Amelia and the Dwarfs by Juliana Horatia Ewing
My godmother's grandmother knew a good deal about the fairies. Her grandmother had seen a fairy rade on a Roodmas Eve, and she herself could remember a copper vessel of a queer shape which had been left by the elves on some occasion at an old farm-house among the hills, The following story came from her, and where she got it I do not know. She used to say it was a pleasant tale, with a good moral in the inside of it. My godmother often observed that a tale without a moral was like a nut without a kernel; not worth the cracking. (We called fire-side stories "cracks" in our part of the country.) This is the tale.
A couple of gentlefolk once lived in a certain part of England. (My godmother never would tell the name either of the place or the people, even if she knew it. She said one ought not to expose one's neighbours' failings more than there was due occasion for.) They had an only child, a daughter, whose name was Amelia. They were an easy-going, good-humoured couple; "rather soft," my godmother said, but she was apt to think anybody "soft" who came from the southern shires, as these people did. Amelia, who had been born farther north, was by no means so. She had a strong resolute will, and a clever head of her own, though she was but a child. She had a way of her own too, and had it very completely. Perhaps because she was an only child, or perhaps because they were so easy-going, her parents spoiled her. She was, beyond question, the most tiresome little girl in that or any other neighbourhood. From her baby days her father and mother had taken every opportunity of showing her to their friends, and there was not a friend who did not dread the infliction. When the good lady visited her acquaintances, she always took Amelia with her, and if the acquaintances were fortunate enough to see from the windows who was coming, they used to snatch up any delicate knick-knacks, or brittle ornaments lying about, and put them away, crying, "What is to be done? Here comes Amelia!"
When Amelia came in, she would stand and survey the room, whilst her mother saluted her acquaintance; and if anything struck her fancy, she would interrupt the greetings to draw her mother's attention to it, with a twitch of her shawl, "Oh, look, Mamma, at that funny bird in the glass case!" or perhaps, "Mamma, Mamma! There's a new carpet since we were here last;" for, as her mother said, she was "a very observing child."
Then she would wander round the room, examining and fingering everything, and occasionally coming back with something in her hand to tread on her mother's dress, and break in upon the ladies' conversation with--"Mamma! Mamma! What's the good of keeping this old basin? It's been broken and mended, and some of the pieces are quite loose now. I can feel them:" or--addressing the lady of the house--"That's not a real ottoman in the corner. It's a box covered with chintz. I know, for I've looked."
Then her mamma would say, reprovingly, "My dear Amelia!"
And perhaps the lady of the house would beg, "Don't play with that old china, my love; for though it is mended, it is very valuable;" and her mother would add, "My dear Amelia, you must not."
Sometimes the good lady said, "You must not." Sometimes she tried--"You must not" When both these failed, and Amelia was balancing the china bowl on her finger-ends, her mamma would get flurried, and when Amelia flurried her, she always rolled her r's, and emphasized her words, so that it sounded thus:
"My dear-r-r-r-Ramelia! You must not."
At which Amelia would not so much as look round, till perhaps the bowl slipped from her fingers, and was smashed into unmendable fragments. Then her mamma would exclaim, "Oh, dear-r-r-r, oh, dear-r-Ramelia" and the lady of the house would try to look as if it did not matter, and when Amelia and her mother departed, would pick up the bits, and pour out her complaints to her lady friends, most of whom had suffered many such damages at the hands of this "very observing child."
When the good couple received their friends at home, there was no escaping from Amelia. If it was a dinner-party, she came in with the dessert, or perhaps sooner. She would take up her position near some one, generally the person most deeply engaged in conversation, and either lean heavily against him or her, or climb on to his or her knee, without being invited. She would break in upon the most interesting discussion with her own little childish affairs, in the following style--"I've been out to-day. I walked to the town. I jumped across three brooks. Can you jump? Papa gave me sixpence to-day. I am saving up my money to be rich. You may cut me an orange; no, I'll take it to Mr. Brown, he peels it with a spoon and turns the skin back. Mr. Brown! Mr. Brown! Don't talk to Mamma, but peel me an orange, please. Mr. Brown! I'm playing with your finger-glass."
And when the finger-glass full of cold water had been upset on to Mr. Brown's shirt-front, Amelia's mamma would cry--"Oh dear, oh dear-r-Ramelia!" and carry her off with the ladies to the drawing-room.
Here she would scramble on to the ladies' knees, or trample out the gathers of their dresses, and fidget with their ornaments, startling some luckless lady by the announcement, "I've got your bracelet undone at last!" who would find one of the divisions broken open by force, Amelia not understanding the working of a clasp.
Or perhaps two young lady friends would get into a quiet corner for a chat. The observing child would sure to spy them, and run on to them, crushing their flowers and ribbons, and crying--"You two want to talk secrets, I know. I can hear what you say. I'm going to listen, I am. And I shall tell, too;" when perhaps a knock at the door announced the Nurse to take Miss Amelia to bed, and spread a general rapture of relief.
Then Amelia would run to trample and worry her mother, and after much teasing, and clinging, and complaining, the Nurse would be dismissed, and the fond mamma would turn to the lady next to her, and say with a smile--"I suppose I must let her stay up a little. It is such a treat to her, poor child!"
