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´╗┐Title: The Little House in the Fairy Wood
Author: Eliot, Ethel Cook, 1890-1972
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Little House in the Fairy Wood" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



Devereux Lippitt Rorison



THE LITTLE HOUSE IN THE FAIRY WOOD

by

ETHEL COOK ELIOT


    TO TORKA AND NORTHWIND


CONTENTS

 I. MAGIC IN A MIST
 II. THE BRIGHT HOUSE
 III. FIRELIGHT
 IV. THE GOSSIP
 V. WORLD STORIES
 VI. AT THE HEART OF A TREE
 VII. TREE MOTHER AND THE DROWSY BOAT
 VIII. A WITCH AT THE WINDOW
 IX. THE WIND HUNT
 X. ON THE GRAY WALL
 XI. THE BEAUTIFUL WICKED WITCH
 XII. IVRA'S BIRTHDAY
 XIII. NORA'S GRANDCHILDREN
 XIV. SPRING COMES
 XV. SPRING WANDERING
 XVI. OVER THE TREE TOPS
 XVII. THE JUNE MOON
 XVIII. THE DEEPEST PLACE IN THE WOOD
 XIX. MORE MAGIC IN A MIST



CHAPTER I

MAGIC IN A MIST


That morning began no differently from any morning, though it was to be
the beginning of all things new for Eric. He was awakened early by Mrs.
Freg's rough hand shaking him by the arm, and her rough voice in his
ears: "Get up, lazy-bones! _All_ you boys pile out, this very minute!
It's six o'clock already!" Then she reached over Eric and shook the
other two boys in the bed with him, repeating and repeating "Wake up,
wake up! It's six o'clock already!" When she was sure the three boys in
the bed were awake and miserable, she crossed the room with a hurried,
heavy tread and clumped, clumped down the stairs into the kitchen.

Though it happened just that way every morning, and it had happened so
this morning, this day was to be very different from any other in Eric's
life. But Eric could not know that; so he crawled farther down under the
few bedclothes he had managed to keep to himself, and shut his eyes
again just for a minute.

The night had been a cold one, and the other two boys in the bed,
because they were older and stronger, had managed to keep most of the
bedding wrapped tightly around them, while little Eric shivered on the
very edge. So he had not slept at all in the way little boys of nine
usually sleep,--that is, when they have a bed to themselves, and their
mother has left a kiss with them. When he had slept, he had dreamed he
was wading in icy puddles out in the street.

But it was only a minute that he huddled there, trying to come really
awake, and then he sprang out, and without thought of a bath, was into
his clothes in a minute. The two older boys followed him more slowly,
yawning, growling, and quarreling.

Breakfast was served in the kitchen by Mrs. Freg. The room was bare and
ugly like the rest of the house, and the food was far from satisfying.
As the older boys got most of the bedding for themselves, so they got
most of the breakfast, while Mr. and Mrs. Freg laughed at them, and
praised them for fine, hearty boys who knew what they wanted and would
get it.

"You will succeed in the world, both of you," said Mrs. Freg with
mother-pride gleaming in her eyes, when they had managed to seize and
divide between them little Eric's steaming cup of coffee,--the only hot
thing he had hoped for that morning.

"Will I be a success, too?" asked Eric in a faint but hopeful voice.

"You!" said the harsh woman. "You, young man, had better be thankful to
work on at the canning instead of starving in the streets. That's the
fate of most orphans. Success indeed! Now hurry along, all of you. It's
quarter to seven."

But right here is where the day began to differ from other days. Eric
did not hurry along. He threw down his spoon and cried, "I'd just as
soon starve in the streets, and wade in its icy puddles, too, as live
here with you and your nasty boys and work in that old canning factory!
I just wonder how you'd feel if I went out this morning and never, never
came back! I'd like to do that!"

Mrs. Freg laughed, and her laugh was not a nice mother-laugh at all, for
she was not Eric's mother, and had never pretended that she was.

"Why, little spitfire, it wouldn't matter a bit except to make one less
mouth to feed. But you won't be so silly as that. You don't want to
starve."

"All right," said little Eric, snatching his cap from its peg. "You said
it wouldn't matter to you. You won't see me again, any of you. I hate
you all, and everything in the world. I hate you. You've made me hate
you hard!"

Then he suddenly ran out into the street.

In a minute he was in a flood of people, men, women and children moving
towards the canning factory, a big brick building on the outskirts of
the city. Eric had worked in that factory from the day he was seven.
There is no need to tell you what he did there, for this is not the
story of the canning factory Eric,--the queer, hating Eric who had waked
up that morning.

But how he did hate! His eyes were full of hating tears, and they were
running down his face, making horrid white streaks on his dirty cheeks.
He was hating so hard that he did not even care if people saw his tears.
He lifted his face straight up and dropped his arms straight down at his
side and walked right along, no matter how fast the tears came.

Now he had often hated before, but never quite like this. Before, it had
been a frightened hate, a gnawing, hurting thing deep down in his heart.
But to-day it was a flaring hate, a burning thing right up in his head.
It was big, too, because it included everything that he knew, Mrs. Freg,
her boys, the street, the people jostling him, and hottest and wildest
of all the canning factory. How terrible to go in there in the morning,
when the sun was only just up, and not to come out again until it was
quite down! Eric knew little about play, but he did know that if he
could only be let stay out in the sunshine he would find things to do
there. If they'd only let him try it once!

So he walked along in the direction the others were going, the hating
tears in his eyes and on his face. But no one laughed at him, and no one
asked him what was the matter, even the other children. For he was not
crying in the usual way with little boys. He was walking along with his
head up. So people did not bother him.

He had reached the outskirts of the town, and was almost in the shadow
of the big, cruel factory, when the Magic began to work. For there was
magic in this day that had started so badly. It was only waiting for
Eric to see it before it would take hold of him and carry him away into
happiness. It had waited for him at the door of the dull, bare little
house that had never been home to him, but his tears would not let him
see it. So it had followed along beside him all the way to the factory,
waiting for him to feel, even if he could not see. And he did
feel,--just in time to let the Magic work.

He felt that the day that had begun so freezingly was warm, strangely
warm. He wiped the tears from his eyes away to the side of his face with
his sleeve, and looked about. The sun was very bright, but in a mild,
pleasant way. And a tree on the other side of the street was showering
softly, softly, softly, yellow autumn leaves, until they covered the
cobblestones all around. Eric did not think about being late. The Magic
was pulling him now. He went across and stood under the tree, and felt
the leaves showering on his head and shoulders, and caught a few in his
hands.

All the people passed, and soon the last one was hidden behind the heavy
factory door. Eric gave the door a glance or two, but did not go. Over
the roof of the factory he saw the tops of tall trees waving. He had
never looked so high above the factory before. But he knew there was a
wood on the other side, a wood he had always been too tired to think of
exploring, even on holidays. Now he saw the tops of the tall trees
beckoning him in a golden mist. "The mist is the yellow leaves they're
dropping," thought Eric. With every beckon the golden mist of leaves
grew brighter and brighter, until he could not see the beckoning any
more, but only the mist. Still he knew the beckoning was going on behind
the mist.

"If I'm to live in the streets at night," he thought to himself,
"there's no need to live in the factory by day. I'll just go and see
what those trees want of me."

Very slowly, with little firm steps, he went by the factory door, and
then around under its windows to the wood at the back.

It was Indian Summer. That was why the golden leaves were showering in a
mist, and why the sun was so warm.

Eric dropped his ragged coat and cap on the edge of the wood,--it was so
warm,--and went in.

A little girl had been watching him from her place at one of the factory
windows where she was sorting cans. She had seen him before, working at
the factory, day after day, and they had played together sometimes in
the noon half hour. Now she wondered what he was doing out there. Had
they sent him, perhaps, to do a different kind of work that could only
be done in the woods? But as he walked away in under the trees farther
and farther, the golden mist that was over the wood drew in about him;
and although she leaned far forward over the cans at a great risk of
knocking over dozens and setting them rolling,--he was lost in it. It
had dropped down behind him like a curtain.



CHAPTER II

THE BRIGHT HOUSE


Eric knew nothing of the little girl and her thoughts. He was walking in
a golden mist, but he could see quite perfectly, and even far ahead down
long tree aisles. At first the trees did not grow very close together,
and there was little underbrush. Several narrow paths started off in
different directions,--straight little paths made by people who knew
where they were going. But Eric did not know where he was going, so he
struck off in a place where there was no sign of a path. Soon the trees
drew closer and closer together, until their branches locked fingers
overhead and shook the yellow leaves down for each other. The leaves
showered softly and steadily. Eric's feet rustled loudly in them.

Soon he stopped and took off his worn shoes and stockings. He left them
where he took them off and went on, barefoot. Now that he was only in
his shirt and trousers he began to run and leap. He leapt for the
drifting leaves, and he ran farther and farther into the happy
stillness.

The trees crowded and crowded, and the mist of leaves grew brighter and
brighter. No birds sang, for they had all flown away for the winter, and
there were no flowers. But the drifting leaves hid the bareness, and
magic covered everything.

After Eric had run and leapt and waded in the crackling pools of leaves
for a long time, he grew hungry. "But there is no food here," he
thought; "and anyway it doesn't matter. It's much better to be hungry
here than in the dirty streets."

He decided to go to sleep and forget about it. So he lay down in the
leaves. They fell over him, a steady, gentle shower, and he slept long,
and without dreaming anything.

But when he woke he was cold. And worse than that, the golden mist had
faded. It was almost twilight. The light was cold and still and gray.
While he slept Indian Summer had vanished and its magic with it.

Now no matter how fast Eric ran, or how high he jumped, he was chilly
through and through. But he did not think of trying to find the way out
of the wood. The streets would be as cold as the forest, and never,
never, never, if he starved and froze, was he going back to that house
in the village where he had lived but never belonged. So he went on
until the gray light faded, and the soft rustle of falling leaves
changed to the noise of wind scraping in bare branches. When he was very
cold, and ready to lie down and sleep again to forget, he came quite
suddenly on an opening in the trees. In the dim light he saw a little
garden closed in with a hedge of baby evergreens. The wind was rustling
through the stalks of dead flowers in the garden. But in the middle of
it was a little low house, and the windows and doors were glowing like
new, warm flowers.

Yes, it was a house and a garden away there in the wood, but no path led
to it through the forest, and there was a strangeness about it as about
no house or garden Eric had ever seen.

Although no path led through the wood to the house, a path did run
through the garden to the low door stone. Eric went up it and stood
looking in at the door, which was open.

The glow of the house came from a leaping, jolly fire in a big stone
fire-place, and from half a dozen squat candles set in brackets around
the walls. It was the one lovely room that Eric had ever seen. It was so
large that he knew it must occupy the whole of the little house. But in
spite of all the brightness, the comers were dim and far.

There were two strange people there, or they were strange to Eric
because they were so different from any people he had ever known. One
was a young woman who sat sewing cross-legged on a settle at the side of
the fire-place. About her the strangest thing was her hair. It was not
like most women's,--long and twisted up on her head. It was short, and
curled back above her ears and across her forehead like flower-petals.
It was the color of the candle-flames. But her face was brown, and her
neck and long hands were brown, as though she had lived a long time in
the sun. Her eyes that were lifted and scarcely watching the work in her
hands, were very quiet and gray.

She was watching and talking to a little girl who was skipping back and
forth between a rough tea-table set near the fire and an open
cupboard-door in the wall. She was carrying dishes to the table, and now
and then stopping to stir something good-smelling which hung over the
fire in a pewter pot, with a strong bent twig for a handle.

The child was strange in a very different way from her mother. The
mother, one could see, was merry in spite of her quiet eyes. But the
child was pale. Her face was pale and little and round. Her hair was
pale, too, the color of ashes, and braided in two smooth little braids
hanging half way down her back. She moved with almost as much swiftness
as the fire-shadows, and as softly too.

Both mother and daughter were dressed in rough brown smocks, with narrow
green belts falling loosely,--strange garments to Eric. And their feet
were bare.

But stranger than the house, stranger than the people in it, was the
fact that the mother was talking to the little girl just as people of
the same age talk to each other; and though Eric was shaking with cold
and aching with hunger, he could still wonder deeply at that.

"It's a long way 'round by the big pine," she was saying; "but you see I
am home in time for supper. Suppose I had not come until after dark.
What would you have done, Ivra?"

The little girl stopped in her busy-ness to stand on one foot and think
a second. "Why, I'd have put the supper over the fire, lighted the
candles, and run out to meet you."

"Oh, but you wouldn't know which way to run. I might come from any
direction."

"I'd follow the wind," cried Ivra, lifting her serious face and rising
to her tiptoes, one arm outstretched, as though she were going to follow
the wind right then and there.

It was at that minute they noticed the door had blown open, and that a
little boy was standing in it, looking at them.

But they neither stared nor exclaimed. Ivra ran to him, her arms still
outstretched in the flying gesture, and drew him in. His dirty face was
streaked with tears, and his legs and feet were blue with the cold. They
knew it was not question-time, but comfort-time, so the mother folded an
arm about him, and Ivra skipped more rapidly than ever between the
cupboard and the table. Almost at once supper was ready, and the table
set for three. As the last thing, Ivra brought all the candles and set
them in the middle of the table. They sat down,--Eric with his back to
the fire. It warmed him through and through, but their friendly faces
warmed him more.

Very little was said, but when the meal was nearly over Ivra asked him
how long he was going to stay with them. Immediately he stopped eating
and dropped his spoon. His eyes filled with tears. He had utterly
forgotten about his plight until then,--how he was homeless, workless
and bound to starve and freeze sooner or later. Ivra's mother saw the
misery in his face and quietly spoke, "We hope for a long time. As long
as you want to, anyway. Three in a wood will be merrier than two in a
wood. . . . If you like me I will be your mother."

Ivra clapped her hands. "Stay always," she cried. "I will be your
playmate. There will be many playmates besides, too, and I will help you
find them."

Eric glowed. The hatred that had been flaring in his head suddenly
faded, and the heavy thing that had been his heart for as long as he
could remember, became light as thistledown. He looked at the mother and
the kindness in her eyes made him tremble. "I will stay and be your
child," he said.



CHAPTER III

FIRELIGHT


When supper was done the three put away the supper things, carried the
table back to its place in the corner, and set the candles in their
brackets about the walls. Then almost at once the mother said it was
bath-time and bed-time.

Bath-time! Baths had been rare in Eric's life, and when they did happen
were unhappy adventures,--cold water in a hand basin in the kitchen
sink, a scratchy sponge, and a towel too small. So if Mrs. Freg had said
"bath-time and bed-time" to him now, he might have run away. But if
Ivra's mother said it, it must be. She was _his_ mother too, now, and he
loved her and thought her beautifully strange.

A surprise was waiting for him. The bath was a deep basin set in the
wall. There was a fountain in it that one had only to turn on to have
the basin fill with clear water. Eric slipped out of his ragged shirt
and trousers and climbed up into it. The fountain came splashing down on
his dusty, shaggy head, falling in rivulets down his back and breast. He
was like a bird taking a bath; there was such happy splashing and
dipping.

But no bird had ever the gentle soft drying, or was wrapped in such a
warm night gown as the mother found for Eric. It was one of Ivra's night
gowns, but quite large enough. Then she tucked him into a narrow couch
far from the fire. It was the first time Eric could ever remember having
slept alone.

Ivra was already in a bed against the opposite wall. Before the mother
got into hers, which was open and ready for her, she blew out all the
candles and opened the door and windows.

"Good night, my lambs," she said, and a very few minutes afterwards Eric
could see by the firelight that his mother and playmate were asleep.

How cold the wind felt as it blew over his face! But how warm and snug
his body was, there in the soft, clean night gown between the light,
warm blankets! How fine to be there so warm in bed while his cheeks grew
red in the cold air and burned deliciously. How could he ever sleep? He
was too happy!

He looked at the fire. And then he looked harder. It was not a fire at
all, but a young girl, all bright and golden, sitting with her head
drowsily bent forward on her knees and her arms wrapped close about her
legs. But as he watched she slowly lifted her bright head, and looked
quietly about the room. Then she gradually and beautilully rose and
stepped out of the fireplace onto the floor. Slowly she moved across to
the mother's couch and stood still as though looking down at her. Slowly
she bent and drew the bed-clothes higher about her shoulders, and kissed
the flower-petal hair curled back on the pillow.

She moved then to Ivra's couch, still slowly and very beautifully, and
Eric could see her smile at the little one huddled there, half on her
face, one arm thrown up over her head. Gently the fire-girl rolled her
into a relaxed position on her side, tucked in the flung arm, and kissed
the closed eyelids.

Then she stood a minute, looking away, Eric did not know where. But his
heart began to ache with wonder and longing. Would she come to him
too--or was he only a stranger?

He lay still, watching her from his dark corner. At last she stopped
looking away, and came across the floor to him. She brought all the
brightness of the room with her, and her feet made no sound on the
boards. When she stood above him he shut his eyes, though he wanted very
much to look up into her face. She bent down and her hands smoothed his
covers, warmed his pillow and lay still for a minute like sunlight on
his cheek.

When he opened his eyes again, she had gone back to the fireplace, all
her brightness with her, and was resting there, a drowsy, golden girl,
her head bent forward on her knees and her slim arms wrapped close about
her legs.

Eric lay and watched her for many sleepy minutes while her light fell
dimmer and dimmer, lower and lower. When it was just a tiny flicker he
dropped to sleep.



CHAPTER IV

THE GOSSIP


He slept long and deeply, for when he woke he felt rested. But he did not
open his eyes. "It must be time for Mrs. Freg to shake me," he was
thinking. "Until she does I'll just stay as I am and pretend it wasn't a
dream, but real." For although he remembered very well all that had
happened to him yesterday, he could not believe it was true.

So he lay still in his snug bed, wondering that Mrs. Freg's boys had
left him so much of the bed-clothes. "How fine to have a little time to
pretend a dream!" he said to himself. But Mrs. Freg did not come and did
not come, until at last he opened his eyes, just in wonderment. "It must
be six o'clock!"

When he saw where he was, and that the dream was true, his heart almost
stood still for joy. He was indeed far away in the woods, safe and snug
and warm in this bright house, and Mrs. Freg could never reach him here.
And he would not go to the canning factory that day, nor the next, nor
the next, nor ever again. The new mother had said so. His happiness
brought him up in bed wide awake, and then he got out. He had not
learned to bound out yet, but that came.

The fire was burning merrily. All was in order, the beds made and pushed
back against the wall, the hearth swept, and some clusters of bright red
berries arranged above the fireplace. But where were Ivra and
Helma?--Ivra had called her mother "Helma" last night, and so it was
that Eric already called her and thought of her. There was not the
tiniest sign of them.

Oh, but yes. There on the floor near the hearth lay a little brown
sandal, one of its strings pulled out and making a curlycue on the
floor. That must belong to Ivra. The fire, the red berries, and the
little, worn sandal, seemed to be wishing Eric a good morning and a
happy day. There was plenty of mush in the pot swinging over the fire,
and on the table drawn up to it, a wooden spoon, a bowl, and a jug of
rich cream. So they had not forgotten him. They had only let him sleep
as long as he would. They must have stolen about like mice, getting
breakfast, clearing up, and tidying the room; and then closed the door
very softly behind them when they went out.

