Mrs. Molesworth.

Fairies Afield



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"Oh," exclaimed Merran again, "how pretty, oh how very pretty you are; your dress too! I can't believe you're the doll-woman. I didn't think her at all pretty, and yet – " she felt too puzzled to explain, and no wonder, for the face still smiling at her was so very charming. Blue eyes like forget-me-nots; cheeks like delicate blush roses; lovely bright brown hair, some ends of which came straying out of the graceful head-dress, and above all such a sweet and kindly expression!

"Yet," said the fairy lady, for that this she was the little girl began to feel sure, "yet, Merran, your idea is right. I am the same, and this place where you are standing is what you have called the 'rain-house.' Look about you – this is only the entrance – and then I will take you inside and you shall see my husband, who will welcome you as I do. We have expected you for a long time, but till you spoke to me in your trouble I had no power to bid you come."

Then Merran turned and gazed around her, and strange as it had seemed at first, she began to recognise the roughened walls, the branches wreathed round the porch with its two open doorways, even the flooring on which she stood, painted to look like tiles.

"Yes," she exclaimed, "it is like the rain-house, as much as I could see of it. But – " and then for the first time a new perplexity struck her, "if it really is it," she asked, "how can I be in it? How can I be littler even than you? Why I could have held you in my hand when I was down in the garret, if I could have got you? Have you grown big, or have I grown tiny?"

The Sunshine fairy – we can call her by her name now – laughed, and oh how pretty her laugh was!

"My dear Merran," she said, "it doesn't matter. Perhaps, however, it is less confusing for you to think you have grown tiny. But I needn't puzzle you if you understand that to all intents and purposes you are in fairyland – as much there as it is well for a mortal child to be. Your old rain-house is one of its entrances. Come now, and you shall see more."

She opened a door in the back of the hut – or what seemed the back – and led Merran through. The little girl gave a cry of pleasure. They were standing in the prettiest room you could imagine. It was all brightness and cosiness, the chairs and tables of white wood, the carpet like green moss, the walls hung with soft pink silk, and above all the "window-doors," as Merran called them to herself, opened on to – surely the loveliest garden that ever was seen, "out of fairyland" I was going to say, forgetting that it was, if not fairyland itself, just at the entrance to it. It did not seem a very large garden, or rather one could not quite tell how far it extended, for at the farther end it sloped down rather suddenly and beyond, a great thicket of beautiful trees and bushes gave a misty, vague appearance, through which Merran only caught sight of gleams of sky and sunshine – almost, she fancied, of blue hills far in the distance.

"That must be the real fairyland," she thought.

But she did not feel much curiosity about it; the pretty room and lovely garden were too full of delight. And as she gazed, another object attracted her. This was a fountain in the centre of one of the velvety lawns. She had never seen a fountain before, but she was a clever child in her own way, and she remembered pictures which she had seen, of which the dancing silvery drops reminded her.

"Is that a – a waterfall?" she asked.

The fairy lady shook her head.

"Not exactly," she replied, "though for a little girl like you it is a very good guess. No, it is the fountain by which we know about the rain and showers. We send messages far and wide by its means. You could not understand if I explained. But we work very hard. Fairy folk are not idle, as some foolish mortals imagine. See – my husband is coming to speak to you. He and I work together, though behind there in your world people fancy we don't! Rain without sunshine, or sunshine without rain, would make a sad state of things."

"Yes, indeed," said a merry voice, and from behind the mist and dazzle of the fountain Merran perceived a new-comer – a man with a nice brown face, dressed something like a charming old china figure which her aunt greatly treasured – brown velvet jacket and breeches, flowered waistcoat, a scarlet cap on his short curls – altogether quite the right sort of person to match the lovely Sunshine fairy.

He doffed his cap as he came forward, Merran gazing at him in surprise. She would much have liked to ask him how ever he managed to keep so beautifully clean and smart if he was always working away at the water, but she felt rather shy, and only gazed.

"So you have come at last, little maiden," he said pleasantly. "We have been waiting here a good while for you."

Merran felt greatly astonished and puzzled.

"Yes," said the Sunshine fairy, "our queen knows all about you. She always cares for lonely or unhappy children more than for any others, though they may not be aware of it. And she told us to stay here till the time came for us to be of service to you, poor little Merran. Not that it matters much to us where we live. Rain and I can do our work wherever we are, and move our abode in less time than it would take you to run downstairs."