But it was no treat to the visitors.
Besides tormenting her fellow-creatures, Amelia had a trick of teasing animals. She was really fond of dogs, but she was still fonder of doing what she was wanted not to do, and of worrying everything and everybody about her. So she used to tread on the tips of their tails, and pretend to give them biscuit, and then hit them on the nose, besides pulling at those few, long, sensitive hairs which thin-skinned dogs wear on the upper lip.
Now Amelia's mother's acquaintances were so very well-bred and amiable, that they never spoke their minds to either the mother or the daughter about what they endured from the latter's rudeness, wilfulness, and powers of destruction. But this was not the case with the dogs, and they expressed their sentiments by many a growl and snap. At last one day Amelia was tormenting a snow-white bulldog (who was certainly as well-bred and as amiable as any living creature in the kingdom), and she did not see that even his patience was becoming worn out. His pink nose became crimson with increased irritation, his upper lip twitched over his teeth, behind which he was rolling as many warning R's as Amelia's mother herself. She finally held out a bun towards him, and just as he was about to take it, she snatched it away and kicked him instead. This fairly exasperated the bulldog, and as Amelia would not let him bite the bun, he bit Amelia's leg.
Her mamma was so distressed that she fell into hysterics, and hardly knew what she was saying. She said the bulldog must be shot for fear he should go mad, and Amelia's wound must be done with a red-hot poker for fear she should go mad (with hydrophobia). And as of course she couldn't bear the pain of this, she must have chloroform, and she would most probably die of that; for as one in several thousands dies annually under chloroform, it was evident that her chance of life was very small indeed. So, as the poor lady said, "Whether we shoot Amelia and burn the bulldog--at least I mean shoot the bulldog and burn Amelia with a red-hot poker--or leave it alone; and whether Amelia or the bulldog has chloroform or bears it without--it seems to be death or madness every way!"
And as the doctor did not come fast enough, she ran out without her bonnet to meet him, and Amelia's papa, who was very much distressed too, ran after her with her bonnet. Meanwhile the doctor came in by another way, and found Amelia sitting on the dining-room floor with the bulldog, and crying bitterly. She was telling him that they wanted to shoot him, but that they should not, for it was all her fault and not his. But she did not tell him that she was to be burnt with a red-hot poker, for she thought it might hurt his feelings. And then she wept afresh, and kissed the bulldog, and the bulldog kissed her with his red tongue, and rubbed his pink nose against her, and beat his own tail much harder on the floor than Amelia had ever hit it. She said the same things to the doctor, but she told him also that she was willing to be burnt without chloroform if it must be done, and if they would spare the bulldog. And though she looked very white, she meant what she said.
But the doctor looked at her leg, and found that it was only a snap, and not a deep wound; and then he looked at the bulldog, and saw that so far from looking mad, he looked a great deal more sensible than anybody in the house. So he only washed Amelia's leg and bound it up, and she was not burnt with the poker, neither did she get hydrophobia; but she had got a good lesson on manners, and thenceforward she always behaved with the utmost propriety to animals, though she tormented her mother's friends as much as ever.
Now although Amelia's mamma's acquaintances were too polite to complain before her face, they made up for it by what they said behind her back. In allusion to the poor lady's ineffectual remonstrances, one gentleman said that the more mischief Amelia did, the dearer she seemed to grow to her mother. And somebody else replied that however dear she might be as a daughter, she was certainly a very dear friend, and proposed that they should send in a bill for all the damages she had done in the course of the year, as a round robin to her parents at Christmas. From which it may be seen that Amelia was not popular with her parents' friends, as (to do grown-up people justice) good children almost invariably are.
If she was not a favourite in the drawing-room, she was still less so in the nursery, where, besides all the hardships naturally belonging to attendance on a spoilt child, the poor Nurse was kept, as she said, "on the continual go" by Amelia's reckless destruction of her clothes. It was not fair wear and tear, it was not an occasional fall in the mire, or an accidental rent or two during a game at "Hunt the Hare," but it was constant wilful destruction, which Nurse had to repair as best she might. No entreaties would induce Amelia to "take care" of anything. She walked obstinately on the muddy side of the road when Nurse pointed out the clean parts, kicking up the dirt with her feet; if she climbed a wall she never tried to free her dress if it had caught; on she rushed, and half a skirt might be left behind for any care she had in the matter. "They must be mended," or "They must be washed," was all she thought about it.
"You seem to think things clean and mend themselves, Miss Amelia," said poor Nurse one day.
"No, I don't," said Amelia, rudely. "I think you do them; what are you here for?"
But though she spoke in this insolent and unlady-like fashion, Amelia really did not realize what the tasks were which her carelessness imposed on other people. When every hour of Nurse's day had been spent in struggling to keep her wilful young lady regularly fed, decently dressed, and moderately well behaved (except, indeed, those hours when her mother was fighting the same battle down-stairs); and when at last, after the hardest struggle of all, she had been got to bed not more than two hours later than her appointed time, even then there was no rest for Nurse. Amelia's mamma could at last lean back in her chair and have a quiet chat with her husband, which was not broken in upon every two minutes, and Amelia herself was asleep; but Nurse must sit up for hours wearing out her eyes by the light of a tallow candle, in fine-darning great, jagged, and most unnecessary holes in Amelia's muslin dresses. Or perhaps she had to wash and iron clothes for Amelia's wear next day. For sometimes she was so very destructive, that towards the end of the week she had used up all her clothes and had no clean ones to fall back upon.
