leaf, while her many-colored robe and the purple tulips in her hair told her name and charge.
“Dear Queen,” she sadly said, “I would gladly bring as pleasant tidings as my sister, but, alas! my flowers are proud and wilful, and when I went to gather my little gift of colored leaves for royal garments, they bade me bring this withered blossom, and tell you they would serve no longer one who will not make them Queen over all the other flowers. They would yield neither dew nor honey, but proudly closed their leaves and bid me go.”
“Your task has been too hard for you,” said the Queen kindly, as she placed the drooping flower in the urn Eglantine had given, “you will see how this dew from a sweet, pure heart will give new life and loveliness even to this poor faded one. So can you, dear Rainbow, by loving words and gentle teachings, bring back lost purity and peace to those whom pride and selfishness have blighted. Go once again to the proud flowers, and tell them when they are queen of their own hearts they will ask no fairer kingdom. Watch more tenderly than ever over them, see that they lack neither dew nor air, speak lovingly to them, and let no unkind word or deed of theirs anger you. Let them see by your patient love and care how much fairer they might be, and when next you come, you will be laden with gifts from humble, loving flowers.”
Thus they told what they had done, and received from their Queen some gentle chiding or loving word of praise.
“You will be weary of this,” said little Rose-Leaf to Eva; “come now and see where we are taught to read the tales written on flower-leaves, and the sweet language of the birds, and all that can make a Fairy heart wiser and better.”
Then into a cheerful place they went, where were many groups of flowers, among whose leaves sat the child Elves, and learned from their flower-books all that Fairy hands had written there. Some studied how to watch the tender buds, when to spread them to the sunlight, and when to shelter them from rain; how to guard the ripening seeds, and when to lay them in the warm earth or send them on the summer wind to far off hills and valleys, where other Fairy hands would tend and cherish them, till a sisterhood of happy flowers sprang up to beautify and gladden the lonely spot where they had fallen. Others learned to heal the wounded insects, whose frail limbs a breeze could shatter, and who, were it not for Fairy hands, would die ere half their happy summer life had gone. Some learned how by pleasant dreams to cheer and comfort mortal hearts, by whispered words of love to save from evil deeds those who had gone astray, to fill young hearts with gentle thoughts and pure affections, that no sin might mar the beauty of the human flower; while others, like mortal children, learned the Fairy alphabet. Thus the Elves made loving friends by care and love, and no evil thing could harm them, for those they helped to cherish and protect ever watched to shield and save them.
Eva nodded to the gay little ones, as they peeped from among the leaves at the stranger, and then she listened to the Fairy lessons. Several tiny Elves stood on a broad leaf while the teacher sat among the petals of a flower that bent beside them, and asked questions that none but Fairies would care to know.
“Twinkle, if there lay nine seeds within a flower-cup and the wind bore five away, how many would the blossom have?” “Four,” replied the little one.
“Rosebud, if a Cowslip opens three leaves in one day and four the next, how many rosy leaves will there be when the whole flower has bloomed?”
“Seven,” sang the gay little Elf.
“Harebell, if a silkworm spin one yard of Fairy cloth in an hour, how many will it spin in a day?”
“Twelve,” said the Fairy child.
“Primrose, where lies Violet Island?”
“In the Lake of Ripples.”
“Lilla, you may bound Rose Land.”
“On the north by Ferndale, south by Sunny Wave River, east by the hill of Morning Clouds, and west by the Evening Star.”
“Now, little ones,” said the teacher, “you may go to your painting, that our visitor may see how we repair the flowers that earthly hands have injured.”
Then Eva saw how, on large, white leaves, the Fairies learned to imitate the lovely colors, and with tiny brushes to brighten the blush on the anemone’s cheek, to deepen the blue of the violet’s eye, and add new light to the golden cowslip.
“You have stayed long enough,” said the Elves at length, “we have many things to show you. Come now and see what is our dearest work.”
So Eva said farewell to the child Elves, and hastened with little Rose-Leaf to the gates. Here she saw many bands of Fairies, folded in dark mantles that mortals might not know them, who, with the child among them, flew away over hill and valley. Some went to the cottages amid the hills, some to the sea-side to watch above the humble fisher folks; but little Rose-Leaf and many others went into the noisy city.
Eva wondered within herself what good the tiny Elves could do in this great place; but she soon learned, for the Fairy band went among the poor and friendless, bringing pleasant dreams to the sick and old, sweet, tender thoughts of love and gentleness to the young, strength to the weak, and patient cheerfulness to the poor and lonely.
Then the child wondered no longer, but deeper grew her love for the tender-hearted Elves, who left their own happy home to cheer and comfort those who never knew what hands had clothed and fed them, what hearts had given of their own joy, and brought such happiness to theirs.
Long they stayed, and many a lesson little Eva learned: but when she begged them to go back, they still led her on, saying, “Our work is not yet done; shall we leave so many sad hearts when we may cheer them, so many dark homes that we may brighten? We must stay yet longer, little Eva, and you may learn yet more.”