And wonder of wonders! After yesterday's Indian Summer, outside it was a
wild winter day. Gusts of snow were hurling against all the windows of
the house, and blowing a fine spray under the door. Eric with his face
against a windowpane could see only as far as the evergreen hedge
because the trees beyond were wreathed in whirling snowclouds. The dead
flowers in the garden were hidden under the blowing snow. The little
straight walk up to the door was lost in it, and the footprints Ivra and
Helma must have made when they went away were hidden too.

Something red blew against the hedge. For a minute Eric thought it was a
big bird. But it found the opening and came through, and then he saw it
was a little old woman. She came briskly up to the house, a red cape
blowing about her, sometimes right up over her head, for because of the
jug she was carrying she could not hold it down. She walked in without
stopping to knock and was as surprised to see Eric there as he was to
see her. But she got over it at once.

"Good morning," she said cheerfully, going across the room, whisking a
pitcher out of the cupboard and emptying her jug of milk into it. "This
is the milk for them, and it's as much as ever that I got here with it.
The wind is in a fine mood-pushed me here and there all the way through
the wood, and tried to steal my cape from me, say nothing of Helma's
milk! Perhaps some of the Wind Creatures wanted them, or it might be old
Tree Man himself, looking for a winter cape for his daughter. But I
said, 'No, no. The milk is for Helma and little Ivra! I take it to them
every morning and I'll take it this morning whether or no, so pull all
you like--cape or milk you'll not get. The cape has a good clasp, and
I've a good hold of the jug. Pull away!"

Here the old woman--the pitcher put away, and the cupboard door
closed--dropped down on the settle and waited for Eric to speak. She was
a jolly little old woman, one could see at a glance. Her face was the
color of a good red apple, and just as round and shiny. Her eyes were
beady black, bright and quick, and surrounded by a hundred finest
wrinkles, that all the smiles of her life had made. Her mouth was pursed
up like a button, out of which her words came shooting, quick and bright
and merry.

Eric stood looking at her, not thinking to say anything. So after the
briefest pause she went on, peeping into the pot.

"I see you have some mush here, so as I've come all the way from the
farm and am ready for a second breakfast after my tussle with the wind,
I'll share it with you. Or perhaps you have had yours already."

"No, no," cried Eric, suddenly remembering how hungry he was and hoping
she would not take it all. "I have just waked up."

"So. Then we'll breakfast together," and away she flew to the cupboard
again and brought out a second bowl and spoon. Then she stirred the mush
round and round a few times and dished it up. Eric noticed that she
divided it exactly evenly. She flooded both bowls with cream, and
together they sat down to it. What a good breakfast that was, and how
fast the little old woman talked!

But in spite of all her talking and flying around she had looked Eric up
and down and through and through, and made up her mind what kind of a
person he was. What she saw was a pale little boy of nine in a ragged
shirt and trousers, and barefooted. His hair was shaggy and unbrushed
but tossed back from a wide brow. His mouth was sullen. But she forgot
all about shabby clothes, unbrushed hair, and sullen mouth when she came
to his eyes. They were wide and clear, and returned the old woman's keen
glance with a gaze of steady interest. Sullen and pale, but
clear-eyed--she liked the little stranger. And so she went on talking.

"I bring them milk every day. It's a long way here from my farm, but not
too far when it's for them. Helma's gone into the village, hasn't she?
When I came to Little Pine Hill this morning the snow stopped whirling
for a minute, and I caught a glimpse of her a-striding across the
fields. It's a fine way of walking she has--like the bravest of Forest
People! When I reached the Tree Man's the wind didn't stop for me, but I
spied that child, Ivra, just where I knew she'd be,--racing and chasing
and dancing with the Snow Witches out at the edge of the wood. 'It's a
pity she can't go with her mother,' I said to myself when I saw her,
'and not be wasting her time like that. The Snow Witches are no good to
any one. But--'"

Eric interrupted there, having finished his mush and pricking up his
cars at the mention of witches.

"Are they really witches?" he cried. "And have you seen them yourself?"

"What else would they be?" asked the old woman. "They're the creatures
that come out in windy, snowy weather, to dance in the open fields and
run along country roads. Ordinary people are afraid of them and stay
indoors when they're about. Their streaming white hair has a way of
lashing your face as they rush by, and then they never look where
they're going. They care nothing about running into you and knocking the
breath out of you. Then, they're so cruel to children!"

"But Ivra isn't afraid of them!" wondered Eric.

"Not she," said the old woman. "She runs _with_ them instead of away
from them. When I saw them back there they had all taken hands and were
leaping in a circle around her. She was jumping and dancing in the
center as wild and lawless as they, and just as high, too. . . . But it's a
pity she isn't with her mother all the same, going on decent errands in
the village. Only of course it's not her fault, poor child! She daren't
go into the village."

"Why _daren't_ she?" asked Eric.

"_How_ dare she?" cried the old woman. "She'd be seen, for she's only
part fairy, of course. But hush, hush!"

She clapped her hands over her mouth. "What am I telling you,--one of
the secrets of the forest, and you a stranger here? You must forget it
all. Ivra's a good child. Now don't ask me any more questions, or I
might tell you more."

But Eric had begun to wonder. What did it mean, that Ivra was part
fairy? And why wasn't it safe for her to be seen in the village? And
were there really witches, and was she playing with them out there in
the wild day?

The old woman was talking on, but he heard no more.

Then the door blew open in a snowy gust of wind, and there stood Helma,
the mother, her arms full of bundles, her cheeks ruddy from the wind,
and her short hair crisp and blown.



CHAPTER V

WORLD STORIES


Now Eric learned that the old woman's name was Nora, for that was what
Helma called her, and seemed glad to find her there. She stayed on only
long enough to see what Helma had brought in her bundles, and then
started out for the farm, drawing her red cape closely about her this
time, and not blowing much as she walked briskly to the gap in the
hedge. Once through she disappeared quickly in the high drifting snow.
Hardly had she gone her way when Ivra came from another, jumping the
hedge and reaching the door in three bounds.

Helma had bought a good deal of thick brown cloth in the village and a
strip of brown leather. It was all for Eric. She had noticed his lack of
shoes and stockings last night, and that his worn clothes were much too
poor and thin for winter in the forest. To-day, while she sewed for him,
he would have to stay in. That was a pity, for it is such fun out in a
storm. By night, though, all would be finished.

"And that is good!" exclaimed Ivra. "For to-night the Tree Man has asked
us to a party. We're going to roast chestnuts and play games, and
there's to be a surprise, too. The Tree Girl called it all out to me as
I passed just now. She put only her head through the door, for the snow
came so suddenly it caught her without a single white frock,--only a
bonnet. But that was pretty. It has five points like a star, mother."

"The Tree Girl," said Eric. "What a queer name! But how did she know
about me to ask me too? Did she ask me?"

"I told her about you. And of course she asked you. You are my
playmate!"

Helma pulled a table to the settle and sat down with all the brown cloth
before her, a work-basket, and shears. But first she measured Eric for
his new clothes.

"You may make the leggins, if you want to," she said to Ivra, "and when
you come to a hard place tell me and I will help. You may even measure
them yourself.... We're the only Forest People, Eric, who wear anything
but white in the winter. Most Forest People like to be the color of
their world. They often laugh at us. But I like brown. Ivra makes me
think of a brown, blown leaf, and now here will be two of them! You can
blow together all over the forest."

Eric's eyes swam in sudden, happy tears, but he only said, "_Nora_ wore
red."

"Oh, she's not one of us," laughed Helma. "But she's lived close to us
so long, she is able to see us. We aren't afraid of her. She's a good
neighbor."

But why might they be afraid of such a nice old woman, Eric wondered. He
was to learn sometime, and much beside, for this was the beginning of
new things for him, and his mother, Helma, and Ivra were strange people.
But how he loved them!

"Now that we are settled at our work, and nothing to interrupt, what
shall it be?" asked Helma. She and Ivra were sewing briskly, one in each
corner of the settle. Eric was stretched on the floor, looking now into
the blaze, and now up at the windows where the snow tapped and swirled;
for to-day,--Helma had said,--was to be a rest day for him. It was the
first rest day he could remember, and how _good_ it was! To know he
could lie there with no cans to sort or label for hours, and no Mrs.
Freg to boss him about when work was over! There were to be no more cans
for him forever, and no more Mrs. Freg. Helma had said that quite
firmly. He believed her and was so happy that he trembled. And so, it
being true that never again should he go back to that unchildlike life
that had frightened him so, and tired him so, all the breaths he drew
felt like sighs of relief, and he turned his shaggy little head on his
arm, crooked under it, and watched Helma's flying brown fingers with
glad eyes.

"What shall it be?" asked Helma.

"Oh, World Stories, please," said Ivra, drawing her feet up under her as
she bent over her sewing.

"Eric probably knows very few of the World Stories," said Helma. "So
sometime I shall have to go back to the beginning and tell them all over
for him."

"And I'll stay and hear them over again too!" cried Ivra, dropping her
work to clasp her hands. "I love to hear stories over."

"Why, better than that, you might tell them yourself. Would you like
that?"

"Oh, yes--if I can. Do you suppose I can, mother Helma? I shall begin at
the very beginning, way back before men were in the world at all, or
fairies even. He'd like to hear about the big animals. And you will
listen, mother, to see that I get it all right?"

Now these World Stories of Helma's were wonderful stories, but all true.
They began way back when the Earth was young. There were stories about
the Earth itself, how it hung in space and turned, making day and night.
When the strange, great animals that by-and-by appeared on the Earth and
have since gone from it first came into the stories, and then, later,
the floods and glaciers, and at last the first man,--any child might
have listened with delight and wonder. Ivra had listened so ever since
she was a tiny girl, old enough to understand at all. And with man, and
the wonderful happenings that came along with him, Ivra had begged for
the stories day and night, and never could have enough of them. For then
in a great procession came the stories of cities and nations, of great
men and women, of explorations and adventures. They led in turn to
stories of languages and writing, of painting and geometry, of music and
of life. The names of these things may not promise good stories to you,
but that is only because you do not know them as stories. If you could
listen to Helma telling them, by the fire, or out in the starlight, deep
in the wood, or swinging in a tree-top,--then no other stories you might
ever hear would satisfy you quite. So perhaps it is as well you do not
know now just where Helma's little house is standing deep in the wood
under the snow.

Ivra always said that the nicest thing about the stories was the
interruptions. Helma never minded them, and she answered all the
questions Ivra asked. She answered them by making things that Ivra could
see with her own eyes, by drawing pictures on the ground or in the
ashes, building with earth or snow, playing with wind and water, and in
a hundred other ways. Sometimes the answer to a question would take up
the playtime of a whole day.

But now Eric was to hear his first story, World Story or any other kind.
Can you imagine how it would feel if to-day you were to hear the first
story of your life?

"All ready?" asked Helma.

The silence in the room said plainer than words that all was ready for
the World Story. This time it was a story about a man named Saint
Francis, and a story after Eric's own heart.

Almost as fast as the story went the work of Helma's fingers. But Ivra
was neither so swift nor so skilled, and the leggins were dropped many
times from forgetful hands because all her thoughts were gone away
following the story.

Yet somehow the leggins got done, and the jacket and trousers got done,
and even a little round cap, and all before dusk. For a finishing touch
Helma sewed two soft little brown feathers she had picked up in the snow
one on either side of the cap,--which gave Eric, small as they were and
soft as they were, a look of flying.

Then nothing remained but the sandals, and because Eric was well rested
by then, he was allowed to help at them. They were cut from the strip of
brown leather, and Helma showed Eric how to shape them and sew them
himself. So after supper he stood attired, all in brown, a pale, happy
child, ready for his first party.

Ivra and Eric were to go to the Tree Man's party alone, for Helma was
going far away from the wood to spend the evening with a comrade. It was
to be a very long walk for her, for she put on her heaviest sandals and
pulled the hood of her cloak up over her hair.

She walked with the children as far as Little Pine Hill. It was a low
hill, bare of trees, except for a dwarfed pine on the top. In summer the
slope was slippery with the needles of the little pine, but now it was
several inches deep in snow. It was bright starlight, and far away down
an avenue of trees, Eric saw shining open fields, and beyond them the
lights of the town.

There Helma said good-by. Eric looking up at her in the starlight saw
her hair like pale firelight under her dark hood and her eyes so calm
and friendly. He clung to her hand for a minute.

"Have a good time," she told them. Ivra leapt away and Eric after her.
Helma stood watching until their little forms had flickered out of sight
among tree-shadows. Then she sped down the starlit avenue towards the
open fields and the town.



CHAPTER VI

AT THE HEART OF A TREE


Ivra and Eric ran until the stars were almost lost to them under the snow
roof of the forest. Once Eric stopped to tie his sandal-string which had
loosened and was bothering him. Then the stillness of the world startled
him.

He cried to Ivra to wait, and she came back to his side. "Don't be
frightened," she comforted. "There are Forest People near us. They would
walk with us, for some of them are going to the party too, but they are
afraid of you. That's why they've drawn their white hoods over their
heads and keep away. Once we are inside the Tree Man's, though, it will
be all right. They'll come in too, and not be afraid any more."

"But why are they afraid of me?" asked Eric, tugging at his
sandal-string. "No one else has ever been afraid of me. Even Juno, Mrs.
Freg's cat, who was afraid of 'most every one, liked me and jumped into
my lap. Why are the Forest People afraid?"

"Well, they are Forest People, you see, and you are an Earth Child.
Mother and I weren't afraid of you, of course, because,--we aren't
exactly Forest People."

Ivra paused and the silence came back. Eric looked up at her.

"Are you cold?" he asked.

"No, no." But she began to jump up and down and knock her heels together
to get warm. Eric still struggled with his lacings. Ivra stopped jumping
and went down on her knees in the snow to straighten them out for him.
Eric's fingers were awkward with knots, and besides, now, they were numb
with the cold. But Ivra had everything right in a minute. She crossed
the strings over his instep and tied them snugly above his ankle almost
before he could think. Then they ran on. In starlit spaces Eric caught
glimpses of hurrying figures, so swift and light he could not tell
whether they walked or flew. Their cloaks sparkled white in starlight
until he was not sure but they might be starbeams, and not Forest People
at all.

One suddenly started up just at his elbow, and was away like the wind.
Ivra began to run and to call after it. "Wild Star! Silly Wild Star!
It's only I, Ivra, and my playmate. Wait for us!"

Eric followed her, running as fast as he could, but the snow held him
back, and all the trees in the forest seemed to gather to stand in his
way. Ivra came back to him, laughing. "They are so afraid of you! No one
will come near us until the Tree Man is there to protect him."

Soon they came to a big beech-tree standing in an open space with
smaller beeches making a circle around it. The starlight showed,
strangely, a narrow door in the trunk. Ivra pushed it open and Eric
followed in after her, wondering at going into a tree.

They were on a flight of stairs lighted by starlight from a window
somewhere high up. At the head of the flight they came to a door, and
through the crack beneath it streamed a warmer light than starlight.
Ivra opened that door gayly, and through it with her, Eric went to his
first party.

It was the jolliest room in all the world. The firelight and candlelight
did not reach so far as the walls, but left them in soft darkness. So
Eric had the feeling that the room was really much too large to be
inside of a tree. But in spite of its bigness, it was very cozy. The
fireplace was in the middle of the floor, just a great hollowed boulder,
heaped with crackling twigs.

The candles, red, green, yellow, brown and orange, stood circlewise on a
table by which the Tree Man sat, carving a doll out of a stick. A
workbasket on the table was overflowing with bright threads and pieces
of queer cloth.

Eric saw these things because just for a minute he was too shy to look
at the people in the room. Almost at once he had to look at the Tree
Man, however, for he came and shook him by the shoulders. Eric had been
shaken by the shoulders before, so he shrank away. But this was very
different from Mrs. Freg's shakings. The Tree Man was chuckling, not
scolding, and the dark eyes that Eric looked up above the long white
beard to find were friendly and wise.

"Do not fear us, little Earth Child," he said. "It is we that have cause
to fear you. You have only to blink your eyes, pretend to be knowing,
and we are nothing. But your eyes are so wide and so clear, we trust
you. Ivra told us there was not the tiniest shadow in them, not even the
shadow of leaf. Only hunger. But we're not afraid of hunger. Come, have
a good time at the party."

Then the Tree Girl, the Tree Man's daughter, came to him. She was shy,
and shook all her soft brown hair about her cheeks. A circle of little
yellow leaves kept her hair from her eyes, which, in spite of her
bashfulness, were steady and kind like her father's. "I am glad you are
here." she said. From that minute Eric felt at home in the tree.

Eric and Ivra were the first of the guests. The others perhaps had been
too scared to come. But soon knock after knock sounded at the door, and
in flocked the Forest People who had been invited.

First came the Bird Fairies, five of them together, merry and good
little creatures as ever lived in the wood. They had arrived only that
day from their summer homes in the far north, 'way up among the
snow-barrens. They always spent the winter in this wood, living in the
empty birds' nests and spending their time making up songs to teach the
birds that would come back in the spring. Bird Fairies cannot sing a
note themselves, nor carry an air, but they make up fine songs for the
spring birds, who while they can sing with beautiful voices really have
but few ideas.

They are fluffy, cuddly, swift little creatures, tiny and quiet. One
might think them of little account just at first, but not for long. For
they are the farthest-traveled of all the Forest People, except the Wind
Creatures only. Now they were fluttering in, and off came their white
cloaks and forth they hopped in bright colors, little feet twinkling and
pattering, little wings lifting and wavering. They gathered around the
Tree Man, nestling in a row on his shoulder, running up and down his
arms, giving all of the news of their long journey into his ear. He
chuckled and chuckled and soon sat down by the table again, nodding his
head with delight at the tales they were telling him.

Meanwhile, another group entered,--the Forest Children. The Forest
Children are little girls and boys who live all by themselves in moss
houses deep in the thickest of the forest, and know nothing of mothers,
nurses or schools. They came tumbling, cheering, and skipping in, curls
bobbing, eyes shining. When their white cloaks were taken off with the
help of the Tree Girl and Ivra, it was plain to see that they had no
mothers. Their frocks were torn and stained, and half their
sandal-strings untied and flapping. The Tree Girl sighed as she patted
the bobbing curls into some order, tied the laces and straightened a
buckle here and there.

Now the room was musical with sound.

The last guest arrived, Wild Star, who had run away from Eric in the
forest. He was a Wind Creature. Wind Creatures are growing-up girls and
boys who live near the edge of the forest. Like all fairies, they can
only be seen by Earth People on a day that is clearer than a day should
be, or by people like Eric who have no shadows in their eyes.

Wild Star dropped his bright white cloak as he entered. His wings were
purple, the color of early morning, high and pointed. But they clapped
themselves neatly down his back to avoid the ceiling. He was a beautiful
boy, wild and starry, and that is how he got his name. Wind Creatures
are strong and swift, a little too wide-awake and far-traveled to be
very intimate with the Forest People. But Wild Star, though he was as
swift and strong as any, often came to the Tree Man's, and often played
with the Forest Children in their moss village for days together. He
loved the Tree Man, and now he sat down cross legged by him, and laid
his bright cheeck against his knee.

So the party began.



CHAPTER VII

TREE MOTHER AND THE DROWSY BOAT


"Let's play hide-and-go-seek," cried the Forest Children, for that is
always their favorite game.