Amelia's meals were another source of trouble. She would not wear a pinafore; if it had been put on, she would burst the strings, and perhaps in throwing it away knock her plate of mutton broth over the tablecloth and her own dress. Then she fancied first one thing and then another; she did not like this or that; she wanted a bit cut here or there. Her mamma used to begin by saying, "My dear-r-Ramelia, you must not be so wasteful," and she used to end by saying, "The dear child has positively no appetite;" which seemed to be a good reason for not wasting any more food upon her; but with Amelia's mamma it only meant that she might try a little cutlet and tomato sauce when she had half finished her roast beef, and that most of the cutlet and all the mashed potato might be exchanged for plum tart and custard; and that when she had spooned up the custard and played with the paste, and put the plum stones on the tablecloth, she might be tempted with a little Stilton cheese and celery, and exchange that for anything that caught her fancy in the dessert dishes.
The Nurse used to say, "Many a poor child would thank GOD for what you waste every meal-time, Miss Amelia," and to quote a certain good old saying, "Waste not, want not." But Amelia's mamma allowed her to send away on her plates what would have fed another child, day after day.
UNDER THE HAYCOCKS.
It was summer, and haytime. Amelia had been constantly in the hayfield, and the haymakers had constantly wished that she had been anywhere else. She mislaid the rakes, nearly killed herself and several other persons with a fork, and overturned one haycock after another as fast as they were made. At tea-time it was hoped that she would depart, but she teased her mamma to have the tea brought into the field, and her mamma said, "The poor child must have a treat sometimes," and so it was brought out.
After this she fell off the haycart, and was a good deal shaken, but not hurt. So she was taken indoors, and the haymakers worked hard and cleared the field, all but a few cocks which were left till the morning.
The sun set, the dew fell, the moon rose. It was a lovely night. Amelia peeped from behind the blinds of the drawing-room windows, and saw four haycocks, each with a deep shadow reposing at its side. The rest of the field was swept clean, and looked pale in the moonshine. It was a lovely night.
"I want to go out," said Amelia. "They will take away those cocks before I can get at them in the morning, and there will be no more jumping and tumbling, I shall go out and have some fun now."
"My dear Amelia, you must not," said her mamma; and her papa added, "I won't hear of it." So Amelia went up-stairs to grumble to Nurse; but Nurse only said, "Now, my dear Miss Amelia, do go quietly to bed, like a dear love. The field is all wet with dew. Besides, it's a moonlight night, and who knows what's abroad? You might see the fairies--bless us and sain us!--and what not. There's been a magpie hopping up and down near the house all day, and that's a sign of ill-luck."
"I don't care for magpies," said Amelia; "I threw a stone at that one to-day."
And she left the nursery, and swung down-stairs on the rail of the banisters. But she did not go into the drawing-room; she opened the front door and went out into the moonshine.
It was a lovely night. But there was something strange about it. Everything looked asleep, and yet seemed not only awake but watching. There was not a sound, and yet the air seemed full of half-sounds. The child was quite alone, and yet at every step she fancied some one behind her, on one side of her, somewhere, and found it only a rustling leaf or a passing shadow. She was soon in the hayfield, where it was just the same; so that when she fancied that something green was moving near the first haycock she thought very little of it, till, coming closer, she plainly perceived by the moonlight a tiny man dressed in green, with a tall, pointed hat, and very, very long tips to his shoes, tying his shoestring with his foot on a stubble stalk. He had the most wizened of faces, and when he got angry with his shoe, he pulled so wry a grimace that it was quite laughable. At last he stood up, stepping carefully over the stubble, went up to the first haycock, and drawing out a hollow grass stalk blew upon it till his cheeks were puffed like footballs. And yet there was no sound, only a half-sound, as of a horn blown in the far distance, or in a dream. Presently the point of a tall hat, and finally just such another little wizened face, poked out through the side of the haycock.
"Can we hold revel here to-night?" asked the little green man.
"That indeed you cannot," answered the other; "we have hardly room to turn round as it is, with all Amelia's dirty frocks."
"Ah, bah!" said the dwarf; and he walked on to the next haycock, Amelia cautiously following.
Here he blew again, and a head was put out as before; on which he said,
"Can we hold revel here to-night?"
"How is it possible," was the reply, "when there is not a place where one can so much as set down an acorn cup, for Amelia's broken victuals?"
"Fie! fie!" said the dwarf, and went on to the third, where all happened as before; and he asked the old question,
"Can we hold revel here to-night?"
"Can you dance on glass and crockery sherds?" inquired the other. "Amelia's broken gimcracks are everywhere."
"Pshaw!" snorted the dwarf, frowning terribly; and when he came to the fourth haycock he blew such an angry blast that the grass stalk split into seven pieces. But he met with no better success than before. Only the point of a hat came through the hay, and a feeble voice piped in tones of depression--"The broken threads would entangle our feet. It's all Amelia's fault. If we could only get hold of her!"