Then they went into a dark and lonely room, and here they found a pale, sad-eyed child, who wept bitter tears over a faded flower.
“Ah,” sighed the little one, “it was my only friend, and I cherished it with all my lone heart’s love; ‘t was all that made my sad life happy; and it is gone.”
Tenderly the child fastened the drooping stem, and placed it where the one faint ray of sunlight stole into the dreary room.
“Do you see,” said the Elves, “through this simple flower will we keep the child pure and stainless amid the sin and sorrow around her. The love of this shall lead her on through temptation and through grief, and she shall be a spirit of joy and consolation to the sinful and the sorrowing.”
And with busy love toiled the Elves amid the withered leaves, and new strength was given to the flower; while, as day by day the friendless child watered the growing buds, deeper grew her love for the unseen friends who had given her one thing to cherish in her lonely home; sweet, gentle thoughts filled her heart as she bent above it, and the blossom’s fragrant breath was to her a whispered voice of all fair and lovely things; and as the flower taught her, so she taught others.
The loving Elves brought her sweet dreams by night, and happy thoughts by day, and as she grew in childlike beauty, pure and patient amid poverty and sorrow, the sinful were rebuked, sorrowing hearts grew light, and the weak and selfish forgot their idle fears, when they saw her trustingly live on with none to aid or comfort her. The love she bore the tender flower kept her own heart innocent and bright, and the pure human flower was a lesson to those who looked upon it; and soon the gloomy house was bright with happy hearts, that learned of the gentle child to bear poverty and grief as she had done, to forgive those who brought care and wrong to them, and to seek for happiness in humble deeds of charity and love.
“Our work is done,” whispered the Elves, and with blessings on the two fair flowers, they flew away to other homes;—to a blind old man who dwelt alone with none to love him, till through long years of darkness and of silent sorrow the heart within had grown dim and cold. No sunlight could enter at the darkened eyes, and none were near to whisper gentle words, to cheer and comfort.
Thus he dwelt forgotten and alone, seeking to give no joy to others, possessing none himself. Life was dark and sad till the untiring Elves came to his dreary home, bringing sunlight and love. They whispered sweet words of comfort,—how, if the darkened eyes could find no light without, within there might be never-failing happiness; gentle feelings and sweet, loving thoughts could make the heart fair, if the gloomy, selfish sorrow were but cast away, and all would be bright and beautiful.
They brought light-hearted children, who gathered round him, making the desolate home fair with their young faces, and his sad heart gay with their sweet, childish voices. The love they bore he could not cast away, sunlight stole in, the dark thoughts passed away, and the earth was a pleasant home to him.
Thus their little hands led him back to peace and happiness, flowers bloomed beside his door, and their fragrant breath brought happy thoughts of pleasant valleys and green hills; birds sang to him, and their sweet voices woke the music in his own soul, that never failed to calm and comfort. Happy sounds were heard in his once lonely home, and bright faces gathered round his knee, and listened tenderly while he strove to tell them all the good that gentleness and love had done for him.
Still the Elves watched near, and brighter grew the heart as kindly thoughts and tender feelings entered in, and made it their home; and when the old man fell asleep, above his grave little feet trod lightly, and loving hands laid fragrant flowers.
Then went the Elves into the dreary prison-houses, where sad hearts pined in lonely sorrow for the joy and freedom they had lost. To these came the loving band with tender words, telling of the peace they yet might win by patient striving and repentant tears, thus waking in their bosoms all the holy feelings and sweet affections that had slept so long.
They told pleasant tales, and sang their sweetest songs to cheer and gladden, while the dim cells grew bright with the sunlight, and fragrant with the flowers the loving Elves had brought, and by their gentle teachings those sad, despairing hearts were filled with patient hope and earnest longing to win back their lost innocence and joy.
Thus to all who needed help or comfort went the faithful Fairies; and when at length they turned towards Fairy-Land, many were the grateful, happy hearts they left behind.
Then through the summer sky, above the blossoming earth, they journeyed home, happier for the joy they had given, wiser for the good they had done.
All Fairy-Land was dressed in flowers, and the soft wind went singing by, laden with their fragrant breath. Sweet music sounded through the air, and troops of Elves in their gayest robes hastened to the palace where the feast was spread.
Soon the bright hall was filled with smiling faces and fair forms, and little Eva, as she stood beside the Queen, thought she had never seen a sight so lovely.
The many-colored shadows of the fairest flowers played on the pure white walls, and fountains sparkled in the sunlight, making music as the cool waves rose and fell, while to and fro, with waving wings and joyous voices, went the smiling Elves, bearing fruit and honey, or fragrant garlands for each other’s hair.
Long they feasted, gayly they sang, and Eva, dancing merrily among them, longed to be an Elf that she might dwell forever in so fair a home.
At length the music ceased, and the Queen said, as she laid her hand on little Eva’s shining hair:—
“Dear child, tomorrow we must bear you home, for, much as we long to keep you, it were wrong to bring such sorrow to your loving earthly friends; therefore we will guide you to the brook-side, and there say farewell till you come again to visit us. Nay, do not weep, dear Rose-Leaf; you shall watch over little Eva’s flowers, and when she looks at them she will think of you. Come now and lead her to the Fairy garden, and show her what we think our fairest sight. Weep no more, but strive to make her last hours with us happy as you can.”