Up jumped Wild Star, down fluttered the Bird Fairies, in crowded the
Forest Children, and the Tree Man counted out for them. He pointed his
finger at each in turn while he said this verse, which he made up on the
spot:

  "Sticks are racing in the flood--
    Trees are racing in the wood--
  In the tree-tops winds are racing--
    In the sky-tops clouds are chasing.
  In the tree-heart snug and warm,
    We hear nothing of the storm.

  When we play at hide-and-seek,
    It is _you_ must count the sheep."

At "you" the finger pointed at Eric, and it meant that he was to be
"It."

"Put your head here on my knee. Shut your eyes and count one hundred
sheep jumping over a stone wall, not too fast," explained the Tree Man.
"While you're counting the others hide. Anywhere in this room, and
anywhere on the stairs. Out-doors is no fair."

"But _where_ are the sheep?" asked Eric, "and how can I count them with
my eyes shut?"

Every one suddenly looked puzzled. The Forest Children's eyes grew wide
with wondering. The Bird Fairies fluttered uneasily. The Tree Girl
seemed dazed. Wild Star said, "Why, we never thought of that,--where
_are_ they?"

But Ivra laughed and ran to Eric. She took his hand and said, "The sheep
are inside your own head. Just shut your eyes and try to see them. It is
very easy. The wall is low, and there's a place where the stones are
beginning to roll down. The sheep go over there, one by one."

Eric shut his eyes and put his head down on the Tree Man's knee. And it
began to happen just as Ivra had said. There was a green hill-pasture, a
little gray stone wall slanting across it, and sheep, one by one,
jumping where the wall was broken down, following their leader. He
counted one hundred of them and then stopped although a dear little lamb
was trotting down the hill, trailing the procession. He wanted to see if
the lamb would be able to jump the wall too. But the Tree Man had said
one hundred, so he stopped and opened his eyes.

Things were strange. The Tree Man was nothing but an old stump. The room
felt very cold and it was bare. The fire in the boulder had gone out.
But he heard a soft fluttering somewhere and took heart. The Bird
Fairies! They might be hiding high, having wings. He went all around the
room, looking up into the dusk. At last, there they were in row on a
beam, their wings spread over their eyes.

"Bird Fairies, I spy!" cried Eric, and ran towards the stump. But wings
are swifter than feet, and the Bird Fairies reached the goal first.

He found Ivra at the top of the second flight of stairs, curled up in a
shadow.

"I spy!" and he ran just as fast as he could down the stairs. He was
ahead of her to the door, and thought he would surely win. But she
passed him in the room and touched the stump first.

The Tree Girl, of all places, was kneeling behind the stump. Of course
she touched it the minute Eric spied her, and so she was safe.

The Forest Children were hiding, some in the hall behind the door, some
on the stairs, one under the table. And everyone of them beat him to the
goal and touched it first.

"Now there's only Wild Star," Ivra cried. "You must catch him, Eric, or
else you'll have to be 'It' again!"

Wild Star was outside, up in the top of the tree in the starlight. Eric
discovered him by seeing one of the tips of his purple wings which was
caught in a crack of the sky door. "I spy!" he called, and pulled the
wing-tip to let Wild Star know he was found.

But of course Wild Star passed him like a flash, his strong wings
beating down.

Tears of vexation welled in Eric's eyes. One thing he had gained though.
Because he had found them all, even though he could not run so fast as
they, the Tree Man had come back, and sat there in the place of the
stump, and all was warm and bright again. The Tree Man had only wanted
to prove for himself that Eric could see Wild Star, the Bird Fairies,
and the others without Ivra to point them out to him. But he felt
satisfied now that Eric's eyes were really clear, and that he would
never hurt any of them by looking through them or pretending that they
did not exist.

"Wild Star is It now," he said. "For he didn't play fair, going outside
like that."

"Oh, I forgot outside was no fair," cried Wild Star, laughing.

So this time Eric hid with the others, while Wild Star counted sheep.

He ran wildly all round the room trying to find a hiding-place. But
everywhere there was someone ahead of him. At last he came back to the
Tree Man himself with Wild Star counting sheep at his knee.

"Ninety-five, ninety-six, ninety-seven," counted Wild Star. "Oh dear! Oh
dear!" Eric whispered to himself in despair.

Ivra was hiding behind the Tree Man, and so she jumped out and pulled
Eric back to hide with her.

"Ninety-eight, ninety-nine, one hundred!"

Wild Star started up, and never thinking to look behind the Tree Man
went circling the room in swift flight. He saw Ivra and Eric as he flew
over their heads, of course, and they laughed and touched the Tree Man
first.

But he caught most of the others, even the Forest Children who are so
swift and clever.

After that, almost everyone had to take his turn at being It.

When the merry game came to an end at last, they gathered around the
boulder fireplace. The twigs were glowing embers now and looked like
myriads of golden flower-buds. Then the Forest Children began clamoring
for a World Story. So Ivra climbed up on the Tree Man's knee and tipping
her head back against his chest, looked into the fire and told one of
Helma's World Stories. It was the story of a glacier. That may not sound
like a very interesting story to you, but if you could hear Ivra tell it
in all its wonder just as Helma had told it to her, you would never ask
for a better story. No, you would ask for that one over and over again,
as the Forest Children did the minute she was through.

But instead of telling that one over, Ivra told another, a little story
about some eggs and a brood of chickens. And they wanted _that_ over.
But there must be an end to everything, and so the Tree Girl brought out
a bowl of beechnuts, and they forgot the stories, and ate as much as
they wanted. There were apples, too, big and red and cold cheeked.
Everyone was hungry.

When all were satisfied, there was sudden whispering among the guests.
The Bird Fairies fluttered and hummed with excitement. The Forest
Children's eyes began to shine expectantly. Ivra, who still sat on the
Tree Man's knee, spoke what they were all thinking. "The surprise," she
said to the Tree Man. "You know you promised us a surprise to-night. Is
it time for it yet?"

"Yes," said the Tree Man. "It is. _High_ time! Come, put on your cloaks.
It's a cold night."

"But the surprise!" they all cried at once. "We don't want to go home
until we have had the surprise!"

"Oh, the surprise is up in the branches. My mother is there with her
air-boat, waiting to take you all home."

The Forest Children clapped their hands and jumped up and down until
their sandal-laces that were not already loose and flapping came undone
and flapped too. Wild Star sprang towards the stairs, his face alight,
Ivra slipped down from the Tree Man's knee and ran to Eric.

"The Tree Mother! The dear, beautiful Tree Mother! We are to see her and
ride with her!" she cried.

Then she dashed away for her cloak. The Forest Children, with the Tree
Girl's help, were tumbling into theirs, wrong-end-to mostly, ripping off
buckles in their hurry.

"The Tree Mother! The dear Tree Mother!" their little teeth chattered in
ecstasy.

When all were ready they crowded up the straight starlit stairs. At the
top they crawled out through the sky door, one by one, into the
branches. Eric followed Ivra, and saw a great black moth-like thing
poised in air by the tree's top. But it was hollowed like a boat and a
shadowy woman was standing upright in it. A dark cloak covered her, but
the hood had fallen back, and her face in the starlight was very
beautiful and very young, younger even than Helma's, whose face Eric had
thought all that day too young and glad to be a mother's. How could this
be the Tree Man's mother, he wondered,--the Tree Girl's grandmother!
Then he saw that her hair was white, whiter than all the snow that lay
in the forest.

It was very cold kneeling there and clinging in the tip of the great
beech-tree. The forest below was still and dark. But the air and the
wintry star-filled sky were bright with a blue, cold light. After the
warmth at the heart of the tree, the cold was almost unbearable. Eric
longed to wave his arms about, and jump up and down to get warm, but he
had to cling, still and motionless, to the branches to keep from
falling.

At last Ivra whispered "It's our turn now," and taking Eric's hand, she
made him jump with her right out into cold space. For one awful instant
he thought they were both falling down, down to the ground. But they had
only dropped into the air-boat. The Tree Mother leaned forward and
pulled a blanket over them. Her eyes as she did it, looked straight into
Eric's. They were dark, and deep as the forest shadows. He began to
speak to tell her who he was, for her look was questioning. But she put
her finger to her lips. Then he noticed for the first time that every
one was silent. Even the Tree Man and his daughter who stood in the tree
top waving good-by spoke no words, only nodded and waved. The last Bird
Fairy fluttered noiselessly in. Eric lay back under the warm blanket,
snuggled against Ivra. A Bird Fairy nestled into the palm of each of his
hands. All was still and warm. The air-boat slipped away high and higher
over the tree-tops and on and on.

On a cold, starlit night, nestled in feathery warmth, to sail over the
dark tree-tops, high and higher and on and on--that is a wonderful
thing. And when the Tree Mother stands above you, wrapped in her dark
cloak with her face shining under her cloudy white hair, now and then
bending to tuck the blanket more snugly about you--what could be more
blissful?

Very soon Eric became drowsy against his will. His eyelids dropped like
curtains shutting out the stars. But he roused when the boat stopped,
hovered, and sank down like a bird until it rested on the crusted snow
in the middle of a tiny village of tiny moss houses; only now, of
course, the houses were covered with snow, and looked like baby Eskimo
huts. The Forest Children crept sleepily out of the boat, kissing the
Tree Mother good-by as though in a dream. Not a word was spoken. There
was the creak of their little feet on the cold snow,--that was all. Each
child went alone into his little house. They were lighted and looked
warm through the doors, and Tree Mother nodded as though that were well.
But before the air-boat had risen out of sight, the lights were all out,
and the Forest Children sound asleep, snuggled into their moss beds.

From then on stops were frequent, and Eric woke at each one. At every
Bird Fairy nest at which they stopped, the Tree Mother leaned from the
boat and scooped the crusted snow out of the nest. Then when the Bird
Fairy was settled down, she powdered the snow with her fingers until it
was soft, and heaped it over the little creature, who was already
asleep.

Wild Star was left in the tip of the tallest tree in the forest. There
he lay without covering, his face up to the cold sky, his arms flung
back above his head, his wings folded tight. He half opened his
slumbrous eyes on the Tree Mother as the boat floated away, but before
the smile in them faded he was asleep.

There was straight, sure, even flying then to Helma's little house, set
in its snowy garden,--and down they sank to the door stone. The Tree
Mother carried Ivra, who was fast asleep, in in her arms. The fire leapt
when they entered, until the walls and floor danced with light. The Tree
Mother undressed Ivra, who never once opened her eyes, and tucked her
into bed. Then she helped Eric, who was fumbling and missing buttons in
a sleepy way. But he was awake enough to kiss her good-night. And that
was the end of everything until morning.



CHAPTER VIII

A WITCH AT THE WINDOW


When the children woke the next morning, there was no Helma. Her bed had
not been slept in. They had been too sleepy the night before to wonder
at her absence, but now they could hardly believe their eyes. The room
was strange and lonely without her. The fire had died in the night. They
sat up in their beds and talked about it.

"She always comes back before bedtime," said Ivra. "She has never stayed
away before."

Eric said, "Perhaps that is why the Tree Mother brought you in and
undressed you--perhaps she knew our mother had not come back. She looked
wise, as though she knew everything."

"She does know everything,--at least everything in the forest. But did
she bring me in, right here in her arms, Eric!"

"And undressed you while you were sound asleep."

Ivra laughed with delight, and clasped her hands. "Truly, truly? The
dear Tree Mother undressed me? Are you sure? Did she kiss me
good-night?--" But suddenly she grew solemn. "Yes, she knew that mother
was not here. She only takes care of those who have no one else. Well,
we will have to wait for mother, that is all. She will surely come this
morning."

But she did not come that morning, nor that day, nor for many days. You
shall hear it all.

The children laid the fire, together,--shivering but hopeful. Ivra got
the breakfast, teaching Eric, so that next time he could help. They
chattered and played a good deal, and really had quite a merry time over
it. It was only at first that Ivra was solemn over Helma's
disappearance. Soon her good sense told her that Helma loved them both,
and nothing could keep her long from her children.

After breakfast they washed and put away the dishes. Then they tidied
the room. They hurried over it a little, perhaps, for it was a bright
winter day, and all the forest was waiting to be played in. Before they
ran out, they put a log on the fire that it took both of them to lift.
If Helma should come back while they were away, she must find a warm
house. Ivra skipped back after they were outside to set out a bowl and
spoon for her, and stand the cream jug beside them.

Then away they fled, running and jumping in the frosty morning air. Ivra
taught Eric some games that could be played by two alone. They were
running games, climbing games, hiding games, jumping games. Ivra was
swift and strong and unafraid. Her cheeks reddened like apples in the
cold. She was a fine playfellow.

Not until they were hungry did they think of home. Then they ran, hand
in hand at last, jumping the garden hedge like deer, their hearts
beating with the expectation of running straight into Helma's arms. But
no Helma was there. Nora had come with the milk, left it, eaten the rest
of the porridge, and gone away again without waiting for a word with any
one. The children wished she had stayed. They needed some one to talk
with about their mother. Of course they knew she would come back, all in
her good time. Ivra made Eric understand that. But the room seemed even
emptier without her than it had in the morning. They cheered each other
as best they could, drank a lot of the fresh milk and ate some nuts.
They wanted to get away into the forest again and forget the empty
house, so they did not try to cook anything.

They played hard all the afternoon. Towards twilight it grew warmer and
began to snow, great wet flakes. They ran home, leaping the hedge again.
The house was still empty. Helma was not there.

They stirred up the fire, and sat down on the floor in front of it to
talk over what they should do. Then it happened,--the strange, the
beautiful, the frightful thing! Eric saw a face at the window. It was so
perfectly beautiful, that face, that he wanted to shut his eyes against
it. It almost hurt. It was the face of a young woman, very pale, but
when her eyes met Eric's they filled with dancing laughter. Her hair
under her peaked, white hood glistened blue-black like a river in the
snow. She lifted a small white hand and tapped on the window pane,
nodding to him merrily.

Ivra turned at the sound of the little fingers on the glass. When she
saw the face, she started to her feet with a frightened cry, and rushing
to the door, drew the bolt.

"She can't get in. She can't get in, Eric. Don't be afraid. We are
safe." But the poor little girl did not believe her own words. She was
trembling.

"Why, I'm not afraid," said Eric, running to the window. The merry eyes
drew him. Now her mouth danced into smiles with her eyes. She made
pretty signs to him to open the window and let her in.

But Ivra pulled him back. "Don't you know? It's the Beautiful Wicked
Witch!" she whispered.

But Eric was impatient. "How can she be wicked when she's so beautiful!"
he exclaimed. He was so little used to beautiful people in his life that
now he was fascinated and delighted.

The Beautiful Wicked Witch looked at Ivra then, and Ivra saw how her
eyes were dancing, great black eyes full of splendor and fun. She caught
her breath. She laughed back at the Beautiful Wicked Witch. She could
not help herself. But her hands flew to her mouth to stop the laugh.

"Shut your eyes, Eric. That must be best, not to look at her at all.
That is what mother did when she came before. She bolted the door and
then we sat down in front of the fire and never looked at the window
once, while she told me a long, lovely World Story about Psyche and her
little playmate Eros. Then when we had forgotten all about the Beautiful
Wicked Witch, we looked at the window by accident and she was gone.
Come, I'll tell you a World Story now, the same one."

But Eric hardly heard what she was saying. He moved nearer and nearer to
the window. Ivra followed him, charmed by the laughing face there too.
Then together they unbolted the windowpane and opened it outward. The
Beautiful Wicked Witch stepped in.

"How silly to be afraid of me, children," she laughed. "I have only come
to play with you."

"Oh goody!" cried both of the children together. For now that she was in
the room all their fear and wonder had vanished.

It was dusk, and so they lighted all the candles and poked the fire,
before they turned to entertain their guest. But the candles did not
burn very well, very faintly and flickeringly,--and the fire fell lower
and lower, instead of growing higher and higher as they nursed it.

"Don't mind about that," laughed the Beautiful Wicked Witch. "There's
enough light from the window for us to play together in. We won't bother
with the stubborn old fire and the silly little copy-cat candles. Come,
what shall we play?"

But the children had been playing hard all day, and their bodies were
tired. "Oh, tell us a story instead of playing," begged Ivra. "This is
the time when mother tells her very best stories."

"Well, I am not mother," said the Beautiful Wicked Witch; "but I will
tell you the best stories I can. Come sit near the window where the
light is stronger. That fire will never burn while I am here. I am
brighter than it, and the old thing is jealous."

The children laughed at her joke. But it was true,--she was very bright.
Her eyes seemed to light the room, or perhaps it was her gown, like an
opal fire, blue and pink and purple, changing and glowing, and made of
the softest silk.

Ivra nestled close to her knee where she could stroke the gleaming silk.
Eric sprawled on the floor at her feet, his face upturned to hers.

Then she told them a story. It was not like any of Helma's World
Stories, but the children liked it. It was all about a gorgeous bird she
had at home in her tree-house. She told how she had heard it singing one
morning in early spring, high up in the branches of her tree, and how
she had watched it day after day flying back and forth in the forest,
its yellow breast flashing among the green leaves. It had a long golden
bill, and its tail was black as jet; and its wings were the softest gray
in the world with a feather of jet in either one. Its song was the
clearest, the highest, the purest of all the bird songs in the forest.
It was a wonderful bird, and she wanted it for her own.

Then she told the children how she had set traps for it, and how it had
escaped every time. But at last she had made a dear little cage, all
woven of spring flowers and leaves, and put food in it. Still the bird
escaped, pulling the food out with its long bill and never getting
inside the door. And finally she told them how she did capture that
wild, shy bird by learning its song and singing it sitting in her
tree-house with the window open, until the bird heard and came flying in
wonder to find what other bird was calling it. Then she had closed the
window and the bird was hers. It hung now in the pretty cage in her
prettiest room, and sometimes sang in the middle of the night.

Eric liked the story, and all the better because it was a true story.
And the Beautiful Wicked Witch said he could see the bird himself if he
would come to her house. He could stroke its bright breast, and it would
sing perhaps. Then there were other things caged in her house, cunning
little animals, and some big ones, worth any boy's seeing.

But Ivra answered for Eric, shaking her head hard. "No, no. Mother
doesn't want us to visit you."

But Eric said, "May I open the cage door and the window and see the bird
flash away? I should like that."

"No. Well, perhaps," said the Beautiful Wicked Witch. "Will you come
then?"

"I can't, I suppose, if Mother Helma doesn't want me to. Are you sure
she doesn't, Ivra?"

Ivra was sure.

The Beautiful Wicked Witch laughed then. "Of course, if you _tell_ her
she won't let you come. But if you came without telling, how could she
mind?"

"That sounds true,--but someway it can't be," said Ivra. And that seemed
to end it.

But after a little the Beautiful Wicked Witch began another story. This
one was about a frock she had made, a wonderful thing all of cobwebs and
violet petals, with tiniest rosebuds around the neck. If Ivra were to
slip that frock over her head, and unbraid her funny little pigtails,
she would look as pretty as any fairy in the world.

Ivra was not too young to want to be pretty. If she would only go to the
Beautiful Wicked Witch's house, she could try on that dress, and wear it
for one whole day if she liked. Ivra clasped her hands. But then she
thought, and asked a question. "Could I play in it, and run and climb?
Would I be as free as in this little old brown smock?"