"If she's wise, she'll keep as far from these haycocks as she can," snarled the dwarf, angrily; and he shook his fist as much as to say, "If she did come, I should not receive her very pleasantly."
Now with Amelia, to hear that she had better not do something, was to make her wish at once to do it; and as she was not at all wanting in courage, she pulled the dwarf's little cloak, just as she would have twitched her mother's shawl, and said (with that sort of snarly whine in which spoilt children generally speak)--"Why shouldn't I come to the haycocks if I want to? They belong to my papa, and I shall come if I like. But you have no business here."
"Nightshade and hemlock!" ejaculated the little man, "you are not lacking in impudence. Perhaps your Sauciness is not quite aware how things are distributed in this world?" saying which he lifted his pointed shoes and began to dance and sing,
"All under the sun belongs to men, And all under the moon to the fairies. So, so, so! Ho, ho, ho! All under the moon to the fairies."
As he sang "Ho, ho, ho!" the little man turned head over heels; and though by this time Amelia would gladly have got away, she could not, for the dwarf seemed to dance and tumble round her, and always to cut off the chance of escape; whilst numberless voices from all around seemed to join in the chorus, with
"So, so, so! Ho, ho, ho! All under the moon to the fairies."
"And now," said the little man, "to work! And you have plenty of work before you, so trip on, to the first haycock."
"I shan't!" said Amelia.
"On with you!" repeated the dwarf.
"I won't!" said Amelia.
But the little man, who was behind her, pinched her funny-bone with his lean fingers, and, as everybody knows, that is agony; so Amelia ran on, and tried to get away. But when she went too fast, the dwarf trod on her heels with his long-pointed shoe, and if she did not go fast enough, he pinched her funny-bone. So for once in her life she was obliged to do as she was told. As they ran, tall hats and wizened faces were popped out on all sides of the haycocks, like blanched almonds on a tipsy cake; and whenever the dwarf pinched Amelia, or trod on her heels, the goblins cried "Ho, ho, ho!" with such horrible contortions as they laughed, that it was hideous to behold them.
"Here is Amelia!" shouted the dwarf when they reached the first haycock.
"Ho, ho, ho!" laughed all the others, as they poked out here and there from the hay.
"Bring a stock," said the dwarf; on which the hay was lifted, and out ran six or seven dwarfs, carrying what seemed to Amelia to be a little girl like herself. And when she looked closer, to her horror and surprise the figure was exactly like her--it was her own face, clothes, and everything.
"Shall we kick it into the house?" asked the goblins.
"No," said the dwarf; "lay it down by the haycock. The father and mother are coming to seek her now."
When Amelia heard this she began to shriek for help; but she was pushed into the haycock, where her loudest cries sounded like the chirruping of a grasshopper.
It was really a fine sight to see the inside of the cock.
Farmers do not like to see flowers in a hayfield, but the fairies do. They had arranged all the buttercups, &c., in patterns on the haywalls; bunches of meadow-sweet swung from the roof like censers, and perfumed the air; and the ox-eye daisies which formed the ceiling gave a light like stars. But Amelia cared for none of this. She only struggled to peep through the hay, and she did see her father and mother and nurse come down the lawn, followed by the other servants, looking for her. When they saw the stock they ran to raise it with exclamations of pity and surprise. The stock moaned faintly, and Amelia's mamma wept, and Amelia herself shouted with all her might.
"What's that?" said her mamma. (It is not easy to deceive a mother.)
"Only the grasshoppers, my dear," said Papa. "Let us get the poor child home."
The stock moaned again, and the mother said, "Oh dear! oh dear-r-Ramelia!" and followed in tears.
"Rub her eyes," said the dwarf; on which Amelia's eyes were rubbed with some ointment, and when she took a last peep, she could see that the stock was nothing but a hairy imp, with a face like the oldest and most grotesque of apes.
"--and send her below," added the dwarf. On which the field opened, and Amelia was pushed underground.
She found herself on a sort of open heath, where no houses were to be seen. Of course there was no moonshine, and yet it was neither daylight nor dark. There was as the light of early dawn, and every sound was at once clear and dreamy, like the first sounds of the day coming through the fresh air before sunrise. Beautiful flowers crept over the heath, whose tints were constantly changing in the subdued light; and as the hues changed and blended, the flowers gave forth different perfumes. All would have been charming but that at every few paces the paths were blocked by large clothes-baskets full of dirty frocks, And the frocks were Amelia's. Torn, draggled, wet, covered with sand, mud, and dirt of all kinds, Amelia recognized them.
"You've got to wash them all," said the dwarf, who was behind her as usual; "that's what you've come down for--not because your society is particularly pleasant. So the sooner you begin the better."
"I can't," said Amelia (she had already learnt that "I won't" is not an answer for every one); "send them up to Nurse, and she'll do them. It is her business."
"What Nurse can do she has done, and now it's time for you to begin," said the dwarf. "Sooner or later the mischief done by spoilt children's wilful disobedience comes back on their own hands. Up to a certain point we help them, for we love children, and we are wilful ourselves. But there are limits to everything. If you can't wash your dirty frocks, it is time you learnt to do so, if only that you may know what the trouble is you impose on other people. She will teach you."