"I wish you would stay here always and let me come and live with you," pleaded Merran. "Nobody cares for me down there," and she nodded towards where she supposed the farm must be. "Couldn't you – couldn't your queen turn me into a fairy for good? I shouldn't ever want to be a real little girl again, and nobody would mind. They'd just think I'd got lost – they'd never imagine I'd gone to fairyland."

"Would nobody mind – would nobody miss you?" the Sunshine fairy asked gently.

Merran's eager face fell. She hesitated.

"P'r'aps Dirk would have minded once, before he went away," she said ruefully. "But not now – oh no – they say he's grown so fine and strong like the others. He won't care for me any more, I'm sure. That's another reason why I wish you'd let me stay with you and never go back to the farm again. Aunt says I grow stupider and stupider, and uglier too, I daresay she thinks, though she doesn't exactly say so. And just look at me" – she held out her shabby old skirt as she spoke – "this horrid dress is only fit for a beggar girl, and I'll have to wear it all the week, though it wasn't my fault that I dirtied my nice clean one. The lane was so slippery, and so muddy. It had been raining so hard."

The Sunshine fairy smiled.

"Yes," she said, "but you don't know what it would be like in your country if it didn't rain a good deal."

"I know it has to, of course," said Merran, "but if only we knew better, everything would be easier. Uncle Mac often says there never was such changeable weather as we have. I don't believe he'd be so cross and surly if he wasn't always worrying about what the sky's like and what it's going to do. And if I knew, I'd take care not to go out without an umbrella, if it was going to be wet, nor along that muddy lane."

The Rain fairy had gone back to the fountain while Merran was speaking, and by this time she had quite lost all feelings of shyness with the pretty Sunshine lady. Just then the sound of the rushing water stopped suddenly. The fairy looked up and called out. The words seemed strange, and Merran could not understand them, nor the reply which came back. But Sunshine turned to her.

"You will find bright weather on your return," she said, "and I promise you a pleasant surprise as well. So do not be low-spirited, little Merran. You have been watched over in ways you know not of, and you may cheer up from now."

But it was difficult for the child to believe this all at once.

"Oh mayn't I stay with you, dear kind fairy?" she pleaded again. "It wouldn't matter to me how the time passed. I shouldn't be like little Bridget, who found her friends all gone, for you see I should never want to go back at all. Oh do let me stay. Can't you turn me into a fairy altogether?" she repeated. "I'd be your servant or anything you like."

Still Sunshine shook her head.

"No, my little maiden," she replied. "What you ask is impossible. You can never become one of us – a human child you are, a woman you must before long become. But a happy woman you may be, and to help you to be happy is the task that has been appointed to us. Long ago, but for love and pity for you, the old rain-house, as you call it, would have fallen to pieces, and we should have deserted the farm altogether, as indeed its master deserved after his treatment of us. He has been punished for it, however, and now by your means great and unusual good fortune may be before him and his. And this I will now explain to you, but on one condition."

Merran felt a little frightened.

"Is it something very difficult that I have to do?" she asked timidly.

The Sunshine lady shook her head.

"No, indeed," she replied. "It is simply to keep carefully two gifts which we have prepared for you, and to use them as I will describe. But – there is the condition."

"What is it?" said Merran eagerly. "I'm sure you wouldn't want me to do anything wrong, or to promise anything I can't be sure of being able for, so I do promise now, this very minute, even before you tell me."

She was rewarded by a smile.

"You do right to trust me," said the fairy. "All I bind you to is this – to tell no one of the magic gifts, to keep your possession of them a complete secret, until – "

"Till when?" Merran interrupted.

"Till you are grown up, and only then if you marry and love your husband dearly. For I know that without complete confidence, little rifts are sadly apt to come between even those who love each other most truly."

"I don't think I'll ever marry," said the poor little maiden. "I'm too ugly and stupid. But still, if ever I did, I know I'd love my husband, 'cos you see it would be so kind of him to love me. And then it would be nice to tell him the secret, if it would do him good too. Oh I do wonder what it is you're going to give me!"