The Beautiful Wicked Witch raised her hands in horror. "My cobweb frock!
Why, it would be ruined! It would be in shreds! How can you even think
of treating it so!"

So Ivra shook her head until her funny little pigtails flopped from side
to side. "I don't want to wear it then for even a minute. What fun would
there be?"

"Well, think about it anyway," said the Beautiful Wicked Witch, and rose
to go away. "It's the fir, you know, beyond the white birch."

"Thank you for the stories," said the children.

"Good-by," said the Beautiful Wicked Witch. "Perhaps Eric will remember
and come. It's a gorgeous bird, and I haven't said he couldn't free it."

Then she slipped out into the snow flakes, turning to give them one
dancing look over her shoulder before the door swung to.

Up flamed the candles, clear high flames when she was gone, and the fire
crackled again, and took on new life, reaching higher and higher.

They got their supper together rather silently. But just before going to
sleep Ivra roused herself to say, "Let's promise each other we won't go
to the Beautiful Wicked Witch's fir until mother comes home,--and we can
tell her how jolly the Witch is, and what good stories she told us."

"I don't want to go anyway," answered Eric, "unless I can free the
bird."--But you see, he had not promised.

After a while, "Did you notice how pale her face was when she wasn't
laughing?" asked Eric.

"Yes, and not so beautiful then. Mother may come in the night, and we
never know it till morning!"

Soon they were asleep, a tired, but happy little girl and boy.

I think the Tree Mother sank down in her air-boat to look in at them and
open the door wide, which they had forgotten, so they would have fresh
air all night; but it was dark, and the room was shadowy, so perhaps it
was only the wind.



CHAPTER IX

THE WIND HUNT


After all, Mother Helma was not there the next morning,--nor the next,
nor the next. She did not come back for days and days and days. Much
happened before she returned, and much happened after. I will tell you.

During the days the children roamed the forest looking for their mother.
They asked every one they could find whether he had seen her. The Tree
Man, his daughter, the Bird Fairies, and the Forest Children, not one of
them had seen or heard of her since she went away. But they all said
with one accord that she would surely come back in her own time. It was
not wise to go seeking her so. She loved them. She would return.

"Wait and be patient," they said. "Time will bring Helma."

But they were Forest People, who live long, long lives, and see far.
Eric was an Earth Child, and Ivra was not all a Forest Child. So they
found it hard to be wise and wait and do nothing but trust Helma and
know she would return.

So they went wandering all the day. They did not go home for meals,
even, after a while, but ate with the Tree Man and his daughter or the
Forest Children. Sometimes as they walked through the forest, looking
all about, even up into the trees for their mother, they would suddenly
burst into play. "Tag," Ivra would cry, tapping Eric on the shoulder,
and away she would fly, he after her, in a race that grew merrier and
merrier as it ran on. Ivra darted and twisted away when Eric thought he
had her, rolling down little hills on the snow crust, climbing trees,
jumping brooks until he was lucky enough to catch her by one of her
pigtails at last, or snatch her flying skirt. "Tag!" Then away he sped,
and the game would go on for a happy while.

But sooner or later they always stopped running, stopped laughing, and
remembered why they were wandering the wood alone. Then they would call
for Helma. Ivra's voice was shrill and sweet, and rang through the bare
woods like a birdsong. Eric's wavered a little uncertainly, as though he
doubted whether Helma knew it well enough to answer. "Helma, Helma,
Helma! Ohh Helma! Helmaa-a!"

No Helma answered. Sometimes a Forest Child came running to say, "We
haven't seen her yet, Ivra. But we are watching." The Bird Fairies
fluttered at the call and nodded their little heads uneasily. Children's
voices calling for their mother was a sad sound, and made the kindly
little creatures restless. One or two of them would fly to nestle in
Ivra's neck and whisper, "Give her time. Do not hurry her so. She will
come back."

But the children were losing faith. They went calling, seeking and
playing through the woods all the hours of daylight. At night Ivra told
Eric World Stories, World Story after World Story until sleep made them
forget.

The fifth morning of their search dawned blue and clear and windy.

"The Wind Creatures will be happy to-day," said Ivra when she opened her
eyes and heard the wind pushing at all the windows of the house and saw
the blue morning sky. "Wild Star will be circling the world."

"Why, then he will see Helma somewhere!" cried Eric.

Ivra sprang from her bed. "Eric, how splendid! We must go with him! Why
didn't I think of it at the very first!"

They did not stop for breakfast, but were into their coats and ready for
the day's search in a twinkling. Neither of them had bothered to undress
the night before. Ivra's hair had gone unbrushed for two days. Things
like that are apt to slip when one's mother is away. So her little
pigtails were no longer smooth and glossy, but frowsy and loose, and the
rest of her hair was ruffled until it looked something like the Bird
Fairies' soft plumage. Eric's head, too, was shaggier than ever, and a
smudge from firebuilding had darkened one of his cheeks since the
morning before. They had not bathed in the "bird bath" since Helma had
gone away. They never seemed to have time, or else they were too sleepy.

Now they no more thought of baths than they thought of breakfast. Eric
followed Ivra, who knew all the ways in the forest, to the spot where
Wild Star was most likely to be, if he was to be found at all on such a
windy, perfect day. They ran earnestly, never slackening to skip or
play. And soon they came in sight of some giant cedar trees near the
edge of the forest. There were several Wind Creatures standing there,
laughing in shrill, glad voices, pointing with their arms, and flapping
their purple wings. Wind Creatures are growing-up boys and girls with
fairy-hearts and strong, never-tiring purple wings, remember. Wild Star
was among them.

But before the children had come up to them, the Wind Creatures suddenly
joined hands,--as they do just before flying,--and started running down
the sloping hill that ended the forest.

For a minute Ivra was in despair. "Now they are gone for the day to
circle the world, and I shall never find mother," she thought. But she
did not waste any more breath running. She stopped short and lifted her
voice, clear and insistent, "Wild Star! Wild Star! I need you! Don't run
away. Wild Star!"

The Wind Creatures had reached the foot of the hill, running swiftly
hand in hand, and their wings were already lifted for flying. But Wild
Star, at the sound of Ivra's voice, leaned back suddenly on the hands he
was holding, almost throwing his comrades on their faces, and breaking
the line. He turned right about, swinging the others with him, and came
leaping and running back.

"What is the matter, little comrade?" he asked. "What is the matter?"

"In all your flying 'round the world, Wild Star, you must have seen my
mother Helma. She is lost. Oh, can't you tell us where she is?"

"Yes, of course. But I didn't know she was lost. I thought she was
visiting Earth-friends."

"Truly, truly?" Ivra's eyes shone with joy, and Eric grabbed his cap
from his head and threw it up in the air shouting, "Hurrah!"

"Oh, will you bring her to us right away?" Ivra begged.

Wild Star looked doubtful. "Perhaps she wouldn't want to come."

Ivra laughed merrily at that. "Then take us to her," she said, "and you
will see how she wants to come when we ask her."

"Give us your hands, then!"

They held out their hands. Ivra's was grasped by Wild Star's and Eric's
by another Wind Creature. With their free hands they clasped each
other's. So the four started running down the hill, while the rest of
the Wind Creatures flew off over their heads.

Wild Star and his comrade ran faster and faster, until Eric wondered how
it was that he and Ivra were ever keeping up with them. Soon he realized
that his feet were scarcely touching the ground. At the foot of the hill
stood a little group of birches, and they were running right upon it. He
did not see how they could either turn out or stop themselves at that
speed. Almost as soon as he had seen the birches, though, they were
beyond them. They had not turned out, they had jumped right over the
birches, and they were much higher than Eric's head! They were running
so swiftly now that only their toes ever touched the ground,--if _they_
did.

What fun it was to run like that, the wind at their backs, and the Wind
Creatures drawing them strongly forward faster and faster and faster
until they were really flying just above the snow.

Across white fields they skimmed,--over fences and frozen streams,
bushes and banks, through orchards and meadows, on, on, on, until they
came to the town.

There Ivra pulled back for a minute, and the Wind Creatures slowed down.
Eric knew why Ivra was afraid of the town. She had told him all about it
while they played in the wood. Helma, her mother, was a human, but she
hated the town and loved the fairies and their ways. That was why she
had run away to live by herself in the wood. But Ivra was neither fairy
nor human; she was both.

Now the fairies are afraid of humans because humans look right through
them and do not see them. That upsets the fairies and makes them
uncomfortable. Of course Helma and Eric were exceptions, for because
they had no shadows in their eyes they could see them and play with
them. So the fairies accepted those two as one of themselves. Ivra was
different. Because she was only half fairy, any human could see her
whether his eyes were shadowed or not if he would only look hard enough.
The dreadful part was that when a human did see her, he was likely not
to believe in her. He would just think he was day-dreaming, and that the
little girl with the soft eyes, the ash-colored pigtails, and the quick
feet was just a piece of his day-dream. Not to be seen is bad enough.
But it is much worse to be seen and not believed in. That was why Ivra
was afraid of the town. People saw her there and either rubbed their
eyes and looked another way, or laughed.

But now she was going for her mother, and she could bear anything, even
that. She did not hold back long. They ran past the canning factory, and
Eric did not give a glance to it. A little girl looking out over a pile
of cans saw him, however, and wondered at his warm suit of brown cloth,
his leggins, sandals and the cap with wings. She remembered him in rags.
She saw Ivra too, and did not rub her eyes and think her a dream. But
she did not call to any one in the factory or point, for she knew _they_
would think it a dream.

Through the crooked narrow streets, past the crooked narrow houses,--one
of them Mrs. Freg's,--they sped faster than the wind! On, on, on,--up
the wide avenue through the "residential section" where big houses eyed
them from proud terraces,--out into the country again they raced.

There they came to a high gray stone wall, blocking their way, and stood
still.

"You must climb," said Wild Star. "She is in there."



CHAPTER X

ON THE GRAY WALL


It was a very high wall that hid their mother, and at first glance it
seemed impossible that they could ever climb it. But Ivra did not stop
to wonder. She ran up and down, hunting for a foothold. At last she
reached the end of the wall and disappeared around the corner. Eric and
the Wind Creatures followed. When they came up to her she had already
found a place where the stones were laid a bit unevenly, one on the
other, and was half way to the top, clinging with toes and fingers.

"Bravo!" cried the Wind Creatures. Eric went up after her, often
slipping back and bruising and scratching his hands and knees, but as
resolute as his playmate. At last they gained the top. The Wind
Creatures had flown up and were waiting for them there, sitting
cross-legged with their purple wings folded down their backs.

The wall enclosed the garden of a very rich family. It was a formal
garden with straight walks, trellises, fountains, benches and neat
flower beds laid out in squares and circles, now piled high with
blossoming snow.

Just as the children reached the top of the wall, the door into the
garden from the stern gray mansion behind it opened and through it came
three people. First was a very tall lady all wrapped up in furs,--tails
and heads of the poor animals that had been slain to make them hanging
from her shoulders and down her back. Even the children could see that
her face was sour in spite of all its smiling. Then came a young man in
a stiff, funny hat, carrying a cane, beating up the snow flowers with it
as he passed the flower beds. And behind them walked--Helma, with her
gaze on the ground. That is why they did not know her at first, that and
her very strange clothes. She was dressed all in velvet and fur, and her
arms up to her elbows were hidden in a huge white muff. She swayed as
she walked on weird little high heels and the toes of her boots drew out
to long points, almost like a goblin's. Her hat was a velvet affair, so
awkward and heavy it seemed to weigh down her head, and her candleflame
hair was smothered under it. Is it any wonder that they did not know her
like that!

But when she walked close under the wall and they heard her voice they
knew her, and the Wind Creatures had to hold Ivra from jumping down and
throwing herself into her arms. "Wait," they whispered.

From their high place on the wall they could look down on the heads of
the three people, and hear all they were saying. They had never learned
that it is not fair to listen that way.

From all Helma said they could plainly see she was a prisoner. She was
pleading with the old woman. She was saying, "No, never, never, never,
in a thousand days and years will I ever be happy here. My place is in
the forest. Oh, how these heels bother!"

"Silly girl!" cried the old woman, smiling more than ever, and looking
more disagreeable than ever at the same time. "Your place is where you
were born-in a fine house and wearing clothes like other people. Heels
indeed! Did you expect them to do any thing else but bother? Mine have
bothered for sixty years, but you haven't heard _me_ complain."

"Neither would I," Helma said, "if I didn't know about other kinds of
shoes that don't hurt. Those sandals I wore when you caught me didn't
hurt. Why can't I wear those, at least when I walk in the garden?"

"Well, you might," began the old woman, a little more kindly, and
smiling less, "if you promise always to put on the high heels before
coming into the drawing room--"

"No," said the young man sharply. "Let her once into the garden in her
sandals and she'll climb the wall and be off. I say that we give her no
chance to escape. After she has been to a hundred or so balls and worn
these beautiful and appropriate clothes long enough she'll be glad of
her luck, and nothing could drag her into the forest. Believe me!"

Now Helma stopped pleading, and laughed at the young man. "Do you think
high heels, or even a hat that weighs down my head like this horrid one
can keep me much longer from my little daughter, and that dear new
little boy? What they are doing without me all this time--I wonder!" She
stopped laughing to sigh.

The old woman took her hand not unkindly. "My poor, dear girl," she
said, "how many times must I tell you it is only a dream, that house in
the woods and the little girl and boy? They aren't really there at all,
you know. You have dreamed them. Come, cheer up. Be a brave girl. We
have parties and good times enough here, if you will only get into the
spirit of them, to make up for all your forest foolishness."

Helma answered in a low even voice, that showed well enough how sure she
was of the truth of what she was saying--"No, they are realer than you.
Ivra is realer than all the people in that mansion put together,
cousins, uncles, aunts, guests, servants and all. She is my little fairy
daughter."

"No," said the young man.

The wings of the Wind Creatures on the top of the wall rustled just then
in a gust of cold north wind. Helma threw up her head as at a familiar
sound, and her eyes slowly lifted to the faces of the children looking
down. For a minute she looked steadily at them without believing, and
then it was as though her pale face suddenly burst into song. But the
old woman and the young man were not looking at her and so they noticed
nothing. The young man said, "The neighbors have talked about us enough
already for all your queer ideas and doings. So you'll wear no sandals,
no, nor sleep with your skylight open, as you're always asking, nor go
one step outside the wall until you have come to your senses and are
more like other people. So there!"

But Helma laughed, her head thrown back, so that the children could look
into her happy eyes and see the glow of her short hair under her
grotesque hat.

"Keep your keys, cousin," she said, "and your old skylight keep shut
tight as tight. I shall find a way out. But my children must be patient,
and Ivra must teach Eric to keep his face and body clean. They must not
forget meal-times, and when anything goes wrong, or they think it is
going wrong, they must ask the Tree Man's advice. I will find a way to
them soon. They must keep happy and wait."

She said all that slowly and distinctly, her eyes smiling into theirs.

"What silly talk," laughed the sour old lady. "Just as though you were
making a speech. Well, it must be luncheon time now, and high time we
were changing our frocks. Wear your gray velvet, Helma, and don't forget
to put on stockings to match. There's to be strawberry ice to-day,--and
goose to begin with of course. Cook says she has never seen a
tenderer--"

The old lady went on talking about the wonderful luncheon they were to
have until they were out of hearing. But the children on the gray wall
could see that Helma was going in differently from the way she had come
out. Her head was high, and she stepped out in her funny high heeled
boots as though she were walking in sandals. At the little door into the
mansion she turned and waved her queer great muff to the children and
the Wind Creatures, and they heard her laugh.

But when she was gone, and the door was shut and locked--they heard the
great key scrape--Eric turned joyfully to Ivra. She was staring intently
at the closed door, her face very pale. Suddenly she buried her head in
her arms and burst into sobs, hoarse, jerky sobs, the first and the last
time Eric was ever to hear her cry. Eric and the Wind Children sat
cross-legged and waited. Soon she stopped and wiped her face on her
sleeve.

"She is locked in, but she _will_ find a way home," she said, almost
laughing. "How glad and how surprised she was to see us! It was almost
as though she had begun to believe all their talk about dreams, until
she heard the Wind Creatures' wings!"

The Wind Creatures took them back to the forest. Under the giant cedars
they said good-by and left them. The children went straight to the Tree
Man's to tell him the news. He gave them deep bowls of warm milk to
drink, and took off their sandals so that their toes might spread and
warm in front of the fire.

Then the Tree Girl begged for a story, and Ivra told a World Story about
the rivers,--how they go in search of their mother, the ocean, day and
night, around mountains and through mountains, and across whole
continents, and never stop until they find her,--and of the myriad
presents they carry to her,--of the things they see and the things they
do, as they flow searching.

It was a long story. And almost before the end the little story teller
had fallen asleep with her head tipped back against the Tree Man's
chest.

They spent that night in the tree, and that was good, for a storm had
risen outside, and it was bitter cold in the forest.



CHAPTER XI

THE BEAUTIFUL WICKED WITCH


The next morning before Eric woke Ivra slipped away to play with the
Forest Children.

"On such wild days as this they usually play indoors, for they're little
things and the Snow Witches love to tease them," said the Tree Man.

"Perhaps she'll be telling them World Stories," thought Eric, and so he
decided to go to the little moss village, too, for though Ivra had told
him dozens of World Stories by now, he always wanted to hear more. So
after breakfast with the Tree Man and his pretty, shy daughter, he ran
out in search of Ivra.

It was indeed a cold morning, blustering and raw. Eric felt chilled
almost as soon as he was out of doors. Very soon he lost his way, for he
had not been in the forest long enough to grow familiar with landmarks.
Just when he was beginning to be a bit hopeless and pinched with the
cold he came to the big fir where the Beautiful Wicked Witch lived. It
stood green and comforting among all the bare trees of winter.

Eric stopped to look, for now he remembered the Beautiful Wicked Witch
and the bird she had caged in there. He saw a door in the tree trunk
ajar, and swinging to and fro with tiny tinkling music. He peeped in,
and between the swingings caught glimpses of little blue and yellow
flowers arranged in tight bunches in hanging vases. He could smell their
sweetness even out there in the cold air.

Then high up in the tree trunk a window opened, and he heard the bird
singing. The Beautiful Wicked Witch's face appeared at the window,
looking down at him. Her black eyes were sparkling and she nodded
good-morning to him as though he were a prince, or at least a grown-up.
He could not help nodding back. He liked her very much, she was so
beautiful and so friendly.

"Come in and get warm," she called, "and I'll show you my pretty bird."

Eric remembered Ivra's warnings, but he wanted to go in so much that he
found himself doing it. The door tinkled louder music when he touched
it, and he pushed his way through, as a bee pushes his way into a
flower.

The Witch came running twinklingly down a spiral stairway. She kissed
his mouth, took off his winged cap and coat, threw them somewhere out of
sight, and then he had time to look at her well.

Her gown was green satin, the color of the fir boughs, and her little
sandals were green satin, too. A green fir frond bound her forehead; and
her black hair hung loose, soft and electric to her waist. Eric had
never seen a prettier person in the world, nor one more kind.

She took his two hands and began to whirl in a happy dance. Eric danced,
too, for joy and good comradeship. Round and round the room they whirled
until their breath was spent.

