Once upon a time there was a Little Fairy who loved to wander by the river, and as the Fairy Queen does not like her subjects to go too near the water, the Little Fairy had to steal away. Always when they held a revel this Little Fairy would fly away from the dance and wander down by the river to watch the ripple of the water as it flowed over the pebbles and stones.
One night a Goblin, who always watched the fairies, happened to be sitting under a bush and saw the Little Fairy.
“What is she doing here all alone?” he said to himself. “She has run away from her sisters, and I am quite sure the Queen does not know where she is. I’ll watch her, and if she is up to mischief I’ll tell the Queen. Maybe she will give me a new red coat for telling her.”
Now, this little tell-tale Goblin began to watch, and pretty soon he saw a mist rise from the river; then it looked like foam, all silvery, in the moonlight.
And then suddenly as he watched, the goblin saw a handsome youth rise from the river and hold out his arms to the Little Fairy standing on the bank.
“Ah-ha!” said the Goblin. “She has a lover, has she? Well I’ll tell the Queen and I guess these midnight meetings will be stopped, and I am sure now I shall get a new coat for telling.”
The River Youth called to the Fairy just then, and the Goblin forgot the red coat to watch what happened.
“Come, my love,” called the White Youth, “take the willow path and you will be safe from the water.”
The Little Fairy flew to the willow tree beside the river and tripped lightly along a slender bough which dipped its tip into the water.
When she reached the end the White Youth was there to take her in his arms. He carried her to the middle of the river, where there was a little island, and the watching Goblin saw them sit upon the soft green grass in the moonlight, but he could not hear what they said.
“I’ll run and tell her Queen and let her catch them,” said the Goblin, and, forgetting that his red coat could be plainly seen in the moonlight, he jumped up and ran along the river bank toward the dell.
“Oh, oh!” cried the Little Fairy, with alarm, when she saw the Goblin, “whatever will become of me? There is a Goblin, and I am sure he has seen me and is going to tell the Queen. Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be banished.”
The River Youth, who really was a River God, reached for a horn of white shell which hung from his shoulder by a coral chain, and blew a shrill blast, and the Goblin fell upon his face on the ground.
“Rise!” called the River God, “and tell me where you are going?”
“Oh! Your Majesty,” said the sly little Goblin, “I was about to go to the Fairy Queen and tell her one of her fairies was being carried off, but of course I shall not do so now. I see whom she is with. I thought it was old Neptune himself and he might change her into a mermaid.”
The River God knew the bad little fellow was telling him a wrong story, but something must be done, so he pretended to believe the Goblin, and said: “Well, now you know the Fairy is safe, what can I do for you if you keep our secret?”
“Give me a silver cap,” said the Goblin, quickly.
“Very well. Come here to-morrow night at midnight hour and you shall have the cap if you have not told the Fairy Queen what you have seen,” said the River God.
The Goblin promised and off he ran to his home in the rocks, and the River God took the Fairy back to the willow tree. “Come tomorrow without your wand, my love,” he said; “we must not delay, now that the Goblin has seen us, for he cannot be trusted after he gets the silver cap.”
The next night the Goblin was by the river waiting when the Little Fairy arrived.
“Where is your wand?” he asked, for he saw at once she did not have it.
Before she could reply there was splash in the middle of the river and out of the mist and foam the River God lifted his head and called to the Fairy. At the same time he held up a little silver cap to the Goblin.
The Little Fairy went to her lover by the same path as before, but she took from his hand the little silver cap and tossed it to the Goblin before she flew into her lover’s outstretched arms.
“Now tell him where your wand is,” said the River God.
“I have left it behind me in the dell,” she said, blushing and hanging her head.
“What! are you not going back to the Queen?” asked the Goblin, in astonishment. “Are you to become a river sprite?”
“You have guessed it,” said the River God. “This night we are to be married at the bottom of the river. Farewell, you little tell-tale Goblin. I hope your silver cap fits your peaked little head.”
The Goblin watched the Fairy and her lover as they slowly sank from sight, and then he ran off as fast as he could to the dell to tell the Queen what he had seen. “I’ll get a red coat, too,” he said. “I did not promise not to tell to-night.”