Fairy Sunshine slipped her hand into the front of her bodice and drew out something. At the same moment the Rain brownie, or gnome – no, he was too handsome to be a gnome – or whatever you like to call him, came forward again, and he too was holding something. Together the pair presented their gifts, and Merran gave a little cry of delight as she saw what they were. One was a tiny umbrella, a real umbrella, not a sham toy one, or a gold or silver "charm," such as ladies hang by their watch-chains, no, a real, exquisitely made and finished umbrella of green silk and with a beautifully carved ivory handle.

"I have made it myself," said the Rain man. "It will never wear out and never lose its power, unless you forget your promise."

"And for my gift I say the same," echoed Fairy Sunshine. Hers was even prettier, for it was a parasol, smaller of course than the umbrella, but just as beautifully perfect – of rose-coloured gauze, lined with white, and the handle was in the form of a daisy, of silver and enamel.

Merran was silent with pleasure and admiration.

"Oh thank you, thank you," she was beginning, but the fairy stopped her. "Wait a moment," she said, "wait till you learn the real value of these two things. They are not merely pretty toys. It would be foolish to give them to you if they were nothing better than that. But they are much better. We have endowed them with fairy power. See here – if you want to know what the weather is going to be, you must test them – by yourself, of course, and when no one can see you, for magic gifts belong to their owner alone. You must test by trying to open them. If the umbrella refuses to spread itself, you will know that it is not going to rain. If so, turn to the parasol. If it opens quite widely you may count on plenty of sunshine; if only partly, then though the day will be dry, it will not be very bright. But you must be gentle; it would be useless to try to force either of them, for then they would break and you would have lost them for ever."

Merran's eyes were gleaming with delight.

"I will be very gentle, I promise you. Oh it will be splendid always to know about the weather, and uncle and all of them will never again think me stupid or useless if they find I can foretell it. It will make them much nicer to me, won't it?"

"Yes," replied her friend. "That is the reason of our giving you this secret power. But I must tell you a little more. You must not only be gentle in touch, you must have gentle feelings in your heart, otherwise you will fail. Neither umbrella nor parasol will open if you apply to them with any unkind feeling or wish. For instance, if the farmer or his sons have been sharp or rough to you and you wish it would rain just to vex them, it would be no good at all for you to try to open either – and if your aunt has been cross to you some very hot day – "

"She often is when it is very hot," interrupted Merran. "More than when it's cold. She gets headaches in summer."

"Just so – then if you take hold of the parasol with a secret hope that the sun is going to blaze away all day, without any cooling summer rain, so that the dame will be punished for scolding you – no – it would be no good at all! Inside your heart must be the hope that the wishes of others shall be fulfilled, whether it come to pass or not; otherwise all the magic will be gone for the time," and at this Merran looked grave, very grave, for she had known what it was to long for power to annoy others. But the fairy's next words cheered her. "I don't think there is much fear of your having those unkind feelings," she said. "I know that you are going to be a much happier little girl than ever before, and remember to begin with, I have promised you a pleasant surprise when you go home to-day."

"I wonder what it will be," thought Merran, and she felt so anxious to know, that it took away part of her reluctance to leave the charming "rain-house," as just then the Sunshine fairy, taking her hand, added, "I will show you now how to find your way back."

They were turning to enter the house again when a sudden thought struck Merran, who was carrying her new treasures with the greatest care.

"Where shall I hide them?" she asked anxiously. "I am so afraid of any one finding them, or taking them, and there's nowhere in the little room where I sleep that I can lock up. Aunt comes in any time and looks all about, to see that I keep things tidy."

"Quite right of her," said the fairy. "I can help you to keep your treasures in perfect safety, much more so than if you locked them up in the strongest box that ever was made. Hold them out – one in each hand."

Merran did so – the fairy touched them both, first the umbrella, then the parasol, murmuring some word or words that the child could not hear.

"Now," she said, "I have made them become invisible to all eyes but your own, or those of the one to whom you may some day confide your secret, as you have permission to do. See – just to prove it to you, I will for a moment make them invisible even to yourself. Shut your eyes."

Merran did so.

"Open," said the Sunshine lady.

Merran obeyed, but gave a cry of dismay.

"They've gone, they've gone," she exclaimed, "and yet I didn't feel you touching them."

The fairy laughed.

"Wink your eyes," she said. "Now look again," and there sure enough were the magic gifts safe and sound.

Merran laughed too.

"So you don't need to be afraid of any one stealing them," said her friend.

"N-no," said the child. "But still – where had I best keep them? For you see in my own room they might get knocked or brushed away, even without being seen?"