The dwarf kicked out his foot in front of him, and pointed with his long toe to a woman who sat by a fire made upon the heath, where a pot was suspended from crossed poles. It was like a bit of a gipsy encampment, and the woman seemed to be a real woman, not a fairy--which was the case, as Amelia afterwards found. She had lived underground for many years, and was the dwarfs' servant.
And this was how it came about that Amelia had to wash her dirty frocks. Let any little girl try to wash one of her dresses; not to half wash it, not to leave it stained with dirty water, but to wash it quite clean. Let her then try to starch and iron it--in short, to make it look as if it had come from the laundress--and she will have some idea of what poor Amelia had to learn to do. There was no help for it. When she was working she very seldom saw the dwarfs; but if she were idle or stubborn, or had any hopes of getting away, one was sure to start up at her elbow and pinch her funny-bone, or poke her in the ribs, till she did her best. Her back ached with stooping over the wash-tub; her hands and arms grew wrinkled with soaking in hot soapsuds, and sore with rubbing. Whatever she did not know how to do, the woman of the heath taught her. At first, whilst Amelia was sulky, the woman of the heath was sharp and cross; but when Amelia became willing and obedient, she was good-natured, and even helped her.
The first time that Amelia felt hungry she asked for some food.
"By all means," said one of the dwarfs; "there is plenty down here which belongs to you;" and he led her away till they came to a place like the first, except that it was covered with plates of broken meats; all the bits of good meat, pie, pudding, bread-and-butter, &c., that Amelia had wasted beforetime.
"I can't eat cold scraps like these," said Amelia, turning away.
"Then what did you ask for food for before you were hungry?" screamed the dwarf, and he pinched her and sent her about her business.
After a while she became so famished that she was glad to beg humbly to be allowed to go for food; and she ate a cold chop and the remains of a rice pudding with thankfulness. How delicious they tasted! She was surprised herself at the good things she had rejected. After a time she fancied she would like to warm up some of the cold meat in a pan, which the woman of the heath used to cook her own dinner in, and she asked for leave to do so.
"You may do anything you like to make yourself comfortable, if you do it yourself," said she; and Amelia, who had been watching her for many times, became quite expert in cooking up the scraps.
As there was no real daylight underground, so also there was no night. When the old woman was tired she lay down and had a nap, and when she thought that Amelia had earned a rest, she allowed her to do the same. It was never cold, and it never rained, so they slept on the heath among the flowers.
They say that "It's a long lane that has no turning," and the hardest tasks come to an end some time, and Amelia's dresses were clean at last; but then a more wearisome work was before her. They had to be mended. Amelia looked at the jagged rents made by the hedges; the great gaping holes in front where she had put her foot through; the torn tucks and gathers. First she wept, then she bitterly regretted that she had so often refused to do her sewing at home that she was very awkward with her needle. Whether she ever would have got through this task alone is doubtful, but she had by this time become so well-behaved and willing that the old woman was kind to her, and, pitying her blundering attempts, she helped her a great deal; whilst Amelia would cook the old woman's victuals, or repeat stories and pieces of poetry to amuse her.
"How glad I am that I ever learnt anything!" thought the poor child: "everything one learns seems to come in useful some time."
At last the dresses were finished.
"Do you think I shall be allowed to go home now?" Amelia asked of the woman of the heath.
"Not yet," said she; "you have got to mend the broken gimcracks next."
"But when I have done all my tasks," Amelia said; "will they let me go then?"
"That depends," said the woman, and she sat silent over the fire; but Amelia wept so bitterly, that she pitied her and said--"Only dry your eyes, for the fairies hate tears, and I will tell you all I know and do the best for you I can. You see, when you first came you were--excuse me!--such an unlicked cub; such a peevish, selfish, wilful, useless, and ill-mannered little miss, that neither the fairies nor anybody else were likely to keep you any longer than necessary. But now you are such a willing, handy, and civil little thing, and so pretty and graceful withal, that I think it is very likely that they will want to keep you altogether. I think you had better make up your mind to it. They are kindly little folk, and will make a pet of you in the end."
"Oh, no! no!" moaned poor Amelia; "I want to be with my mother, my poor dear mother! I want to make up for being a bad child so long. Besides, surely that 'stock,' as they called her, will want to come back to her own people."
"As to that," said the woman, "after a time the stock will affect mortal illness, and will then take possession of the first black cat she sees, and in that shape leave the house, and come home. But the figure that is like you will remain lifeless in the bed, and will be duly buried. Then your people, believing you to be dead, will never look for you, and you will always remain here. However, as this distresses you so, I will give you some advice. Can you dance?"
"Yes," said Amelia; "I did attend pretty well to my dancing lessons. I was considered rather clever about it."
"At any spare moments you find," continued the woman, "dance, dance all your dances, and as well as you can. The dwarfs love dancing."
"And then?" said Amelia.
"Then, perhaps some night they will take you up to dance with them in the meadows above-ground."
"But I could not get away. They would tread on my heels--oh! I could never escape them."
"I know that," said the woman; "your only chance is this. If ever, when dancing in the meadows, you can find a four-leaved clover, hold it in your hand, and wish to be at home. Then no one can stop you. Meanwhile I advise you to seem happy, that they may think you are content, and have forgotten the world. And dance, above all, dance!"
And Amelia, not to be behindhand, began then and there to dance some pretty figures on the heath. As she was dancing the dwarf came by.