Then the Beautiful Wicked Witch took him up the spiral staircase to show
him the bird. Up and up they went, until they came to a little room high
in the tree. The floor was carpeted with yellow satin, and yellow
curtains hung at the window. Deep blue mirrors lined the walls, and they
reflected Eric and the Beautiful Wicked Witch dozens of times over.

The pretty bird cage, all made of flowers and leaves, hung in the very
middle of the room. Eric stood by it a long time. He put his fingers
through the bars, and stroked the bird's soft feathers. But the gorgeous
bird paid no attention to him, and did not sing.

"Why doesn't it hop about?" he asked the Beautiful Wicked Witch.

The Witch frowned and pouted. "It ought to, I'm sure. I like to see it
hopping. But it would rather sulk. It thinks all the time about the
forest, and its mate who is out there somewhere. Sometimes it sings,
though. Its voice is wonderful."

"Oh, let's open the cage and free him," cried Eric.

But the Beautiful Wicked Witch seized his hand. "No, no, _no_! It is
_mine_. I have caged it in my pretty cage. And it fits into the room,
don't you think?"

"I don't know what you mean," said Eric.

"Why, you fit into it, too," said the Witch, looking hard at him. "Your
yellow hair and blue eyes match the yellow and blue flowers. Would you
like me to make a pretty cage for you and put you into it?"

"No, no!" Eric was suddenly afraid of the Beautiful Wicked Witch.

But she laughed at his fear, and danced a little dance, humming to
herself, around the room. Then Eric noticed other cages. The walls were
lined with them. Some hung from the ceiling, and some stood in corners.
In every cage was a bird or animal. The one standing nearest to him held
a pretty gray squirrel, running 'round and 'round on a wheel. He stopped
every now and then to peer out through the bars with quick, bright eyes.
In the cage next was a tiny brown field mouse. But he had given up
running and playing long ago, and was huddled in the farthest and
darkest corner of his cage, his little beady eyes open and watchful.

Eric walked around the room, looking at all the poor little animals and
birds. One and all peered through their bars with watchful and fearful
eyes. Eric remembered himself in the canning factory and pitied them
more than he could ever have done had he not once been a caged little
creature too. How he longed to open their doors and the window, and see
them scamper and fly away!

But the Witch had stopped her dancing by the bird cage in the middle of
the room, and her little hands were between the bars stroking the bright
bird-breast. She was saying, "Sing for us, bird. Sing your nicest song
for us. Little Eric wants to hear it."

The bird began to beat its wings and breast against the bars. Again and
again its bright breast struck the door. But it did not fly open.

"It does not want to sing," laughed the Beautiful Wicked Witch; "but it
must. Sing, bird, sing! It does you no good to struggle. You can't get
away. Sing, sing!"

Then the bird sang. Its song was truly wonderful, high and clear, as
Eric had heard it from outside. But now that he could see the bird caged
he did not like the song so well. It was all too sad.

Eric wanted to go away then, out of the tree, and never, never see the
Witch again. He would find Ivra and the Forest Children and forget all
about these cages. So he said good-by to the Witch and ran down the
spiral staircase. But he could not find the door out. He went round and
round the wall, but there was no sign of a door. It was indeed as though
a flower had let him in and then closed its petals tight.

The little posies swung in their cases, the bird sang up stairs, and the
Beautiful Wicked Witch played and danced, and laughed at all his
searching. She would do nothing to help him find the door.

All that day he wandered up stairs and down stairs, or stood at the
window looking down through the green fir branches to the free
forest-floor. Once the Witch offered to tell him stories. But he wanted
no stories of caged things, and those were all the stories she knew. The
Witch did not mind his short answers and dark face. She seemed perfectly
able to have a good time with herself, and needed no comrades.

At last night fell. The rooms blossomed with candlelight. In the yellow
room up stairs the Beautiful Wicked Witch paraded back and forth before
the mirrors, loving her own reflection, smiling at herself, courtesying,
frowning, looking back over her shoulder,--lifting her hair to let it
fall again in electric waves. Eric stood by the window, thoroughly weary
of his search and loneliness, and watched her. The bird sat in the cage
and watched her. All the little bright eyes of animals watched her. The
candles burned steadily.

How Eric longed for Ivra now, and their own big friendly room. He
imagined Ivra in the room there all alone getting her supper over the
fire, bathing in the fountain bath, opening the windows, and at last
falling softly to sleep before the firelight faded.

Oh, if there were only a window open here! How hot it was, and how
over-sweetly scented! The Beautiful Wicked Witch went on posing and
preening before the mirrors, and seemed to have forgotten all about her
new little prisoner.

So he pulled back the yellow satin curtain, and looked out. It was
clear, cold starlight. He pressed his face against the window pane and
stared down into the shadows beneath the fir. And there, standing erect
in the shadow, her face lifted like a pale little moon, stood Ivra.

She saw him, but did not wave. She only nodded, as though she knew now
what she had come to make sure of. She stood still for a few minutes,
until Eric almost thought she was frozen in the cold. But at last she
moved and disappeared under the fir.

Music tinkled through the house. The Beautiful Wicked Witch poised on
her toes, surprisedly looking into the reflection of her own eyes.

"Some one has come in, for that was the door," she said. "It opens
inward with music."

Eric's heart stood still. Had Ivra come into the Witch's house, Ivra who
was so afraid of the Witch? He ran down the stairs and the Witch
followed him. Yes, Ivra stood there in the middle of the warm,
flower-hung room, like a little cold star beam.

But she did not look at the quaint flowers in their golden vases. And
when the Witch ran to her and kissed her she did not even look at her.
She looked only at Eric, and her eyes said, "I have come to free you."

"Oh, so you did want to try on the pretty frock after all," cried the
Witch, and drew her up the stairs. Eric followed to the yellow room.
"No," said Ivra. But the Witch brought it out and tried to slip it over
her head. It was sheerest gossamer web, and shimmered like moonlight.
And the little rosebuds seemed to make it belong to Ivra.

Eric forgot all about being a prisoner, and forgot the little caged
creatures around the wall. He was delighted with the frock being pushed
down on Ivra's shoulders. "How beautiful you'll be!" he cried. But Ivra
wriggled away from it and stood clear. Her rudely made brown frock and
worn sandals looked odd in that satin room. "I didn't come to see the
frock," she said, shaking her head till her pigtails bobbed. "I came to
get Eric."

The Beautiful Wicked Witch laughed. "Get him if you can," she said. Then
she turned her back on the children and began to braid her black hair
among the mirrors.

They went to the window and waited there, watching her.

"The door doesn't open out,--only in, I think," Eric whispered. "So we
can't get out."

"Mother has told me how it would be," Ivra whispered back. "We'll have
to wait until she's asleep and then find a way."

Then Ivra sat down on the floor and began to rock back and forth and
sing a lullaby. It was a lullaby her mother had sung to her all her
babyhood, Ivra sang in a very little voice, almost a murmur only, but by
listening Eric and the Beautiful Wicked Witch could catch the words. She
sang the same words over and over and over.

  Night is in the forest,
    Tree Mother is nigh.
  By-abye, by-abye-bye.

  Sleep is in the forest--
    His feathers brush your eye.
  By-abye, by-abye-bye.

  Mother's arms are holding you,
    Forest dreams are folding you.
  By-abye, by-abye--bye.

The Beautiful Wicked Witch sat down before the mirrors after a while,
still watching her reflection, but listening to the song, too. Her head
gradually sank lower and lower, first resting chin in hand and at last
right down on her arm stretched along the floor. Her face lay turned
towards the children, and they saw the mirth slowly fade in her great
black eyes, the lids drop lower and lower,--and then she was asleep
suddenly. Now she looked almost as young as themselves, and like a pale
child who has fallen to sleep at its play.

But the children did not stop to look at her. Once they were sure she
was asleep they were off searching for the door. Up and down the stairs
and all around the rooms they ran on tiptoes. But it was no use, and at
last they came back to the window.

"We must jump," whispered Ivra.

Eric looked down, and wondered. It was a long way to the ground!

"The snow is soft beneath the crust," Ivra said. "It will only cut us a
little."

"Let's take the bird," Eric said. Ivra ran to it, and opened the cage
door. It hopped onto her finger eagerly, and she held its bill so that
it would not sing.

Eric opened the window. "I'll jump first," he whispered.

But Ivra said, "Oh, let's hold hands and jump together."

The Beautiful Wicked Witch felt the cold night air from the window on
her face, and stirred in her sleep. Her eyelids quivered. So the
children did not wait a minute more. They climbed up onto the window
sill, Ivra still holding the bird. "One, two, three," she whispered, and
they jumped.

Out and down they went like two shooting stars and plunked through the
snowcrust. They were up in a second. Their wrists and elbows were a
little bruised and cut, but they were not really hurt at all. But
strange and strange, the bird had fluttered near Ivra's hand for that
second, and then flew straight back up and into the open window. It had
been caged so long it did not really want its freedom after all. Eric
cried out with regret.

But Ivra seized his hand, and they ran home together through the cold,
starlit forest. Before they leapt the hedge into their own garden Eric
saw the firelight blossoming in the windows. But he stood still outside
the door, after Ivra had gone in, for a time, breathing the cold air and
the clear silence right down into his toes.



CHAPTER XII

IVRA'S BIRTHDAY


"To-morrow is the shortest day in the year," Ivra told Eric one night
after they were in bed. He did not answer, for he was very sleepy. But
after a minute she spoke again. "It's my birthday too!"

Then he opened his eyes and sat up, for her voice sounded very queer and
far away. He saw that she too was sitting up, her hands folded under her
chin. "Mother always had a party for me," she said. "Such fun!"

"Perhaps one will happen to-morrow even with her away," Eric comforted.
"Oh, goody! I do hope so!"

"Perhaps. Anyway I'm going to pretend there's a party waiting for me
to-morrow. You pretend too, Eric, and then even if it doesn't come true
we will have had the pretending at least."

Eric agreed to pretend. It was one of his favorite games. And very soon
the two children nestled down under their covers and drifted into sleep
and dreams of a party.

They were roused early in the morning by something tapping lightly on
the doors and windows. Eric was out of bed first, and saw the Wind
Creatures, half a dozen or more of them, looking in and beckoning. Their
purple wings gleamed gold in the early morning sun. Wild Star was
standing in the open door.

"Happy birthday!" he cried and tossed a snow ball into Ivra's bed. She
popped to her knees, laughing and rosy with sleep. But then she was
grave in a minute. "There's to be no party, Wild Star," she said.
"Mother's not back yet. Are you all here for that?"

"Yes, we're here for that, and there is to be a party, an all day one
too. Your Forest Friends have seen to that."

The children were radiant with joy. And Ivra whispered to Eric, "We had
our pretending, too!"

The Wind Creatures would not come in to breakfast, for of course they do
not like in-doors at all, and besides, they need very little food. So
they played in the garden while the children dressed and ate. Very soon
the children were done, though, and came leaping out ready for a day's
joy.

The Wind Creatures led them then out through the forest. The Tree Girl
was watching for them at her door. It was plain to be seen, when she
joined them, that she carried something in her arms very secretly under
her white cloak. But no one mentioned it. Ivra knew it must be a
surprise for her birthday. Where the party was to be no one told her,
and she did not ask. She liked surprises.

They came to the Forest Children's little moss village. The youngest
Forest Child of all was the only one up so early. He was busily breaking
dead twigs from bushes to build his morning fire and making up a little
rhymeless song about Ivra's birthday as he worked.

  This is her birthday,
  Spring's little daughter--
  Spring's little daughter--
  This is her birthday.

  Wake now, wake now,
  All you Forest Children,
  Wake for her birthday
  And tie your sandals on.

When he saw them he cried, "Hurrah! Happy birthday, Ivra!"

At his cry all the little windows in the little moss houses opened and
there were the tousled heads of the Forest Children, their eyes blinking
sleepily against the gilded morning light.

"Thank you, thank you," Ivra cried back to the youngest Forest Child.
"Hurry and follow."

Before they had gone on their way five minutes more the Forest Children
were up with them, tugging at buckles and sandal strings as they ran,
begging not to be left behind. Soon they came to Big Pine Hill, a hill
deep in the forest with no trees but a giant pine at the top. The Wind
Creatures had built a slide there by brushing away the snow and leaving
a broad track of shining blue ice. Up under the pine were sleds enough
for every one, made all of woven hemlock branches. They needed no
runners for the ice was so slippery and the hill so steep _anything_
would go down it fast enough. Ivra's Forest Friends must have worked all
the day before to make those sleds--and now her shining face and clasped
hands were reward enough.

She was the first to try the hill. She threw herself on her sled and
down she flashed. At the bottom she tumbled off, and still on her knees
shouted up to Eric and the others at the top, "Oh, it's splendid! Come
on!"

Then the hill was covered with speeding sleds. The Bird Fairies had none
of their own, for they were so little they might have come to harm on
that hill. But they had just as good a time for all of that, catching
rides with the others, clinging to shoulders or heads or feet as it
happened.

Every one was there, even the Snow Witches who had not been invited.
They came whirling and dancing through the forest almost as soon as the
sliding had begun. Ivra gave them glad welcome in spite of their rough
ways and stinging hair. For she, the only one of all who were there,
liked them very well and had made them her comrades often and often on
windy winter days. And they, who cared for nobody, cared for her. "She
is not like anybody," they explained it to each other. "_She is a great
little girl_."

But they would not take Ivra's sled as she wanted them to. They had not
come to spoil her fun. Instead they raced down the hill behind her or
before her, pushing and pulling, their stinging hair in her face. But
that only made her cheeks very red, and she did not mind them at all.
Then she tried sliding down on her feet, with the long line of witches
pushing from behind, their hands on each other's shoulders. That was the
best fun of all, and almost always ended in a tumble before the bottom
was reached. Though the others avoided the witches as much as they could
they admired Ivra for such hardy comrading.

Before noon every one was very hungry. Then the littlest Forest Child
said, "Follow me. The Tree Girl has gone ahead."

It was true, she had slipped away when no one noticed.

The littlest Forest Child led them away to a little valley-place where
hemlock boughs had been spread to make a floor and raised on three sides
to make a shelter. When they had come close enough for Ivra to see what
it was perched so big and white in the middle of the hemlock floor she
stopped and sighed with joy while she clasped her hands.

It was a beautiful frosted birthday cake with nine brave candles of all
colors and burning steadily, just the kind of cake her mother had always
baked for her birthdays.--Only last year there had been eight candles.
She had not hoped for this final delight. She ran quickly forward and
was the first to kneel down by it. The Tree Girl was there waiting, and
now Ivra knew it was the cake that she had been carrying so secretly
under her cloak.

The Snow Witches did not follow into that shelter. They have a great
fear of shelters, you must know, for when forced into them they quickly
lose their fierceness, and their fierceness is their greatest pride. But
before they left the party one of them came close to Eric, so close that
tears were whipped into his eyes and quickly froze on his lashes. "Take
this to your little comrade," shes said, thrusting a box made of pine
cones into his hands. "It's for her to keep her paper dolls in. We
witches made it."

Then all the witches went screeching and swirling away through the
forest, and Ivra, Eric and the others settled down to the business of
eating the birthday cake.

But first the Tree Girl, who is very sensible, insisted that they eat
some nuts and apples. Indeed, she would allow no one a bite of the
wonderful cake until he had eaten at least one apple and twenty nuts.

Before Ivra cut the cake the others blew out the candles, one after
another, and made her a wish in turn for every candle. The Tree Girl
wished her a bright new year, the Bird Fairies that her mother would
soon return, the Wind Creatures that she would keep her gay heart
forever, the Forest Children that she would become the most famous story
teller in the Forest World.

And then it was Eric's turn. He had never been to a birthday party
before, and never had he made a wish for some one else. So he was a
little puzzled. But at last he had an idea and cried, "I wish that your
hair will grow golden and curly before to-morrow morning." All
princesses Ivra had ever told him about had curly golden hair, and
though she had never said it, Eric had suspected for some time that Ivra
would like that kind of hair herself. Then he puffed his cheeks and blew
out his candle, a fat green one. Ivra laughed.

"The Snow Witches would never let me keep curly hair," she said. "They'd
whip it straight in an hour."

That reminded Eric of the pine cone box and he gave it to her and told
her about it. She was almost as delighted with that as with the cake.

What a wonderful cake it was! Such food Eric had never dreamed of, and
he was a great dreamer! The frosting was over an inch thick.

Then, of course, Ivra must tell them stories. All the Forest People
loved her stories. They built a fire to keep from freezing. The Wind
Creatures sat a little way off where it was cool enough for their
comfort, but not too far to hear Ivra's clear voice. This time she told
all she knew about the birthday of this Earth, one of the most magical
and splendid and strange of her stories.

But it was the shortest day in the year, Ivra's birthday, and night fell
all too soon. Then the Tree Girl, who seldom forgot to be sensible, said
they had better go home. The littlest Forest Child was already asleep,
curled close by the fire. They roused him gently. Good-nights were
called and a few minutes after, the shelter was deserted, and the fire
out. And by starlight could be seen many footprints leading away in the
white snow out into all parts of the Forest.

Eric and Ivra walked toward home hand in hand. They had to pass the
morning's slide on the way. When they came in sight of it they began to
walk more quickly and quietly and to look intently. The blue ice shone
bluer than ever in starlight, but more than the ice shone. Shining
_people_ were using the sleds and the hill was covered with them.

"Why, they must be Star People," Ivra cried excitedly.

When they were quite near they stood to watch.

The strange Star folk were very silent, never calling and laughing as
those who had slid there in the morning had done. Two, a little boy and
a young girl, came spinning down on the same sled and stopped so near
that Ivra and Eric might have touched them by leaning forward. But the
Star-two must have thought the Forest-two shadows, for they paid no
attention to them at all.

Now that they were so near Eric could see that their hair was blue, like
the shadows on snow, and their faces a beautiful shining white. Their
straight short garments were blue like shadows, too, and their arms,
legs and feet were bare. But they did not seem conscious of the cold.
Eric did not hear them speak, but they looked at each other as though
they _were_ speaking, and then suddenly the little boy laughed merrily,
as though the young girl had just told him something very amusing.

Soon the girl turned and ran away up the hill. But the little boy was as
quick as she and threw himself on the sled while she never slackened her
pace, but drew him straight and fast up the steep slope.

"I have never seen them before," Ivra whispered to Eric. "But mother has
told me of them. They don't talk as we do you see. They don't _have_ to.
They know each other's thoughts. They almost never leave their Stars. Do
you think--perhaps, to-night they saw our slide shining, and wondered so
much about it they had to come down? Even mother has never seen them.
It was Tree Mother told her."

Eric was very silent, for he had never seen such beautiful people. The
little boy had had a face like a star, and great shining eyes. The young
girl had been clear like the day, and without smiling her face had been
brimmed with happiness.

But now he felt Ivra trembling. She whispered again, "You know, Eric, it
is wonderful for us to see them like this. Some day, mother says, we may
get to be like them!"

"And speak without words?" Eric asked wondering.

"Yes, and more than that. We may be as _alive_ as they. Now we're only
Forest people, and not all _that_ even--almost dreams. They are _real_!"

Then she took his hand and drew him away. "I cannot look any more," she
said; "can you? They are too beautiful!"

Eric put his fingers to his eyes as he walked. "Yes, it's hard to see
the ground now. My eyes ache a little."

But how the children wished their mother were waiting for them in the
little house to hear the tale!



