"Chapter VIII." by Jean Ingelow (1820-1897)
In the night she told a story,
In the night and all night through,
While the moon was in her glory,
And the branches dropped with dew.
'Twas my life she told, and round it
Rose the years as from a deep;
In the world's great heart she found it,
Cradled like a child asleep.
In the night I saw her weaving
By the misty moonbeam cold,
All the weft her shuttle cleaving
With a sacred thread of gold.
Ah! she wept me tears of sorrow,
Lulling tears so mystic sweet;
Then she wove my last to-morrow,
And her web lay at my feet.
Of my life she made the story:
I must weep–so soon 'twas told!
But your name did lend it glory,
And your love its thread of gold!
Y this time, as the sun had gone down, and none of the moons had risen, it would have been dark but that each of the rafts was rigged with a small mast that had a lantern hung to it.
By the light of these lanterns Jack saw crowds of little brown faces; and presently many rafts had come up to the boat, which was now swimming very slowly. Every sailor in every raft fastened to the boat's side a silken thread; then the rafts were rowed to shore, and the sailors jumped out, and began to tow the boat along.
These crimson threads looked no stronger than the silk that ladies sew with, yet by means of them the small people drew the boat along merrily. There were so many of them that they looked like an army as they marched in the light of the lanterns and torches. Jack thought they were very happy, though the work was hard, for they shouted and sang.
The fairy woman looked more beautiful than ever now, and far more stately. She had on a band of precious stones to bind back her hair, and they shone so brightly in the night that her features could be clearly seen.
Jack's little favorite was fast asleep, and the other two fairies had flown away. He was beginning to feel rather sleepy himself, when he was roused by the voice of his free lady, who said to him, "Jack, there is no one listening now, so I will tell you my story. I am the Fairy Queen!"
Jack opened his eyes very wide, but he was so much surprised that he did not say a word.
"One day, long, long ago," said the Queen, I was discontented with my own happy country. I wished to see the world, so I set forth with a number of the one-foot-one fairies, and went down the wonderful river, thinking to see the world.
"So we sailed down the river till we came to that town which you know of; and there in the very middle of the stream, stood a tower,–a tall tower, built upon a rock.
"Fairies are afraid of nothing but of other fairies, and we did not think this tower was fairy-work, so we left our ship and went up the rock and into the tower, to see what it was like; but just as we had descended into the dungeon keep, we heard the gurgling of water overhead, and down came the tower. It was nothing but water enchanted into the likeness of stone, and we all fell down with it into the very bed of the river.
"Of course we were not drowned, but there we were obliged to lie, for we have no power out of our own element; and the next day the towns-people came down with a net and dragged the river, picked us all out of the meshes, and made us slaves. The one-foot-one fairies got away shortly; but from that day to this, in sorrow and distress, I have had to serve my masters. Luckily, my crown had fallen off in the water, so I was not known to be the Queen; but till you came, Jack, I had almost forgotten that I had ever been happy and free, and I had hardly any hope of getting away."
"How sorry your people must have been," said Jack, "when they found you did not come home again."
"No," said the Queen; "they only went to sleep, and they will not wake till to-morrow morning, when I pass in again. They will think I have been absent for a day, and so will the apple-woman. You must not undeceive them; if you do, they will be very angry."
"And who is the apple-woman?" inquired Jack; but the Queen blushed, and pretended not to hear the question, so he repeated,–
"Queen, who is the apple-woman?"
"I've only had her for a very little while," said the Queen evasively.
"And how long do you think you have been a slave, Queen?" asked Jack.
"I don't know," said the Queen. "I have never been able to make up my mind about that."
And now all the moons began to shine, and all the trees lighted themselves up, for almost every leaf had a glowworm or a fire-fly on it, and the water was full of fishes that had shining eyes. And now they were close to the steep mountain side; and Jack looked and saw an opening in it, into which the river ran. It was a kind of cave, something like a long, long church with a vaulted roof, only the pavement of it was that magic river, and a narrow towing-path ran on either side.
As they entered the cave there was a hollow, murmuring sound, and the Queen's crown became so bright that it lighted up the whole boat; at the same time she began to tell Jack a wonderful story, which he liked very much to hear, but every fresh thing she said he forgot what had gone before; and at last, though he tried very hard to listen, he was obliged to go to sleep; and he slept soundly, and never dreamed of anything till it was morning.
He saw such a curious sight when he woke! They had been going through this underground cavern all night, and now they were approaching its opening on the other side. This opening, because they were a good way from it yet, looked like a lovely little round window of blue and yellow and green glass, but as they drew on he could see far-off mountains, blue sky, and a country all covered with sunshine.
He heard singing, too, such as fairies make; and he saw some beautiful people, such as those fairies whom he had brought with him. They were coming along the towing-path. They were all lady fairies; but they were not very polite, for as each one came up she took a silken rope out of a brown sailor's hand, and gave him a shove which pushed him into the water. In fact, the water became filled with such swarms of these sailors that the boat could hardly get on. But the poor little brown fellows did not seem to mind this conduct, for they plunged and shook themselves about, scattering a good deal of spray. Then they all suddenly dived, and when they came up again they were ducks,–nothing but brown ducks, I assure you, with green stripes on their wings; and with a great deal of quacking and floundering, they all began to swim back again as fast as they could.
Then Jack was a good deal vexed, and he said to himself, "If nobody thanks the ducks for towing us I will;" so he stood up in the boat and shouted, "Thank you, ducks; we are very much obliged to you!" But neither the Queen nor these new towers took the least notice, and gradually the boat came out of that dim cave and entered Fairyland, while the river became so narrow that you could hear the song of the towers quite easily; those on the right bank sang the first verse, and those on the left bank answered–
Drop, drop from the leaves of lign aloes,
O honey-dew! drop from the tree.