"Ho, ho!" said he, "you can dance, can you?"
"When I am happy I can," said Amelia, performing several graceful movements as she spoke.
"What are you pleased about now?" snapped the dwarf, suspiciously.
"Have I not reason?" said Amelia. "The dresses are washed and mended."
"Then up with them!" returned the dwarf. On which half-a-dozen elves popped the whole lot into a big basket and kicked them up into the world, where they found their way to the right wardrobes somehow.
As the woman of the heath had said, Amelia was soon set to a new task. When she bade the old woman farewell, she asked if she could do nothing for her if ever she got at liberty herself.
"Can I do nothing to get you back to your old home?" Amelia cried, for she thought of others now as well as herself.
"No, thank you," returned the old woman; "I am used to this, and do not care to return. I have been here a long time--how long I do not know; for as there is neither daylight nor dark we have no measure of time--long, I am sure, very long. The light and noise up yonder would now be too much for me. But I wish you well, and, above all, remember to dance!"
The new scene of Amelia's labours was a more rocky part of the heath, where grey granite boulders served for seats and tables, and sometimes for workshops and anvils, as in one place, where a grotesque and grimy old dwarf sat forging rivets to mend china and glass. A fire in a hollow of the boulder served for a forge, and on the flatter part was his anvil. The rocks were covered in all directions with the knick-knacks, ornaments, &c., that Amelia had at various times destroyed.
"If you please, sir," she said to the dwarf, "I am Amelia."
The dwarf left off blowing at his forge and looked at her.
"Then I wonder you're not ashamed of yourself," said he.
"I am ashamed of myself," said poor Amelia, "very much ashamed. I should like to mend these things if I can."
"Well, you can't say more than that," said the dwarf, in a mollified tone, for he was a kindly little creature; "bring that china bowl here, and I'll show you how to set to work."
Poor Amelia did not get on very fast, but she tried her best. As to the dwarf, it was truly wonderful to see how he worked. Things seemed to mend themselves at his touch, and he was so proud of his skill, and so particular, that he generally did over again the things which Amelia had done after her fashion. The first time he gave her a few minutes in which to rest and amuse herself, she held out her little skirt, and began one of her prettiest dances.
"Rivets and trivets!" shrieked the little man, "how you dance! It is charming! I say it is charming! On with you! Fa, la fa! La, fa la! It gives me the fidgets in my shoe-points to see you!" and forthwith down he jumped, and began capering about.
"I am a good dancer myself," said the little man. "Do you know the 'Hop, Skip, and a Jump' dance?"
"I do not think I do," said Amelia.
"It is much admired," said the dwarf, "when I dance it;" and he thereupon tucked up the little leathern apron in which he worked, and performed some curious antics on one leg.
"That is the Hop," he observed, pausing for a moment. "The Skip is thus. You throw out your left leg as high and as far as you can, and as you drop on the toe of your left foot you fling out the right leg in the same manner, and so on. This is the Jump," with which he turned a somersault and disappeared from view. When Amelia next saw him he was sitting cross-legged on his boulder.
"Good, wasn't it?" he said.
"Wonderful!" Amelia replied.
"Now it's your turn again," said the dwarf.
But Amelia cunningly replied--"I'm afraid I must go on with my work."
"Pshaw!" said the little tinker. "Give me your work. I can do more in a minute than you in a month, and better to boot. Now dance again."
"Do you know this?" said Amelia, and she danced a few paces of a polka mazurka.
"Admirable!" cried the little man. "Stay"--and he drew an old violin from behind the rock; "now dance again, and mark the time well, so that I may catch the measure, and then I will accompany you."
Which accordingly he did, improvising a very spirited tune, which had, however, the peculiar subdued and weird effect of all the other sounds in this strange region.
"The fiddle came from up yonder," said the little man. "It was smashed to atoms in the world and thrown away. But, ho, ho, ho! there is nothing that I cannot mend, and a mended fiddle is an amended fiddle. It improves the tone. Now teach me that dance, and I will patch up all the rest of the gimcracks. Is it a bargain?"
"By all means," said Amelia; and she began to explain the dance to the best of her ability.
"Charming, charming!" cried the dwarf. "We have no such dance ourselves. We only dance hand in hand, and round and round, when we dance together. Now I will learn the step, and then I will put my arm round your waist and dance with you."
Amelia looked at the dwarf. He was very smutty, and old, and wizened. Truly, a queer partner! But "handsome is that handsome does;" and he had done her a good turn. So when he had learnt the step, he put his arm round Amelia's waist, and they danced together. His shoe-points were very much in the way, but otherwise he danced very well.
Then he set to work on the broken ornaments, and they were all very soon "as good as new." But they were not kicked up into the world, for, as the dwarfs said, they would be sure to break on the road. So they kept them and used them; and I fear that no benefit came from the little tinker's skill to Amelia's mamma's acquaintance in this matter.
"Have I any other tasks?" Amelia inquired.
"One more," said the dwarfs; and she was led farther on to a smooth mossy green, thickly covered with what looked like bits of broken thread. One would think it had been a milliner's work-room from the first invention of needles and thread.
"What are these?" Amelia asked.