The tell-tale Goblin was so bent on telling the Queen what he knew that he quite forgot his new silver cap until he reached the dell where the fairies were dancing; then throwing away his old cap, he clapped the silver cap on his head so hard he cried out with pain.
For a second he saw stars, and the cold silver felt very different from his soft, warm peaked cap which he had tossed aside.
The little fairies, seeing the Goblin hopping about in the moonlight, called to the Queen: “Oh, look, dear Queen. Drive away the Goblin; he acts quite mad and may mean mischief.”
The Queen, knowing that Goblins, when they were quite sane, were not friendly to her fairies, held up her wand and cast a ray of light straight into the Goblin’s eye. “Leave our dell,” she said, “or something will happen to you that you will not like.”
“Oh, wait, wait and hear what I have to tell!” called the Goblin. “I know a secret you must hear.”
“Oh, don’t listen to him, dear Queen!” said all the little fairies. “It is wrong to tell secrets. Go away, we will not listen.”
But the Goblin would not go; he wanted to win a red coat, and he was sure the Queen would give it to him for the secret he could tell.
“If you will give me a new red coat I will tell you something about one of your fairies you would like to know,” said the Goblin.
“Oh, what a funny head he has!” said a fairy as the Goblin lifted off the silver cap, because it was so uncomfortable.
All the fairies began to laugh, and on his head he clapped the cap again to hide his queer peaked head, and again the cap made him see stars until he jumped with pain.
“Oh, he is quite mad, you may be sure!” said the Queen.
“I am not mad. Listen and I will tell you the secret, and you will know then I am very clever to have discovered it,” said the Goblin. “But first I must know if you will give me the red coat. I shall not tell you if you do not.”
The tell-tale Goblin did not think for a minute the Queen of the fairies would refuse to pay to hear a secret, and when the Queen told him he was a bad, mad fellow and to be off, he was quite surprised.
“You will be sorry,” he said as he hopped away, and then he thought he would tell it, anyway, for what was the use of knowing a secret if you did not surprise others by showing how much you know.
Back he ran, but the fairies and their Queen put their fingers in their ears and ran away, so they could not hear. The telltale Goblin, however, was bound to tell, and he ran until he was near enough to shout: “She has married a River God and she left her wand in the dell; they gave me this silver cap not to tell.”
When the Queen and the fairies heard this they stopped and the Goblin thought they wished to hear more, so he went to them and said he would help them hunt for the wand, if they would come to the dell.
The Queen put her finger on her lips to warn the fairies not to speak, and back they went to the dell, following the Goblin, who was hopping and jumping along before them.
“Here it is,” he said, stooping to pick up a little gold wand.
“Hold!” cried the Queen; “do not touch it. I will pick it up, and now that you have told us the secret you shall have your reward.”
The Goblin hopped with delight, for he was sure the Queen would touch him with the wand and he would have a new red coat at once.
“You shall wear the silver cap the rest of your life,” she said, and before the Goblin could jump away the Queen tapped him on the head, and in place of the tell-tale Goblin there stood a silver thistle, all prickly and shining among the leaves and bushes.
“Your sister has left us, and we must forget her,” said the Queen as the fairies followed her home. “Let her be forgotten by you all; her wand shall be saved for a more worthy sister.”
The Little Fairy never regretted marrying her River God, for she lived happy ever after, and sometimes when they come up from the river bottom to sit in the moonlight she will say to the River God: “What do you suppose became of the Goblin? Do you think he ever told the Queen?”
“Of course he did,” replied the River God. “He ran as fast as he could to the Queen, but the silver cap was so uncomfortable for him to wear that I am sure he has discarded it long before this. So he gained nothing for playing the spy.”
“Perhaps his conscience pricked him and he is sorry,” said the Little Fairy.
The Little Fairy was right. The Goblin was sorry when it was too late, and the silver thistle swayed in the breeze. It tried to tell the breeze it was sorry for telling tales, but even the breeze did not wish to listen to a prickly thistle, so there it had to bloom unloved and alone the rest of its life.