"How about the garret?" asked the fairy. "No one ever interferes with you there – they are used to your playing there by yourself, aren't they?"

"Oh yes," Merran replied. "Only sometimes aunt goes up to look over things, or dust a little. Why the other day she said she was going to throw away the rain-house, as it was no use. I was glad she didn't, for I have always liked seeing it. And fancy! if she had, I should never have come up here and seen this lovely place and you, dear Sunshine fairy, or the Rain fairy, or got your magic gifts! How dreadful to think of!" But her friend only smiled.

"She could not have done it," she said. "She had no power to touch it while we were still here, while it was still one of the secret entrances to fairyland. But as to a hiding-place for your charms," she went on. "Have you ever peeped up at the eaves above the little storm-window where you are so fond of sitting?"

"Yes, often," said Merran. "There is an old swallows' nest there, but," and she shook her head sadly, "they have quite deserted it for the last two years. I used to love to watch them and to hear their twittering."

"Nevertheless the old nest will serve your purpose perfectly," said the fairy lady. "Hide your treasures in it; you can easily reach up without any danger of falling, as there is a good stretch of flat roof outside. And then, if by any chance you were seen there, it would only be supposed that you were looking out of the window at the view – trying to catch the peep of the sea, as you often do."

"Yes, yes," replied Merran, greatly pleased. "What a good idea, and how clever of you to think of it! How do you know so much about me and the garret and everything, dear Sunshine fairy? I suppose you really could see me when you were the little toy woman in the rain-house? But it won't be easy to believe she's you! You are so pretty compared with her. Mayn't I come up here again and see you as you really are?"

The fairy shook her head.

"Our task here is accomplished," she said. "You will not need to puzzle about the toy woman, and how she and I can be the same and yet not the same. And this way into fairyland will now be closed. But when the sunshine peeps in at your window and lights up your fair hair and puts some colour into your cheeks, you may believe, my little maiden, that I am kissing you. Or when some drops of rain make you start by their cool touch, you may say to yourself that the Rain fairy is sending you his greeting. Both of us, first one and then the other, working together. That is how it is and should be. And now," she went on, "we will see you safe home again," and glancing up, Merran saw that beside the lovely lady stood the picturesque figure of the Rain fairy, with his dark but kindly face. "Together," for once, "the pair that tell the weather."

They turned and entered the pretty room, passing through it, however, till at the other side, where a door led into the familiar "rain-house," or hut, they stood still, beckoning to Merran, who had followed them in silence, feeling excited and happy, and yet a little sad. Then each took one of her hands – her gifts were safely nestling inside her bodice – and whispering softly, in a sort of musical murmur, which made her close her eyes half sleepily:

"Farewell, little Merran, farewell. In sunshine or in rainy weather, little maiden, fare thee well."

And before she had time to look round or wonder what was going to happen to her, she felt herself gently pushed over the edge of the rain-house, like a fledgling which the parent birds are training to fly, and though she had no wings, fly or flutter she did, down, down, till she found herself standing safely on the floor of the old garret, just in front of the storm-window, in her favourite nook.

She rubbed her eyes. Was it all a dream?

She might almost have thought so, but – feeling in her bodice for her handkerchief, her fingers touched something, and she drew out the fairy gifts. Yes – there they were all right, and evidently changed in size like her own small self, for they lay in her hands in the same way as above in the fairy house, "and up there," said Merran, "I must have been much, much littler than I am now, for I could go in and out quite easily."

The thought made her glance at the high shelf where ever since she could remember had stood the toy hut, with the woman's figure just peeping out. But what she now saw made her start.

The rain-house had fallen – its walls and roof were in pieces, as if a fairy earthquake had shattered them! Merran felt half inclined to cry, but before she had decided if she should do so or not she caught sight of a tiny figure peering at her from behind the rubbish. It was the toy woman, just as she had always been, dress and all, but as Merran gazed, the stiff wooden doll seemed to melt away, giving place to the lovely Sunshine fairy, who smiled and waved her hand as if in farewell, and the little girl, feeling that this was indeed her last sight of the so long unknown friends, who had watched over and cared for her, allowed some tears to trickle down her face unchecked, while she waved and kissed her hand in return till the pretty vision disappeared and nothing was left to tell her that her visit had not been all a dream, except the broken bits of painted wood and cardboard which she had called the rain-house!



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