CHAPTER XIII

NORA'S GRANDCHILDREN


One afternoon Eric and Ivra started out for the Forest Children's moss
village to play with them. But when they got there they found all the
little houses deserted: not a Forest Child was to be found. They must
have gone into some other part of the forest to play. So Ivra and Eric
wandered on and on, a little lonely, a little tired of just each other
for comrades, till at last they came to the very edge of the
forest,--and there was Nora's farm, a rambling red brick house, with a
barn twice its size behind it. Down in the pasture by the house half a
dozen Snow Witches were dancing in a circle, now near, now far, all over
the pasture, and sometimes right up to the farm-house windows.

Ivra clapped her hands and bounded forward. Eric did not follow. He
stood to watch. When the Snow Witches saw Ivra running to them they
rushed to meet her. For a minute she was lost in a cloud of blown snow,
and then there she was dancing in their circle back and forth across the
pasture, and then away, away, away! But before she frolicked quite out
of sight she turned to look for her playfellow, and beckoned to him.

"Come on," she called. "We're going to slide on the brook below the
cornfield."

But Eric did not follow. He did not like the Snow Witches. And just as
Ivra and the Witches drifted out of sight, he thought he heard the
Forest Children laughing. The sound came from the barn. So Eric ran to
the door. It was a big sliding door, and now stood open on a crack just
large enough for a child to slip through. Eric went in.

The barn was tremendously big, a great dusty place full of the smell of
hay. Ahead of him were two stalls, with a horse in one. But Eric was
most interested in the empty stall, for it was from there the laughter
seemed to come. He stood looking and listening, and then right down
through the ceiling of the stall shot a child, and landed laughing and
squealing in the hay in the manger. She sat up, saw Eric and stared. She
was a little girl about his own age, freckle-faced, snub-nosed and
red-haired. She had the jolliest, the nicest face in the world.

Eric opened his mouth to say, "Hello," but kept it open, silent in
amazement, for another child had shot through the ceiling and landed
beside the girl. This was a boy. He was red-headed, too, freckle-faced
and snub-nosed. He looked even jollier than the girl.

Before Eric had closed his mouth on his amazement, "Whoop!" and down
came another boy. This boy was red-haired, freckle-faced and snub-nosed,
and he looked jollier than the other two put together, if that were
possible, for his red hair curled in saucy, tight little ringlets, and
his mouth was wide with smiles.

It was this last one who said, "Hello, who are you?"

"Eric,--who are you?"

"Nora's grandchildren, of course. Come up. We're having sport."

The three children ran across the barn to a ladder and scrambled up and
disappeared through a trap door at the top. Eric followed. The attic was
full of hay in mountains and little hills,--hay and hay and hay. He
followed the children around the biggest mountain, through a tunnel--and
there they vanished!

He found the hole in the stable ceiling and looked down. Not very far
below him was the manger full of hay and red-headed children. "Look out
down there! Whoop!" cried Eric, and dropped, landing among them.

Then the four laughed heartily together and ran across the barn again,
up the ladder, around the hay mountain and dropped down the hole. They
did that dozens of times until they were tired of it.

Then they played hide-and-go-seek in the hay country, and after that
Blind Man's Buff in the barn below. The little girl was Blind Man first.
They tied a red handkerchief tight over her eyes. Then they ran about,
dodging her, calling her, laughing at her groping hands and hesitating
steps. But after a few minutes she became accustomed to the darkness and
ran and jumped about after them until they had to be very wary and swift
indeed. Soon she caught Eric and then he was Blind Man.

By and by they played tag, just plain tag, and Eric liked that best of
all. Back and forth across the great room they raced,--up the ladder,
over the hay, through the hole into the stable, round and round, in and
out, up and down until they were too tired and hot for any more.

Then they lay up in the hay where there was a little window, looking far
out across the meadows.

Eric saw Ivra out there in the first field, wandering around alone and
now and then looking up at the barn. She must have heard their shouts
and laughter. He pointed her out to the other children. "That is my
playmate out there," he said. "Let's open the window and call to her to
come up. She'll tell us stories."

The children looked out eagerly. "But there's nobody there," they said.

Eric laughed. "No, look!" He pointed with his finger. "Over there by the
white birch. Look! She sees us." He waved. "Quick, help me open the
window."

He could not find the catch. The window was draped with cobwebs and
dusty with the dust of years. It looked as though it had never been
opened.

The little red-headed girl put her hand on his arm. She was laughing.
"Don't be silly," she said. "There's no one by the white birch. You're
imagining."

"Why, look! Of course she's there!" Eric was impatient. "She's moving
now, waving to us. Of course you see her!"

"Yes," said the jolliest of the boys. "We do see it--faintly. We've seen
it before too,--a kind of a shadow on the snow. But father says it's
nothing to mind. Imaginings. Nothing real, just spots in our eyes or
something."

Then Eric remembered all that Ivra had told him. She was half fairy.
People could see her if they looked hard enough. But they were not apt
to believe their own eyes when they had looked. That was dreadful for
her. She had not said so, but he had guessed it from her face when she
told him. Well, well, now he understood a little better. These were
Earth Children, with shadows in their eyes. Ivra could never be their
playmate.

But _he_ could see her well enough because his eyes were clear. And
presently he would run out to her and they would go home together. But
just now it was jolly and cozy here in the barn, and these Earth
Children were good fun. He hoped she would wait for him, but if she did
not he would find his way alone easily enough.

"You don't really believe in it, do you?" the red-headed girl was
asking. "If you do,--better not. Grown-ups will laugh at you."

"Nora, your grandmother, won't laugh," said Eric. "She knows Ivra well
enough, and Helma, too."

"Oh, yes," said the jolliest boy. "But she is queer. We love her, and
she's a fine grandmother, I can tell you. And she tells the best
stories. But she's queer just the same, and she can't fool us."

"Let's go in and get some cookies from her," said the other boy. "They
must be done by now."

So up they hopped, and without another look towards the shadow out on
the snow by the white birch, jumped down the hole, and ran out of the
barn into the kitchen.

Nora was there knitting by a table, two big pans of cookies just out of
the oven cooling in front of her.

How good they smelled! Eric had never tasted hot ginger cookies before,
and when Nora gave him one, a big round one all for his own, he almost
danced with delight. He perched on the edge of the table and ate that
one and many another before he was done.

"This boy, grandma," began the red-headed girl.

"His name is Eric," interrupted Nora, handing him another cookie. "I
know him very well."

"Well, he saw It while we were looking out of the barn window! And he
said It was real and his playmate, and he wanted to call It in to tell
us stories!"

"Don't say 'It,'" said Nora. "Her name is 'Ivra.' But of course you
can't play with her. She isn't an Earth Child. She's a fairy. So don't
say anything about it to your father when he comes home to-night. It
would make him cross."

"But it doesn't make you cross," laughed the jolliest boy. "And so won't
you tell us some stories about it now. You know,--the little house in
the wood, the Tree Man, the Forest Children, Helma, Ivra and all the
rest of it."

"Do tell us a story," begged the other two.

So Nora put down her knitting, and taking the cat on her lap, a great
sleepy white fellow who had been purring by the stove, she began to tell
them stories.

She told stories about Helma and Ivra, the Wind Creatures, the Snow
Witches and many more. The children listened eagerly, clapping their
hands now and then, and at the end of every story asking for more.

But Eric was lost in wonder. The children thought the stories were not
true,--just fairy stories told them by a grandmother. And Nora had
evidently long ago given up expecting them to believe. Her black eyes
twinkled knowingly when they met Eric's puzzled ones.

And all the time Eric had only to turn his head to see Ivra walking out
there around in the field, looking at the farm house, waiting for him.
But gradually, as the stories went on the little figure out there grew
more and more to look like just a blue shadow on the snow, paler and
paler. Finally he had to strain his eyes to see it at all.

Then he jumped down from the table and said he must go home. His heart
was beating a little wildly. For he was afraid Ivra might fade away from
him altogether. These red-headed children were fine playfellows. He
liked them,--oh, so much! He wished he could stay and play with them
for--a week. Yes. But he must go now. That blue shadow on the snow
seemed lonely.

"Take her some cookies," said Nora, filling his pockets. The children
laughed at the top of their voices. "Yes, take some cookies to the
fairy. But you can eat them yourself and pretend it is the fairy eating
them," they cried.

Nora laughed with them, and so after a minute Eric joined in. But he and
Nora looked at each other through their laughter and nodded
understanding.

When Ivra saw him at last come out of the farm house door, she didn't
wait longer, but ran away into the wood. He overtook her a long way in,
walking rapidly.

"Did you have a good time with the witches?" he asked.

"Why didn't you come, too?" she said

"Oh, it was too cold. Nora's grandchildren are awfully good fun. We
played hide-and-go-seek, just as we played it at the Tree Man's party."

"Did they laugh at me?"

" . . . No, they laughed at me. They thought I was a funny boy."

"To have me for a playmate?"

Then Eric began to think that Ivra was not very happy. Perhaps she had
been lonely.

"You're always running off with the Snow Witches," he said. "But I won't
play with Nora's grandchildren any more unless they'll let you play too.
I won't, truly!"

Ivra laughed. And it was like spring coming into winter. "Yes, play with
them all you like! I love them, too. I've often watched them. The
littlest boy, the one with the funny curls, laughs at me and stares and
stares. But the other two . . . they just give me a glance and then forget
all about me. They don't think I'm real. But they are awfully jolly. You
play with them and when you tell me about it afterwards I'll pretend I
was there playing too."

Then the two clasped hands and went skipping home.



CHAPTER XIV

SPRING COMES


One morning when Ivra woke up she knew spring had come before her eyes
were open. But Eric had to go outdoors to make sure. He was sure enough
when he smelled the ground, a good earth smell. Snow still clung to the
garden in spots here and there, but the warm sun promised it would not
be for long. Something in the sky, something in the air, a smell of
earth, and a stirring in his own heart told him it was true. Spring had
come!

Ivra had felt and known it before her eyes were open, and now that they
were open, those eyes of hers looked like two blue spring flowers just
awake. She hopped about in the garden poking and prodding the earth with
a stick, looking for her violets, her anemones, her star flowers. Not a
green leaf was pushing through yet, but oh, how soon there would be!

Suddenly she stopped and stood still looking away into the forest. Then
she ran to Eric on the door stone. She cried, "Mother will come now.
Don't you feel it? She will come with the spring!"

Eric did feel it. For there was magic in the day. The magic came to him
in the air, in the smell of the earth, in the new warm wind and said,
"Everything is yours that you want. Joy is coming." And Mother Helma was
what he wanted. So he felt sure she was on the way.

"She must have found the key,--or do you suppose she climbed the gray
wall?" wondered Ivra.

"Shall we go to meet her?" asked Eric.

"No, no. We must get the house clean and ready for her. We must hurry."

And then such a house-cleaning was begun as you or I have never seen.
The Forest Children had been up at dawn to greet the spring, and now
they came running to tell Ivra and Eric about it. When they heard that
Helma was at last coming back and the house was to be cleaned they
wanted to help. First it was decided to wash the floor. Pail after pail
of water from the fountain they splashed on it. Streamlets of water
flowed into the fireplace and out over the door stone. Out and in ran
the Forest Children trying to help, and with every step making foot
prints on the wet floor, muddy little foot prints, dozens of them and
finally hundreds of them.

Then the windows were washed. And because the Forest Children could not
run on those they were made bright and clear. But soon the Forest
Children pressed their faces against the panes to watch for Helma, and
as the minutes passed breath-clouds formed there, spreading and
deepening until the glass sparkled no more. But no one noticed. No one
cared. For now they were shining up the dishes, polishing them with
cloths, and setting them in neat rows in the cupboard.

Then Wild Star appeared, his hands full of spring flowers that he had
found deep in the forest in the sunniest and most protected place, the
very first spring flowers. "Helma must have gotten past that wall, now
it's spring," he said; "and here are some flowers to greet her. See, I
left the roots on, the way she likes them. Let's plant them by the door
stone."

They dug up the earth with their hands, Forest Children's hands, Wild
Star's hands, Eric's and Ivra's,--and planted the flowers all about the
door stone. Then Wild Star flew away a little languidly.

Ivra looked after him. "He'll soon find the deepest, darkest, coolest
place," she said, "make himself a nest of smooth leaves and dream away
the summer. Fall and winter are his flying times. We shall see him at no
more parties for a while."

"And the Snow Witches? What will become of them?" asked Eric.

"They will get into hollows of old trees and under rocks, draw in their
skirts and their hair, curl up and sleep."

"Good news!" thought Eric. But he did not say it for he knew Ivra liked
the Snow Witches almost best of all to play with and would miss them.

Now the Tree Girl came through the gap in the hedge. She was wearing a
green frock, green sandals, and pussy willow buds made a wreath in her
hair.

"Spring, spring!" she cried as she came up the path. "We heard the sap
running in our tree all night. Father has gone on a spring wandering,
and I shall stay within tree no longer for a while."

"We know, we know!" crowed Ivra. "_I_ knew before my eyes were open this
morning. Eric had to smell the ground first. Imagine! We have been
cleaning house. Mother will surely come now. Don't _you_ feel it?"

The Tree Girl lifted her face up in the new warm wind. Her soft hair
floated feather-like. "Yes, I feel it. She is on the way. Spring brings
everything."

A bird flashed from the trees. It lighted on the hedge for a second and
was away again. But Eric had had time to recognize the beautiful bird he
had seen caged in the Witch's fir.

"The caged bird!" he cried to Ivra. "It is free! It is flying away."

The Bird Fairies were flying away, too. They were going to meet the
birds corning up from the south and teach them their songs as they flew.
They came to say good-by to the children.

"Look for us next winter," they called back, as they fluttered off in a
silvery cloud.

And finally, at high noon, just as Ivra had known she would since early
morning, Helma came,--running through the forest, jumping the hedge, and
gathering Ivra and Eric into her arms.

They three knelt on the ground by the spring flowers embracing each
other for a long, long minute.

"Did you find the key to that gate?" Eric asked when his breath came
back, "Or did they let you come at last."

"I didn't have to find the key, and they didn't let me come. They would
never have done that. But the minute I had on a light spring frock I
found I could climb the wall easily enough, and so I came running all
the way. And now they shall never get me back behind doors again. I am
free! I am as free as you, my children!"

She held them off and looked into their eyes.

She was dressed in a brown silk gown, all torn and stained from her
wall-climbing and rush through the bushes. Her feet were bare, for she
had kicked off her funny high-heeled city boots the minute she had
reached the forest. Her hair had grown to her shoulders and looked more
like flower petals than ever. But her face was not brown and serene, as
Eric had first seen it. It was pale and wild.

"They don't believe in you, children," she said. "They don't believe in
me, not the me that I am. And from morning to night they made me a
slave. They made me wear such ugly, hurting things, and then they made
me dance! Every night we danced in hot rooms and ate strange bad-tasting
food. They called dancing like that a _party_. But I could only remember
our forest parties, and our dancing here under the cool moon.

"The only glimpse of the forest I had was your Snow Witches, Ivra.
Sometimes I saw them from my bedroom window, 'way out in the fields,
whirling and scudding in mad games. And then at last one morning some
Wind Creatures flew by, above the garden wall! But when I called Wild
Star back and tried to ask him about you, children, as he perched on the
wall, they came rushing into the garden and dragged me away. They said
it was time for luncheon, and I must change my frock. But let us forget.
I am here! It is spring!"

She jumped up and stood just as the Tree Girl had stood earlier that
morning, her face lifted in the wind. Slowly that face grew calm and
warm color flooded it.

"How nicely cleaned the house is!" she exclaimed when at last they went
in. For she did not see the tracks on the floor nor the clouded windows.
All she saw was that the children had worked there to make it fit for
her home-coming.

Ivra was proud and glad that she noticed. "I have made you a spring
frock too," she said, bringing it out. "And Eric has made you some
sandals. He makes fine sandals now!"

The frock was a brown smock with a narrow green belt.

The sandals were well made, and very soft and light.

Helma stripped off the tattered silk frock, the funny thing with its
long sleeves and stiff lace collar, and hid it away out of sight. On
went the new smock over her head in a twinkling. She stepped into the
sandals. And there was their mother, the Helma Eric had first seen.

"The garden now, we must see about that," she said in her old quiet way.
Then they went out into the garden, and Helma began to plan just where
there should plant seeds and just what must be done. The children clung
to her hands, looking up into her face, and would not let her take a
step away from them. When she stood still they leaned against her, one
against either side, and wound their arms about her.

In mid-afternoon, Spring came--not the spring of the year, but Spring
himself, the person the season is named for. He was a tall young man,
with a radiant face, and fair curls lifting in a cloud from his head.
Where he walked the earth sprang up in green grass after his bare feet,
and flowers followed him like a procession. Helma ran to him, swifter
than the children, and he kissed her lips. He lifted Ivra nigh on his
shoulder for one minute where she thought she looked away over the
treetops hundreds of miles to the blue ocean. But it may have been only
his eyes, which were very blue, that shee was looking into.

With him came two Earth Giants. They were huge brown fellows with
rolling muscles and kind, sleepy eyes. They crouched down at the opening
in the hedge and waited for Spring to go on with them.

"Shall we plant the garden, Helma?" asked Spring.

"Yes, yes," cried the children, and Helma said, "Yes, yes," as eagerly
as they.

So the Earth Giants came in and plowed it all up with their
hands,--hands twenty times as large as an Earth Man's! When they were
done, the garden was a rich golden color, and right for planting. Then
Helma pointed out to Spring where she wanted the seeds to be, violets
here, roses there, lilies there, pansies there and daisies there. Spring
gave some seeds to the children and sowed some himself. Helma sat on the
door stone and joyously directed the work.

By twilight the garden was done, and Spring went away with his Earth
Giants.

As he went out through the forest, flowers and green grass followed
him--and the next morning even the dullest Earth Person would know that
Spring had come.

As for Helma and Ivra and Eric, the house would not hold their joy, and
so they dragged out their beds and slept that night in the new-plowed,
sweet-smelling garden.



CHAPTER XV

SPRING WANDERING


"There goes another," said Helma as she stood in the door the very next
morning after her return. "The littlest Forest Child that was, and all
by himself. He seems rather small to go spring-wandering alone."

"He likes to go alone," Ivra answered. She was setting the table for
breakfast, and Eric was helping her. "'Most always he's playing or
wandering off by himself somewhere."

Helma stood watching the little fellow until he had vanished amid the
delicate green of the forest morning. Then she tossed back her hair with
a shake of her head and cried gayly, "Let's go wandering ourselves,
pets. It's good to be home, but we have all our lives for that now.
Let's adventure!"

The children were overjoyed. They did not want to wait for breakfast.
But Helma thought they had better, for no one knew where, when or how
their next meal would be. Of course, though, it was hard to eat. You
know yourself how you feel about food when you are going on an
adventure. However the bowls of cereal were swallowed somehow. Then the
stoutest sandals were strapped on, and the three were ready to set out.

First they went to Nora's farm and before they had waited many minutes
in the shadow of the trees on the edge of the field Nora came from the
door carrying their jug of milk. They ran to meet her and tell her not
to leave any more milk until they should come back. How glad the old
woman was to see Helma. "I thought spring would bring you," she said.
"Spring frees everything."