"They are the broken threads of all the conversations you have interrupted," was the reply; "and pretty dangerous work it is to dance here now, with threads getting round one's shoe-points. Dance a hornpipe in a herring-net, and you'll know what it is!"
Amelia began to pick up the threads, but it was tedious work. She had cleared a yard or two, and her back was aching terribly, when she heard the fiddle and the mazurka behind her; and looking round she saw the old dwarf, who was playing away, and making the most hideous grimaces as his chin pressed the violin.
"Dance, my lady, dance!" he shouted.
"I do not think I can," said Amelia; "I am so weary with stooping over my work."
"Then rest a few minutes," he answered, "and I will play you a jig. A jig is a beautiful dance, such life, such spirit! So!"
And he played faster and faster, his arm, his face, his fiddle-bow all seemed working together; and as he played, the threads danced themselves into three heaps.
"That is not bad, is it?" said the dwarf; "and now for our own dance," and he played the mazurka. "Get the measure well into your head. La, la fa la! la, la fa la! So!"
And throwing away his fiddle, he caught Amelia round the waist, and they danced as before. After which, she had no difficulty in putting the three heaps of thread into a basket.
"Where are these to be kicked to?" asked the young goblins.
"To the four winds of heaven," said the old dwarf. "There are very few drawing-room conversations worth putting together a second time. They are not like old china bowls."
Thus Amelia's tasks were ended; but not a word was said of her return home. The dwarfs were now very kind, and made so much of her that it was evident that they meant her to remain with them. Amelia often cooked for them, and she danced and played with them, and never showed a sign of discontent; but her heart ached for home, and when she was alone she would bury her face in the flowers and cry for her mother.
One day she overheard the dwarfs in consultation.
"The moon is full to-morrow," said one--("Then I have been a month down here," thought Amelia; "it was full moon that night")--"shall we dance in the Mary Meads?"
"By all means," said the old tinker dwarf; "and we will take Amelia, and dance my dance."
"Is it safe?" said another.
"Look how content she is," said the old dwarf; "and, oh! how she dances; my feet tickle at the bare thought."
"The ordinary run of mortals do not see us," continued the objector; "but she is visible to any one. And there are men and women who wander in the moonlight, and the Mary Meads are near her old home."
"I will make her a hat of touchwood," said the old dwarf, "so that even if she is seen it will look like a will-o'-the-wisp bobbing up and down. If she does not come, I will not. I must dance my dance. You do not know what it is! We two alone move together with a grace which even here is remarkable. But when I think that up yonder we shall have attendant shadows echoing our movements, I long for the moment to arrive."
"So be it," said the others; and Amelia wore the touchwood hat, and went up with them to the Mary Meads.
Amelia and the dwarf danced the mazurka, and their shadows, now as short as themselves, then long and gigantic, danced beside them. As the moon went down, and the shadows lengthened, the dwarf was in raptures.
"When one sees how colossal one's very shadow is," he remarked, "one knows one's true worth. You also have a good shadow. We are partners in the dance, and I think we will be partners for life. But I have not fully considered the matter, so this is not to be regarded as a formal proposal." And he continued to dance, singing, "La, la, fa, la, la, la, fa, la." It was highly admired.
The Mary Meads lay a little below the house where Amelia's parents lived, and once during the night her father, who was watching by the sick bed of the stock, looked out of the window.
"How lovely the moonlight is!" he murmured; "but, dear me! there is a will-o'-the-wisp yonder. I had no idea the Mary Meads were so damp." Then he pulled the blind down and went back into the room.
As for poor Amelia, she found no four-leaved clover, and at cockcrow they all went underground.
"We will dance on Hunch Hill to-morrow," said the dwarfs.
All went as before; not a clover plant of any kind did Amelia see, and at cockcrow the revel broke up.
On the following night they danced in the hayfield. The old stubble was now almost hidden by green clover. There was a grand fairy dance--a round dance, which does not mean, as with us, a dance for two partners, but a dance where all join hands and dance round and round in a circle with appropriate antics. Round they went, faster and faster, the pointed shoes now meeting in the centre like the spokes of a wheel, now kicked out behind like spikes, and then scamper, caper, hurry! They seemed to fly, when suddenly the ring broke at one corner, and nothing being stronger than its weakest point, the whole circle were sent flying over the field.
"Ho, ho, ho!" laughed the dwarfs, for they are good-humoured little folk, and do not mind a tumble.
"Ha, ha, ha!" laughed Amelia, for she had fallen with her fingers on a four-leaved clover.
She put it behind her back, for the old tinker dwarf was coming up to her, wiping the mud from his face with his leathern apron.
"Now for our dance!" he shrieked. "And I have made up my mind--partners now and partners always. You are incomparable. For three hundred years I have not met with your equal."
But Amelia held the four-leaved clover above her head, and cried from her very heart--"I want to go home!"
The dwarf gave a hideous yell of disappointment, and at this instant the stock came tumbling head over heels into the midst, crying--"Oh! the pills, the powders, and the draughts! oh, the lotions and embrocations! oh, the blisters, the poultices, and the plasters! men may well be so short-lived!"
And Amelia found herself in bed in her own home.
AT HOME AGAIN.