Float up through your clear river shallows,
White lilies, beloved of the bee.
Let the people, O Queen! say, and bless thee,
Her bounty drops soft as the dew,
And spotless in honor confess thee,
As lilies are spotless in hue.
On the roof stands yon white stork awaking,
His feathers flush rosy the while,
For, lo! from the blushing east breaking,
The sun sheds the bloom of his smile.
Let them boast of thy word, "It is certain;
We doubt it no more," let them say,
"Than to-morrow that night's dusky curtain
Shall roll back its folds for the day."
"Master," whispered the old hound, who was lying at Jack's feet.
"Well," said Jack.
"They didn't invent that song themselves," said the hound; "the old apple-woman taught it to them,–the woman whom they love because she can make them cry."
Jack was rather ashamed of the hound's rudeness in saying this; but the Queen took no notice. And now they had reached a little landing-place which ran out a few feet into the river, and was strewed thickly with cowslips and violets.
Here the boat stopped, and the Queen rose and got out.
Jack watched her. A whole crowd of one-foot-one fairies came down a garden to meet her, and he saw them conduct her to a beautiful tent, with golden poles and a silken covering; but nobody took the slightest notice of him, or of little Mopsa, or of the hound, and after a long silence the hound said, "Well, master, don't you feel hungry? Why don't you go with the others and have some breakfast?"
"The Queen didn't invite me," said Jack.
"But do you feel as if you couldn't go?" asked the hound.
"Of course not," answered Jack; "but perhaps I may not."
"Oh, yes, master," replied the hound; "whatever you can do in Fairyland you may do."
"Are you sure of that?" asked Jack.
"Quite sure, master," said the hound; "and I am hungry too."
"Well," said Jack, "I will go there and take Mopsa. She shall ride on my shoulder; you may follow."
So he walked up that beautiful garden till he came to the great tent. A banquet was going on inside. All the one-foot-one fairies sat down the sides of the table, and at the top sat the Queen on a larger chair; and there were two empty chairs, one on each side of her.
Jack blushed; but the hound whispering again, "Master, whatever you can do you may do," he came slowly up the table towards the Queen, who was saying as he drew near, "Where is our trusty and well-beloved, the apple-woman?" And she took no notice of Jack; so, though he could not help feeling rather red and ashamed, he went and sat in the chair beside her with Mopsa still on his shoulder. Mopsa laughed for joy when she saw the feast. The Queen said, "Oh, Jack, I am so glad to see you!" and some of the one-foot-one fairies cried out, "What a delightful little creature that is! She can laugh! Perhaps she can also cry!"
Jack looked about, but there was no seat for Mopsa; and he was afraid to let her run about on the floor, lest she should be hurt.
There was a very large dish standing before the Queen; for though the people were small, the plates and dishes were exactly like those we use, and of the same size.
This dish was raised on a foot, and filled with grapes and peaches. Jack wondered at himself for doing it, but he saw no other place for Mopsa; so he took out the fruit, laid it round the dish, and set his own little one-foot-one in the dish.
Nobody looked in the least surprised; and there she sat very happily, biting an apple with her small white teeth.
Then, as they brought him nothing to eat, Jack helped himself from some of the dishes before him, and found that a fairy breakfast was very nice indeed.
In the meantime there was a noise outside, and in stumped an elderly woman. She had very thick boots on, a short gown of red print, an orange cotton handkerchief over her shoulders, and a black silk bonnet. She was exactly the same height as the Queen,–for of course nobody in Fairyland is allowed to be any bigger than the Queen; so, if they are not children when they arrive, they are obliged to shrink.
"How are you, dear?" said the Queen.
"I am as well as can be expected," answered the apple-woman, sitting down in the empty chair. "Now, then, where's my tea? They're never ready with my cup of tea."
Two attendants immediately brought a cup of tea, and set it down before the apple-woman, with a plate of bread and butter; and she proceeded to pour it into the saucer, and blow it, because it was hot. In so doing her wandering eyes caught sight of Jack and little Mopsa, and she set down the saucer, and looked at them with attention.
Now Mopsa, I am sorry to say, was behaving so badly that Jack was quite ashamed of her. First, she got out of her dish, took something nice out of the Queen's plate with her fingers, and ate it; and then, as she was going back, she tumbled over a melon, and upset a glass of red wine, which she wiped up with her white frock; after which she got into her dish again, and there she sat smiling, and daubing her pretty face with a piece of buttered muffin.
"Mopsa," said Jack, "you are very naughty; if you behave in this way, I shall never take you out to parties again."
"Pretty lamb!" said the apple-woman; "It's just like a child." And then she burst into tears, and exclaimed, sobbing, "It's many a long day since I've seen a child. Oh dear! Oh deary me!"
Upon this, to the astonishment of Jack, every one of the guests began to cry and sob too.
"Oh dear! oh dear!" they said to one another, "we're crying; we can cry just as well as men and women. Isn't it delightful? What a luxury it is to cry, to be sure!"
They were evidently quite proud of it; and when Jack looked at the Queen for an explanation, she only give him a still little smile.
But Mopsa crept along the table to the apple-woman, let her take her and hug her, and seemed to like her very much; for as she sat on her knee, she patted her brown face with a little dimpled hand.
"I should like vastly well to be her nurse," said the apple-woman, drying her eyes, and looking at Jack.
"If you'll always wash her, and put clean frocks on her, you may," said Jack; "for just look at her,–what a figure she is already!"
Upon this the apple-woman laughed for joy, and again every one else did the same. The fairies can only laugh and cry when they see mortals do so.
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