Then Helma, Ivra and Eric were off for their spring wandering. It seemed
as though every one else was wandering, too, for they could hardly walk
a mile without meeting some friend or stranger Forest Person. All gave
them greeting, whether stranger or friend, and all looked very glad that
Helma was in the forest again, for good news travels fast there, and
even the strangers knew of her home-coming.

In a secret wooded valley, walking softly to hear the birds and the
thousand little other songs of earth, they suddenly came upon a strange
and thrilling sight. A party of little girls and boys all in bright
colored frocks, purple, orange, green, blue, yellow, were putting the
finishing touches on an air-boat they were making. It was built of
delicate leaved branches and decorated with wild flowers. A great anchor
of dog-tooth violets hung over the sides and kept it on the ground.

When they saw Helma and the children coming so silently toward them they
jumped into the boat and crowded there looking like a bunch of larger
spring flowers. Then they drew in the anchor rapidly. But the little
girl sitting high in the back, the one in the torn yellow dress and with
blowing cloud-dark hair, cried, "Oh, no fear, it's Ivra and her mother
and the clear-eyed Earth Child. Want to come, Ivra? We're off spring
wandering among the white clouds."

Ivra shook her head and called, "Not unless three of us can come."

"Too full for that," called down the yellow-frocked one, for now the
boat had lifted softly almost to the tree tops. "Your Earth Child would
weigh us down. So hail and farewell. Good wandering!"

So the three on the ground stood looking up and waving and calling back,
"Good wandering!" until the green boat had drifted away and away and was
lost in the spring sky. But for a long time after, there floated down to
them in the valley far laughter and glad cries.

The spring nights were cold, and so at twilight they made themselves a
shelter of boughs. They slept as soon as it was night and woke and were
off at the break of dawn. Helma carried sweet chocolate in her pockets,
and forest friends and strangers offered them from their store all along
the way. Sometimes when they were tired or warm with walking they would
climb into the top of some tall tree, and there swinging among the cool
new leaves, Helma began telling them her World Stories again, while the
children looked off over the trembling forest roof and watched for
homing birds.

But when the hemlock and fir trees began to crowd out the maples and
oaks, Helma said quietly one day, "We are nearing the sea." "The sea,"
cried Eric almost wild with sudden delight. "Shall we see it? Shall we
swim in it? Oh, I have never seen it!"

"Oh, I saw it from Spring's shoulder," Ivra cried--she really thought
she had--"But mother, mother, what a wonderful surprise you had for us!"

They began to run in their eagerness. But Helma held them back. "It's a
day's journey yet," she said. And so they walked as patiently as they
could down a long, long slope through dark firs and hemlocks.

It was noon of the following day when they finally came to the sea. They
had struggled through a thick undergrowth of thorned bushes where the
great arms of the firs shut out everything ahead. Then suddenly they
were out of it, in the open, on the shore with the waves almost lapping
their toes. It was high tide. The blue sea stretched away to the blue
sky.

Eric's legs gave way under him, and he knelt on the white sand, just
looking and looking at the bigness of it, the splendor of it, the color
of it, and listening to the music of it. Ivra ran right out into the
foam brought in by the breakers, up to her waist, where she splashed the
water with her palms until her hair and face were drenched with salt
spray. Helma stood looking away to foreign countries which she could
almost see.

But they were not left long to themselves. The heads of a little girl
and boy and a young woman appeared over the crest of a great wave, and
the three were swept up to the shore. They grabbed Ivra and drew her
along with them as they passed, laughing musically. Ivra did not like it
at first, and sprang away from them the minute she could shake herself
free. But when she saw their merry faces and heard them laugh, she
returned shyly.

The children were about Eric's and Ivra's ages, and the young woman was
their mother. The children's names were Nan and Dan, and the woman's
name was Sally. But though they had Earth names they were of the
fairy-kind,--called in the Forest "Blue Water People."

Just peer into a clear pool or stream, almost any bright day, and you
will be pretty sure to see one of them looking up at you. They are the
sauciest and most mischievous of all fairies. Only stare at them a
little, and they will mock you to your face with smiles and pouts, and
will not go away as long as you stay. For they have no fear of you or
any Earth People. They follow their streams right into towns and cities,
under bridges and over dams. You are as likely to find one in your city
park as in the Forest.

Helma spoke to Sally, while the children eyed each other curiously. She
said, "How happy you Blue Water People must be now Spring has freed you
at last!"

Sally dropped down on the beach, her dark hair flung like a shadow on
the sand. Her laughing face looked straight up into the sky. She
stretched her arms above her head.

"He came just in time. Another day--and we would have had to break
through the ice ourselves. Truly. We've never had such a long winter.
Why, a _month_ ago we began to look for Spring. We lay with our faces
pressed against the cold ice for hours at a time, watching. We could
just see light through, and shadows now and then."

"And then I saw him first," cried Dan, who was listening to his mother.

"No, I!" cried Nan.

"No, no," Sallv laughed. "I heard him, singing, a long way off. And I
called you children away from your game of shells. When his foot touched
the ice we danced in circles of joy, and tapped messages through to him
with our fingers. The ice vanished under his feet, and our stream rushed
hither away to the sea. We came with it, and waved him hail and farewell
as we poured down. Who can stop at home in spring-time? And we had been
ice-bound so long!"

"And now we're here," boasted Dan, "I'm going to swim across the sea
to-morrow,--or the next day!"

"You're too little for that. Calm water is best, or little rushing
streams," warned Sally.

"What is it like across the sea?" asked Eric. "Another world?"

"I'll tell you about it in the next story," promised Helma. "And then
when I have told you, Eric, you may want to go across yourself and see
the wonders."

Eric drew a deep breath. "Yes, you and Ivra and I. In a boat." He
pointed to a white sail far out stuck up like a feather slantwise in the
water.

Ivra clapped her hands.

But Helma shook her head. "When you go, it must be alone, Ivra and I
belong to the Forest."

"Why, then I don't want to go, ever." Eric shook the thought from him
like water.

"Well, let's swim across now," Dan shouted, and ran into the waves,
falling flat as soon as he was deep enough and swimming fast away. The
other children followed him, ready for a frolic. You or I would have
found that water very cold, but these were hardy children; and one of
them all winter had made comrades of the Snow Witches, remember.

They waded out to the surf and plunged through it, head first. They took
hands and floated in a circle beyond, rising and falling in the even
motion of the rollers. Nan was very mischievous, and soon succeeded in
pushing Eric out, under where the waves broke. When he looked up
suddenly and saw the great watery roof hanging over him, he was
terrified but he did not scream. People who comraded with Ivra could not
do that. He shut his eyes tight, and then thundering down came the
water-roof, and a second after, up bobbed Eric like a cork, choking and
sputtering. They were laughing at him, even Ivra. The minute the salt
water was out of his eyes he laughed, too, and tried to push Nan into
the surf. But she was too quick for him, and slipped away, farther out
to sea.

Then began a game of water tag. Eric, because he was not such a good
swimmer as the others, was It most of the time. But Ivra had to take a
few turns as well. It was impossible to catch the other two. They moved
in the water as reflected light moves along a wall, not really swimming
at all, but flashing from spot to spot.

Helma and Sally lay on the sand in the spring sunshine and talked about
their children.

"Nan and Dan tear their clothes so," sighed Sally, "I could spend all my
time mending."

"I must make little Eric some new clothes," said Helma. "I hope I have
cloth enough at home."

"Nan is naughty, but she is a darling," laughed Sally as Eric was pushed
under the surf.

Helma waited to see that he came up smiling and then said, "Ivra and
Eric never quarrel. They play together from morn till night like two
squirrels."

 . . . They all had lunch together on the shore. The Blue Water Children
instead of eating smelled some spring flowers which Sally had found.
That is the way they always take their nourishment. Helma turned some
little cakes of chocolate out of her pockets, and though at first it
seemed like a small luncheon, when it was all eaten they felt satisfied.

All the afternoon the children played up and down the beach. They found
a smooth round pink sea-shell which they used for a ball. Eric was the
best at throwing. It made him happy and proud to excel in something at
last. He taught them how to play base ball, which he had once watched
Mrs. Freg's boys playing on Sundays in the back yard. They used a piece
of drift wood for a bat, and when the shell got accidentally batted into
the sea the Blue Water Children fielded it like fishes.

When they were tired of ball, the Blue Water Children drew lines on the
sand for "hop scotch,"--a game they had sometimes watched city children
playing in a park,--and taught Ivra and Eric about that.

Then they built a castle of sand, and walled it in with sea shells.
Helma showed them how to make the moat and the bridge, and Sally and she
took turns and made up a story about the castle and told it to them.

Towards evening some Earth People came by, near to the shore, in a
little steam launch. There were men and women and several children in
it. They crowded into the side of the boat towards the shore to stare
curiously at Helma and Eric. They could not see the others, of course.
Helma with her free, bright hair and bare feet looked very strange to
them. And they could not understand what Eric was doing with his arms
held straight out at each side. He was between Dan and Nan, holding
their hands, and standing to watch. But the Earth People looked right
through the Blue Water Children, or thought they were shadows perhaps.

One of the men put his hands to his mouth like a megaphone and called to
Helma, asking her if she did not want to be picked up. They thought her
being there in that wild place with a little boy, alone, and barefooted,
very singular. They thought she might have been shipwrecked. But Helma
shook her head, and so they had to take their wonder away with them. The
boat swept by.

Ivra ran out into the waves waist deep to watch the strange thing. She
had never seen a steam launch before, or anything like it. A baby, held
in his nurse's arms, caught sight of her and waved tiny dimpled hands,
calling and cooing. She saw his sparkling eyes, his light fuzzy hair,
his little white dress and socks. She ran farther into the water, waving
back to him and throwing him dozens of kisses. But no one else in the
boat saw her, and after a minute the baby's attention turned to a sea
gull flying overhead.

Ivra returned to shore, her face shining. There had been no doubt of
it--the baby had seen her at once, and had had no doubts. He had laughed
and reached his hands to her. The little Fairy Child almost hugged
herself with delight. . . .

They built themselves shelters of drift wood when night fell. Eric's was
just large enough for him to crawl into and lie still. One whole side of
it was open to the sea. Soft fir boughs made his bed, and Helma had left
a kiss with him. But he did not sleep for a long while. He lay on his
side looking out over the star-sprinkled water and up at the
star-flowering sky. And he could not have told how or from where the
command had come, but he knew as he looked that he must cross that sea
and go into the new world beyond it and see all things for himself.
World Stories were good. But they were not enough.

How he was to go, or how live when he got there--he did not once think
of that. Just that he _was_ to go filled his whole mind. He forgot that
he had said he would not go without Helma and Ivra. He did not think of
them at all. He just lay still listening to the sea's command to go
beyond and beyond.



CHAPTER XVI

OVER THE TREE TOPS


He was waked by Ivra's joyous cries just at dawn, and rolled out of his
shelter, rubbing his eyes and stretching his arms and legs. But as soon
as his eyes were well open he jumped up and uttered a cry of joy
himself. For hanging just above the water on the edge of the sea was a
great blue sea-shell air-boat with blue sails; and the Tree Mother stood
in it, talking to Helma and Ivra who had run down to the water's edge.

The boat and the sails were blue. Tree Mother's gown was blue. The sea
and the sky were blue. Tiny white caps feathered the water. Tiny white
clouds feathered the sky. And Tree Mother's hair was whiter and more
feathery than either. Her eyes were dark like the Tree Man's, only
keener and softer, both. And in spite of her being a grandmother her
face was brown and golden like a young out-of-door girl's, and she was
slim and quick and more than beautiful. Eric stood beside Ivra, his face
lifted up to the Tree Mother's, aglow and quivering.

"She is going to take us home," Ivra said softly.

Then Tree Mother turned the boat, and it drifted in and down on the
sand. The children and Helma climbed in. The Tree Mother said very
little on the long ride, but her presence was enough. The three were
almost trembling for joy, for the Tree Mother's companionship is rare,
and one of the splendidest things that can happen to a Forest Person.

The minute they were in the boat, it shot up and away towards home.

"Where are the Blue Water Children?" Eric cried, suddenly remembering
their playmates of yesterday.

"Have you been playing with Blue Water Children?" asked Tree Mother.
"They are gypsy-folk and you never know where you will find them next.
They are probably miles away by now."

"Faster, faster, Tree Mother," begged Ivra, who was hanging over the
side of the boat and losing herself in joy with the motion and height.

"Faster?" said the Tree Mother. "Then take care! Hold on!"

The boat shot forward with a sudden rush. The spring air changed from
cool feathers to a sharp wing beating their faces. Eric and Ivra slipped
to the floor and lay on their backs. They dared not sit up for fear of
being swept overboard. They could see nothing but the sky from where
they lay, but they loved the speed, and clapped their hands, and Ivra
cried, "Faster, faster!"

The Tree Mother laughed. "These are brave children," she thought. "Shut
your eyes then," she said, "and don't try too hard to breathe."

They swept on more swiftly than a wild-goose, so swiftly that soon the
children could neither hear, speak nor see. And then at last they were
traveling so fast that it felt as though the boat were standing
perfectly still in a cold dark place.

Gradually light began to leak through their shut eyelids, the wing of
the wind beat away from them, and the boat rocked slower and slower in
warm, spring-scented air. But in that brief time, they had traveled
many, many miles.

Now when the children leaned over the side, they saw that they were
sailing slowly over their own Forest. The tree tops were like a restless
green sea just a little beneath them. They flew low enough to hear bird
calls and the voices of the streams.

It was then they suddenly noticed that the littlest of the Forest
Children was there curled up fast asleep at Tree Mother's feet. Ivra
cried to him in surprise, and he woke slowly, stretching his little
brown legs, shaking his curly head, and lifting a sleepy face. He was
puzzled at seeing others beside Tree Mother in the boat. He had been
riding and awake with her all night up near the stars, and had dropped
to sleep as the stars faded.

She bent now and took his hand. "I picked these wanderers up at dawn,"
she said, "and now we are all going back together. We are well on the
way."

They had left the forest roof and were sailing over open country,--a
short cut, Tree Mother explained.

"Oh, look," cried Ivra excitedly, almost tumbling over the edge in her
endeavor to see better, "isn't that the gray wall off there?"

Yes, it was the gray wall, the gray wall that had prisoned their mother
all winter. The boat went slower and slower as they neared it and then
almost hung still over the garden. The garden was full of people, having
some kind of a party, for many little tables were set there with silver
and glass that shone brilliantly in the sun. Servants were hurrying back
and forth carrying trays and their gilt buttons sparkled almost as much
as the silver.

But how strange were the people! Eric and Ivra and the littlest Forest
Child laughed aloud. They were standing about so straight and stiff,
holding their cups and saucers, and their voices rising up to the
air-boat in confusion sounded like a hundred parrots.

"Why don't they sit down on the grass to eat?" wondered the littlest
Forest Child. "And why don't they wash their feet in the fountain? They
look so very hot and walk as though it hurt!"

"Sitting on the grass and washing their feet in the fountain is against
the law there," Helma said.

But neither Ivra nor the littlest Forest Child knew what "against the
law" meant. Eric knew, however, for he had lived nine years, remember,
where most everything a little boy wanted _was_ against the law.

"But why do they stay?" Eric asked.

Helma looked a little grave. "Why did you stay, dear, for nine long
years?"

He thought a minute. "I hadn't seen the magic beckoning," he answered
then.

"Neither have they," she said, "and perhaps never will, for their eyes
are getting dimmer all the time."

"But how can they _help_ seeing it?" cried the littlest Forest Child.
"See, all around the garden!"

It was true. All around the garden the tall trees stood and beckoned
with their high fingers, beckoned away and away with promise of magic
beyond magic. But the people in the garden never lifted their eyes to
see it. They were looking intently into their tea cups as though it
might be there magic was waiting.

"They are prisoners," said Tree Mother, "just as you were, Helma, with
this one difference. You were locked in, but they have locked themselves
in and carry their keys like precious things next their hearts."

Helma sighed and laughed at once. Then she leaned far out and tossed a
daffodil she was carrying down on the heads in the garden, shaking her
short, flower petal hair as she did it--she had cut it before starting
on the adventure--in a free, glad way.

No one looked up to see where the flower had dropped from. The people
down there were not interested in offerings from the heavens. So the
boat sailed on. Away and away over the canning factory they drifted,
where the little girl looked out from her window and up, and waved her
hands. "What are you waving at like that?" a man asked who was working
near. "Oh, just a white summer cloud," she said. For she knew very well
he did not want the truth. And I might as well tell you here that that
pale little girl was a prisoner who had not turned the lock herself, and
did not carry the key next her heart. Others had done that before she
was born. And she had seen the beckoning in spite of the lock and now
was only waiting a little while to answer it.

The children were glad to find the forest roof beneath them again. It
was noon when they sank down in the garden at their own white door
stone. Tree Mother left them there and flew away with the littlest
Forest Child, the one who liked to wander alone by himself.

Nora was in the house when they ran in. She had cleaned it with a
different cleaning from what it had had for Helma's first return. There
were no little foot prints on the floor now, and the window panes shone
like clear pools in sunlight. Three dishes of early strawberries and
three deep bowls of cream were standing on the table before the open
door. And then besides there was a big loaf of golden-brown bread.

"I thought you would be hungry," said Nora, pointing to the feast.

They were hungry indeed, for they had had nothing at all to eat since
yesterday's lunch of chocolate. They very soon finished the strawberries
and cream, and a jug of milk besides.

"You are a good neighbor, Nora," Helma said gratefully.

All Nora wanted in return for her labor and kindness was the story of
their adventure. She listened eagerly to every word. "I shall tell this
to my grandchildren," she said when the story was done, "and they will
think it just a fairy tale. They'll never believe it's fairy truth! Oh,
if they would only stop pretending to be so wise they themselves might
some time get the chance of a ride over the tree tops with Tree Mother.
But they never will. Come play with them again sometime, Eric. They
often talk about you."

"I'll come to-day and bring Ivra if they'll play with her, too!"

But Nora shook her head as she went away. "They don't believe in Ivra.
How could they play with her? Their grandmother can teach them nothing.
But they'll like the story of this adventure none the less for not
believing it."

When she was gone the three took the dishes into the house and washed
them. Then they went out and worked in the garden until dusk.



CHAPTER XVII

THE JUNE MOON


Now every day Eric was becoming acquainted with strange Forest People:
those who had hidden away from winter in trees, and those who were
wandering up from the south along with the birds, and Blue Water People,
of course, all along the Forest streams. The Forest teemed with new
playmates for him and Ivra.

Hide-and-go-seek was still the favorite game. And now it was more fun to
be "It" than to be hiding almost, for one was likely to come upon
strangers peeping out of tree hollows, swimming under water, or swinging
in the tree tops, any minute. When the person who was "It" came across
one of these strangers he would simply say, "I spy, and you're It." Then
he would draw the stranger away to the goal, where he usually joined the
game and was as much at home as though he had been playing in it from
the very first.

The day that Eric found Wild Thyme so was the best of all,--or rather
she was the best of all. And that was strange, for when he first spied
her he did not like her at all. Her dress was a purple slip just to her
knees, with a big rent in the skirt. Her hair was short and bushy and
dark. And her face was soberer than most Forest People's faces. She was
sitting out at the edge of the Forest on a flat rock, her chin in her
hands, and she did not look eager to make friends with any one.