With gentle caresses and most tender words the loving Elves gathered about the child, and, with Rose-Leaf by her side, they led her through the palace, and along green, winding paths, till Eva saw what seemed a wall of flowers rising before her, while the air was filled with the most fragrant odors, and the low, sweet music as of singing blossoms.
“Where have you brought me, and what mean these lovely sounds?” asked Eva.
“Look here, and you shall see,” said Rose-Leaf, as she bent aside the vines, “but listen silently or you cannot hear.”
Then Eva, looking through the drooping vines, beheld a garden filled with the loveliest flowers; fair as were all the blossoms she had seen in Fairy-Land, none were so beautiful as these. The rose glowed with a deeper crimson, the lily’s soft leaves were more purely white, the crocus and humble cowslip shone like sunlight, and the violet was blue as the sky that smiled above it.
“How beautiful they are,” whispered Eva, “but, dear Rose-Leaf, why do you keep them here, and why call you this your fairest sight?”
“Look again, and I will tell you,” answered the Fairy.
Eva looked, and saw from every flower a tiny form come forth to welcome the Elves, who all, save Rose-Leaf, had flown above the wall, and were now scattering dew upon the flowers’ bright leaves and talking gayly with the Spirits, who gathered around them, and seemed full of joy that they had come. The child saw that each one wore the colors of the flower that was its home. Delicate and graceful were the little forms, bright the silken hair that fell about each lovely face; and Eva heard the low, sweet murmur of their silvery voices and the rustle of their wings. She gazed in silent wonder, forgetting she knew not who they were, till the Fairy said,—
“These are the spirits of the flowers, and this the Fairy Home where those whose hearts were pure and loving on the earth come to bloom in fadeless beauty here, when their earthly life is past. The humblest flower that blooms has a home with us, for outward beauty is a worthless thing if all be not fair and sweet within. Do you see yonder lovely spirit singing with my sister Moonlight? a clover blossom was her home, and she dwelt unknown, unloved; yet patient and content, bearing cheerfully the sorrows sent her. We watched and saw how fair and sweet the humble flower grew, and then gladly bore her here, to blossom with the lily and the rose. The flowers’ lives are often short, for cruel hands destroy them; therefore is it our greatest joy to bring them hither, where no careless foot or wintry wind can harm them, where they bloom in quiet beauty, repaying our care by their love and sweetest perfumes.”
“I will never break another flower,” cried Eva; “but let me go to them, dear Fairy; I would gladly know the lovely spirits, and ask forgiveness for the sorrow I have caused. May I not go in?”
“Nay, dear Eva, you are a mortal child, and cannot enter here; but I will tell them of the kind little maiden who has learned to love them, and they will remember you when you are gone. Come now, for you have seen enough, and we must be away.”
On a rosy morning cloud, surrounded by the loving Elves, went Eva through the sunny sky. The fresh wind bore them gently on, and soon they stood again beside the brook, whose waves danced brightly as if to welcome them.
“Now, ere we say farewell,” said the Queen, as they gathered nearer to the child, “tell me, dear Eva, what among all our Fairy gifts will make you happiest, and it shall be yours.”
“You good little Fairies,” said Eva, folding them in her arms, for she was no longer the tiny child she had been in Fairy-Land, “you dear good little Elves, what can I ask of you, who have done so much to make me happy, and taught me so many good and gentle lessons, the memory of which will never pass away? I can only ask of you the power to be as pure and gentle as yourselves, as tender and loving to the weak and sorrowing, as untiring in kindly deeds to all. Grant me this gift, and you shall see that little Eva has not forgotten what you have taught her.”
“The power shall be yours,” said the Elves, and laid their soft hands on her head; “we will watch over you in dreams, and when you would have tidings of us, ask the flowers in your garden, and they will tell you all you would know. Farewell. Remember Fairy-Land and all your loving friends.”
They clung about her tenderly, and little Rose-Leaf placed a flower crown on her head, whispering softly, “When you would come to us again, stand by the brook-side and wave this in the air, and we will gladly take you to our home again. Farewell, dear Eva. Think of your little Rose-Leaf when among the flowers.”
Long Eva watched their shining wings, and listened to the music of their voices as they flew singing home, and when at length the last little form had vanished among the clouds, she saw that all around her where the Elves had been, the fairest flowers had sprung up, and the lonely brook-side was a blooming garden.
Thus she stood among the waving blossoms, with the Fairy garland in her hair, and happy feelings in her heart, better and wiser for her visit to Fairy-Land.
“Now, Star-Twinkle, what have you to teach?” asked the Queen.
“Nothing but a little song I heard the hare-bells singing,” replied the Fairy, and, taking her harp, sang, in a low, sweet voice:—
image source: corbis / A Rehearsal in Fairy Land by Richard Doyle (1870)