But he cried, "I spy! You're It!" just the same. She did not lift her
eyes. She only said, "You must catch me first. I am Wild Thyme, and that
will be hard!"

Eric laughed, for she was not a yard away from him. And he sprang
forward as he laughed. But she was quicker than he. She had been at
perfect rest on the rock, her chin in her hands, and not looking at him,
but the instant he jumped she was off like a flash, a purple streak
across the field.

But Eric did not let his surprise delay him. He ran after her just as
fast as he could, and that was very, very fast, for running with Ivra
had taught him to run faster than most Earth Children ever dream of
running. Soon, Wild Thyme slowed down a little, and faced him, running
backward, her bushy hair raised from her head in the wind of her
running, her little brown face and great purple eyes gleaming
mischievously. Eric sprang for her. She dodged. He sprang again. She
dodged again. He cried out in vexation and sprang again, straight and
sure. He caught her by her bushy hair as she turned to fly.

And a strange thing happened to him in that second, the second he caught
her hair. Instead of Wild Thyme and the sunny field, he was looking at
the sea. He was standing on the shore, looking away and away, almost to
foreign lands. Now ever since that spring night on the shore he had been
thinking of the sea and longing with all his might to cross it and see
foreign lands for himself. Only that had seemed impossible, and
something he must surely wait till he was grown up to do. But now, in a
flash, as his fingers closed on Wild Thyme's hair, he knew that he could
indeed do that, and anything else he really set his heart on.

No girl, even a fairy, likes to have her hair pulled. So Wild Thyme was
angry. She pinched Eric's arm with all her strength. Then _he_ was
angry. And so they stood holding each other, he her by the hair, and she
him by the arm, staring hotly into each other's faces. But slowly they
relaxed, and becoming their own natural selves again, broke into
laughter.

"You'll play with us, won't you?" Eric asked.

"Of course," she said, "and I _am_ It!" And away they ran to find the
others, Ivra, the Tree Girl, the Forest Children, and Dan and Nan. When
those saw who it was Eric had captured they ran to meet her, shouting
gayly, "Wild Thyme! Goody! Goody! Hello, Wild Thyme!" They seemed to
have known her always. She and Ivra threw their arms about each other's
shoulders and danced away to the goal.

Wild Thyme was a wonderful playfellow. She was so wild, so free, so
strong, so mischievous. And when the game was ended she invited them to
a dance that very night. "It's to be around the Tree Man's Tree," she
said. "And all come--come when the moon rises."


 . . . Perhaps Eric's good times in the Forest reached their very height
that June night of the dance. He had never been to a dance before, and
just at first he did not think there would be much fun in it. But Ivra
wanted him to go, and offered to show him about the dances. So they ran
away from the others to the edge of the field where Eric had discovered
Wild Thyme, and there on the even, grassy ground Ivra showed him how to
dance. It was very easy,--not at all like the dances Earth Children
dance. It was much more fun, and much livelier. The dances were just
whirling and skipping and jumping, each dancer by himself, but all in a
circle. Eric liked it as well as though it had been a new game.

Late that afternoon Helma and Ivra and Eric gathered ferns and flowers
to deck themselves for the evening. They put them on over the stream,
which was the only mirror in the Forest.

Helma made a girdle of brakes for herself, and a dandelion wreath for
her hair. She wove a dear little cap of star flowers for Ivra, and a
chain of them for her neck. Eric crowned himself with bloodroot and
contrived grass sandals for his feet. But the sandals, of course, wore
through before the end of the first dance and fell off.

They had a splendid supper of raspberries and cream, which they sat on
the door stone to eat, and then told stories to each other, while they
waited for the moon to rise. It came early, big and round and yellow,
shining through the trees, flooding the aisles of the Forest with silver
light until they looked like still streams, and the trees like masts of
great ships standing in them.

Then the three hurried away to the Tree Man's. They ran hand in hand
through the forest aisles, their faces as bright to each other as in
daylight. But before they even came in sight of the tree they heard
music.

"Thrum, thrum, thrum, thrummmm, thrummmmmmmmmmmm." Very soft, very
insistent, very simple and strangely thrilling. When they came to the
tree, there were the Forest Children, who had come early, whirling
around in a circle, and the Tree Girl in the center of the circle making
music with a tiny instrument she held in one hand and touched with the
fingers of the other.

Soon Forest People began arriving from every direction. There were the
Blue Water Children, bright pebbles around their necks, and white sea
shells in their blue hair. The Forest Children were crowned with
maidenhair fern. The Tree Girl was the most beautiful of all in her
silver cobweb frock and her cloudy hair. The Tree Man stood still in the
shadow, but his long white beard gleamed out, and his deep eyes. Wild
Thyme wore a rope of the flower that is named for her around her neck,
but there was a new rent in her purple frock and her legs were scratched
as though she had remembered her dance only the last minute and come
plunging the shortest way through bushes, which was true.

Thrum, thrum, thrum, thrummmmmmmmmm.

Every one except the Tree Man was dancing, bewitched in the moonlight,
all over the grassy space around the great tree. The grass was cool and
refreshing under Eric's bare feet, and he often dug his bare toes into
the soft earth at its roots as he leapt or ran just to make sure he was
on earth at all. For he felt as though he were swimming in moonlight, or
at least treading it.

Thrum, thrum, thrum, thrummmmmmmmmm.

When the Tree Girl's music stopped between dances, then it would go on
in Eric's head. It was just the sound of the night after all. Once Eric
noticed that the Beautiful Wicked Witch was dancing next to him in the
circle but he was not afraid of her there with the others, and in bright
moonlight. And she was plotting no ill. Her face was sparkling with
delight and she had utterly forgotten herself in the dance.

When the great moon hung just above them, and shadows were few and far
between, the Tree Mother came walking through the Forest, quieter and
more beautiful than the moon. Wild Thyme ran to her and laid her bushy
head against her breast. For Wild Thyme only of all the Forest People
loved her without awe. The Tree Mother put her hand on Wild Thyme's head
and stood to watch the dancing. Her robe gleamed like frost, and her
hair was a pool of light above her head.

Thrum, thrum, thrum, thrummmmmmmmm.

Wild Thyme jumped back into the dance and the Tree Mother stood alone.
But although she stood as still as a moonbeam under the tree, she made
Eric think of dancing more than all the others put together. It was her
eyes. The thrum, thrum, thrum, thrummmmmmmmmm was in them, and the rest
of that night Eric felt as though the music-instrument the Tree Girl was
swinging was silent, and that all the music flowed from Tree Mother.

But Eric, after all, was only an Earth Child, and his legs got very
tired in spite of the music and the moonlight. So at last he slipped out
of the circle, and stumbling with weariness and sleepiness went to Tree
Mother. She picked him up in her arms, and the minute his head touched
her shoulder he was sound asleep, the music at last hushed in his head.

When he woke it was summer dawn. The birds were flitting above in the
tree-boughs and making high singing. He was alone, lying beneath a
silver birch, his head among the star flowers.

He knew that Helma and Ivra had not wanted to wake him, but had gone
home when the moon set, and were waiting breakfast for him there now. So
he jumped up and ran home through the dew.



CHAPTER XVIII

THE DEEPEST PLACE IN THE WOOD


It was on the hottest day of all the hot days of summer that Eric found
the deepest place in the Forest. He wandered into it while he was
looking for Wild Thyme. Ivra had been no good to him that day. She was
usually ready to play in any weather; but on this, the hottest day of
the year, she stayed indoors, where it was a little cooler, and lying on
the settle she drew paper dolls on birch bark, and afterwards cut them
out. Yes, even fairy children love paper dolls and Ivra loved them more
than most. Eric wanted her to go swimming in the stream, but he teased
her to in vain, for she was entranced with the dolls and would hardly
lift her eyes from them.

Helma was swinging in a vine swing she had made for herself high in a
tree above the garden. One of the Little People was perched on a leaf
just over her head, and they were chattering together like equals. Their
eager voices floated down to Eric standing disconsolate near the door
stone. But Helma usually knew when her children were in trouble, no
matter how tiny the trouble, and so before Eric had stood there long or
dug up more than a bushel of earth with his bare toes, she leaned over
the nest and called to him.

"Why don't you go and play with Wild Thyme? She doesn't mind the heat.
Every one else is staying quiet till sundown."

Wild Thyme was a happy thought, and Eric walked away in search of her.
But she was in the very last place he would have thought to look on such
a scorching day, and that is how he missed her. She was lying full
length on the hot burnt grass in the field at the Forest's edge, loving
the heat and sunshine, which covered her like a mantle. If Eric had seen
her it is probable he would not have known her or stopped to look twice.
He would have thought her just a little patch of the flower that is
named for her.

So he wandered on and on, looking high and low and all about for her,
and he went deeper and deeper into the Forest. The deeper he went the
cooler it became, for the forest roof kept out the sunshine. The light
grew dimmer and dimmer too. Eric had never been so far in before and
everything was strange to him.

He saw no Forest People except a little brown goblin who peered at him
from some underbrush and then scuttled away into the darkness of denser
brush. Eric had never seen a goblin before, but he had no fear of
goblins, and so this one did not bother him at all. He heard others
scuttling and squeaking, and one threw a chunk of gray moss at him. He
stopped and picked it up and threw it back with a laugh in the direction
it had come from.

"Come out and play, why don't you?" he called. "I know where there's a
fine swimming pool." But there was no answer to his invitation. Instead
there was sudden and utter silence. He was disappointed, for he did want
a playmate, and he had almost given up looking for Wild Thyme.

After walking for a long while he came at last to one of the windings of
the Forest stream, and gratefully stepped into the shallow, clear water,
dark with shadows. His feet were burning, and his head was hot. So he
drank a long drink of the cold, delicious water, ducked his head, and
finally washed his face. Then he waded on with no purpose in mind now
but just to keep his feet in the water.

It was so he came to the deepest place; where not even Ivra had ever
been. It was almost cool there, and more like twilight than early
afternoon. And right in the deepest place, in a nest of smooth leaves,
with his feet in the water, lay Wild Star. When Eric first caught sight
of him he thought he was asleep, for his wings were lying on the leaves
half folded and dropped, and his knees were higher than his head. But
when Eric went close enough to see his eyes he knew that he was very
wide awake, for they were wide open, watchful and intent,--and purple
like the early morning. Such wide-awake eyes were startling in such a
sleepy, still place. Eric expected him to spread his wings in a flash
and dart away. But the wings stayed half open, purple shadows on the
leaves, and Wild Star did not even raise his head. Only his eyes greeted
Eric.

But Eric knew without words that Wild Star was glad to see him. So he
stepped up out of the water and stretched himself on a mound of silvery
moss near by. With his chin resting in his palms and his elbows
supporting, he faced the Wind Creature, his clear blue eyes open to the
intent purple ones.

It was Wild Star who spoke first.

"I thought, little Eric, you would have crossed the sea before this, and
be out of the Forest. I expected to find you next fall on the other side
of the world."

Eric was amazed, for he had not said one word of his dream about that to
any one. "How did you know I wanted to go?" he cried.

"Oh, you are an Earth Child, after all, and I knew you would want to be
going on, as soon as you saw the sea."

"But _why_ do I want to go on?" asked Eric, his face clouding with the
puzzle of it. "I am so happy here, and Helma is my mother now. There
can't be another mother across the sea for me. And if there were I
wouldn't want her,--not after Helma! No, Helma is my only mother, and
Ivra is my comrade. And still I want to leave them,--and go on and away
over there. It is very funny."

"No," said Wild Star. "It isn't funny. You are a growing Earth Child,
not a fairy. It is your own kind calling you. It is the music of your
human life."

"I don't know what you mean," said Eric.

"It is like this: you know when you begin to sing a song, you go on and
on to the end without thinking about it at all. It is the theme that
carries you. Well, a human life is made like a song,--it carries itself
along. You do not stop to think why. It can't stop in the middle, on one
chord, for long. Yours now is resting, on a chord of happiness. But soon
it will go on again. You want it to. Life in the Forest, though, isn't
like that. Here it is music without any theme, like the music we dance
to. Thrum, thrum, thrum, thrummmmmmmm. But there is more than that to an
Earth Child's life. It runs on like this stream. The stream is happy
here in the Forest, too, but it goes on seeking the sea just the same."

There was a long stillness while Eric looked down into the green depths
of the water. At last he asked, "But how could I ever get across the
sea? And when I got there how could I get back?"

"Time enough to think about getting back when you are there," laughed
Wild Star. "But as to getting there, Helma is the one to tell you that.
She has been an Earth Child, too, you know. She felt just as you did,
that spring night on the shore. She has felt it many times. It is only
Ivra that keeps her in the Forest. Ivra docs not belong out in the world
of humans, and Helma will never leave her. But she will understand
your longing. All you have to do is tell her."

Eric clapped his hands, a habit he had caught from Ivra. "Oh, I shall
cross in a ship," he cried, "and see all the foreign lands. And when I
come back, think of the World Stories I shall have to tell Helma and
Ivra!"

He sprang up in his joy, and felt as though he had wings on his
shoulders like Wild Star, and had only to spread them out to go beating
around the world. For a second the Wind Creature and the Earth Child
looked very much alike. And indeed, the only difference was that Wild
Star had to wait for the wind, and Eric need wait for no wind or no
season. His wings were _inside of his head_, but they were as strong as
Wild Star's. And he had only to spread them and lift them to go anywhere
he wanted.

Now he wanted to get back to Helma and tell her all about it. Wild Star
pointed him the shortest way, and off he ran, jumping the stream and the
moss beds beyond, and disappearing into the underbrush.

"I'll look for you next time the other side of the world!" Wild Star
shouted after him.

It was twilight when he reached home. Helma and Ivra were sitting on the
door stone, hand in hand. They made room for Eric. But he did not
snuggle up. He stayed erect, his face lifted towards the first dim
stars, and told Helma all about his wanting to go away from them out
through the Forest and across the sea, and all that Wild Star had said
about music and Earth People's lives. And he told her, too, of the
vision of success he had had when he caught Wild Thyme that first day by
her bushy hair.

Helma listened quietly, and said nothing for many minutes after he was
through. But at last she spoke, putting a hushing hand on Eric's
dreamful head.

"I understand," she said. "I knew you would want to go on sometime. And
I have a friend across there who will help us. He has a school for boys
and I got to know him very well behind the gray stone wall. He asked me
about the Forest and you children. And he said that Eric sometime would
surely want to go back to humans, and when he did he would help him. He
understands boys. It is to him you had better go, Eric, and when you are
really ready I will tell you how, and start you on your way."

Eric sighed with contentment, and leaned his head against Helma's
shoulder.

But Ivra stayed at her mother's other side, as still and silent as a
shadow. Soon the fireflies began their nightly dance in the garden. But
Ivra did not go darting after them as usual to make their dance the
swifter. And Eric's head was too full of dreams and his eyes too full of
visions of the sea to notice them at all.



CHAPTER XIX

MORE MAGIC IN A MIST


Indian summer had come round again before Eric really made up his mind to
go. The flowers were asleep in the garden, and there was a steady,
gentle shower of yellow leaves down the Forest. That morning when he
woke the little house seemed suspended in a golden mist. As he stood in
the doorway he felt as though it might drift away up over the trees and
into space any minute. But after a little he knew it was not Helma's
little forest house that was to go swinging away into space and
adventure,--it was himself. And suddenly he wanted to go _then_,--to the
sea and over and beyond. He called the news in to Helma and Ivra, who
were still within doors. Helma came swiftly out to him.

"The trees are beckoning again, mother," he cried. "The way they did a
year ago when I first came here. Now it is just as Wild Star said. The
music is beginning to go on. There's magic out to-day. Oh, what made
Wild Star know so much?"

"Sit down," said Helma. She took his hand and drew him down beside her
on the door stone. Then she held it firmly while very slowly and
distinctly, but once only, she gave him directions about how to go,
where to go and what to do, so that he might follow the magic.

Eric sat and listened attentively, in spite of the high beating of his
heart, and the magic working in his head. As soon as she was done, he
wanted to go right away that minute. For even in his happiness he knew
that saying good-by to all his friends in the Forest would be too sad a
task. They did not say good-by when they went on long adventures, or
followed summer south. They simply disappeared one day, and those who
stayed behind forgot them until next season. So Eric would do as they.

Only last week Helma had made him a warm brown suit for the coming
winter. The new strong sandals on his feet he had made himself. His cap
was new, too, and Helma had stuck two new little brown feathers in it as
in the old one; so he still had a look of flying. There was really
nothing to delay his departure further. Helma called to Ivra, and she
came out slowly. There was no need to explain things to her, for she had
heard everything.

Helma lifted Eric's chin in her palms and looked long and earnestly at
the child she was letting go away from her all alone out into the queer
world of Earth People. She picked him up in her strong arms then, as
though he were a very little boy, and kissed him. She ran with him to
the opening in the hedge and set him down there, laughing.

"Run along now 'round the world," she said. "And when you come back
bring a hundred new World Stories with you!"

Eric laughed too, and promised and stood on tiptoes to kiss her again.
He stroked her short flower petal hair, and kissed her cool brown cheek
over and over. But he did not cling to her. And he did not say another
word, but ran to catch up with Ivra who was to walk with him until noon
and had gone on ahead.

The children did not scuffle through the banks of leaves, or jump and
run and burst into play as they were used to doing. They walked steadily
forward, saying very little, neither hurrying nor delaying their steps.
Once when Eric's sandal came untied Ivra knelt to fix it, for she was
still more skillful with knots than he.

But when the sun showed that it was noon, Ivra's steps grew slower and
slower, dragged and dragged, until at last she stood still in a billow
of leaves.

"I have to go back now," she said.

In a flash all the magic swept out of the day for Eric. He knew he could
never say good-by to Ivra, so he stayed silent, looking ahead into the
fluttering, golden forest. But even as he looked the trees began to
beckon with their high fingers, and 'way away, down long avenues of
trees he _almost_ glimpsed the sea.

Ivra threw her arms about his neck and kissed him. "Good-by, comrade,"
was all she said.

He kissed her cheeks. "I'll come back," he promised. But before he had
gone many steps he turned to see her again. She was standing in the
billow of leaves, a lonely-looking little girl, her face paler than it
had been even on that day of the wind-hunt. He wanted to run back to her
and tell her he would be her playmate always, and never leave the
Forest. But he wanted, too, to go on and across the sea and into foreign
lands. He stayed irresolute.

And then quite suddenly, standing just behind Ivra, he saw Tree Mother.
She was not looking at him at all, but at Ivra, and her eyes were kind
stars. When Ivra turned to go home she must walk right into Tree
Mother's arms and against her breast. So Eric was happy again, Ivra
could not be lonely with dear Tree Mother. Perhaps she would take her up
in her air-boat high above the falling leaves, where she could look down
on the magic. He waved, calling, "Remember me to the Snow Witches when
they come." That was not because he really wanted to be remembered to
them but because he knew that Ivra liked them best of all, and it
would please her.

She nodded and waved too, and threw him a kiss. Then a shower of
fluttering leaves came between the playmates.

When it was clear again Eric had run on out of sight, and was lost to
Ivra in the Forest. On and on and on through the showers of golden
leaves he went, magic at his elbow and around him, and beckoning ahead
of him. And after long walking and many thoughts, at last he did see the
sea, gleaming blue and white sparkles between the golden trees.





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