By the side of Amelia's bed stood a little table, on which were so many big bottles of medicine, that Amelia smiled to think of all the stock must have had to swallow during the month past. There was an open Bible on it too, in which Amelia's mother was reading, whilst tears trickled slowly down her pale cheeks. The poor lady looked so thin and ill, so worn with sorrow and watching, that Amelia's heart smote her, as if some one had given her a sharp blow.
"Mamma, Mamma! Mother, my dear, dear Mother!"
The tender, humble, loving tone of voice was so unlike Amelia's old imperious snarl, that her mother hardly recognized it; and when she saw Amelia's eyes full of intelligence instead of the delirium of fever, and that (though older and thinner and rather pale) she looked wonderfully well, the poor worn-out lady could hardly restrain herself from falling into hysterics for very joy.
"Dear Mamma, I want to tell you all about it," said Amelia, kissing the kind hand that stroked her brow.
But it appeared that the doctor had forbidden conversation; and though Amelia knew it would do her no harm, she yielded to her mother's wish and lay still and silent.
"Now, my love, it is time to take your medicine."
But Amelia pleaded--"Oh, Mamma, indeed I don't want any medicine. I am quite well, and would like to get up."
"Ah, my dear child!" cried her mother, "what I have suffered in inducing you to take your medicine, and yet see what good it has done you."
"I hope you will never suffer any more from my wilfulness," said Amelia; and she swallowed two tablespoonfuls of a mixture labelled "To be well shaken before taken," without even a wry face.
Presently the doctor came.
"You're not so very angry at the sight of me to-day, my little lady, eh?" he said.
"I have not seen you for a long time," said Amelia; "but I know you have been here, attending a stock who looked like me. If your eyes had been touched with fairy ointment, however, you would have been aware that it was a fairy imp, and a very ugly one, covered with hair. I have been living in terror lest it should go back underground in the shape of a black cat. However, thanks to the four-leaved clover, and the old woman of the heath, I am at home again."
On hearing this rhodomontade, Amelia's mother burst into tears, for she thought the poor child was still raving with fever. But the doctor smiled pleasantly, and said--"Ay, ay, to be sure," with a little nod, as one should say, "We know all about it;" and laid two fingers in a casual manner on Amelia's wrist.
"But she is wonderfully better, madam," he said afterwards to her mamma; "the brain has been severely tried, but she is marvellously improved: in fact, it is an effort of nature, a most favourable effort, and we can but assist the rally; we will change the medicine." Which he did, and very wisely assisted nature with a bottle of pure water flavoured with tincture of roses.
"And it was so very kind of him to give me his directions in poetry," said Amelia's mamma; "for I told him my memory, which is never good, seemed going completely, from anxiety, and if I had done anything wrong just now, I should never have forgiven myself. And I always found poetry easier to remember than prose,"--which puzzled everybody, the doctor included, till it appeared that she had ingeniously discovered a rhyme in his orders--
'To be kept cool and quiet, With light nourishing diet.'
Under which treatment Amelia was soon pronounced to be well.
She made another attempt to relate her adventures, but she found that not even Nurse would believe in them.
"Why you told me yourself I might meet with the fairies," said Amelia, reproachfully.
"So I did, my dear," Nurse replied, "and they say that it's that put it into your head. And I'm sure what you say about the dwarfs and all is as good as a printed book, though you can't think that ever I would have let any dirty clothes store up like that, let alone your frocks, my dear. But for pity's sake, Miss Amelia, don't go on about it to your mother, for she thinks you'll never get your senses right again, and she has fretted enough about you, poor lady; and nursed you night and day till she is nigh worn out. And anybody can see you've been ill, Miss, you've grown so, and look paler and older like. Well, to be sure, as you say, if you'd been washing and working for a month in a place without a bit of sun, or a bed to lie on, and scraps to eat, it would be enough to do it; and many's the poor child that has to, and gets worn and old before her time. But, my dear, whatever you think, give in to your mother; you'll never repent giving in to your mother, my dear, the longest day you live."
So Amelia kept her own counsel. But she had one confidant.
When her parents brought the stock home on the night of Amelia's visit to the haycocks, the bulldog's conduct had been most strange. His usual good-humour appeared to have been exchanged for incomprehensible fury, and he was with difficulty prevented from flying at the stock, who on her part showed an anger and dislike fully equal to his.
Finally the bulldog had been confined to the stable, where he remained the whole month, uttering from time to time such howls, with his snub nose in the air, that poor Nurse quite gave up hope of Amelia's recovery.
"For indeed, my dear, they do say that a howling dog is a sign of death, and it was more than I could abear."
But the day after Amelia's return, as Nurse was leaving the room with a tray which had carried some of the light nourishing diet ordered by the doctor, she was knocked down, tray and all, by the bulldog, who came tearing into the room, dragging a chain and dirty rope after him, and nearly choked by the desperate efforts which had finally effected his escape from the stable. And he jumped straight on to the end of Amelia's bed, where he lay, thudding with his tail, and giving short whines of ecstasy. And as Amelia begged that he might be left, and as it was evident that he would bite any one who tried to take him away, he became established as chief nurse. When Amelia's meals were brought to the bedside on a tray, he kept a fixed eye on the plates, as if to see if her appetite were improving. And he would even take a snack himself, with an air of great affability.
And when Amelia told him her story, she could see by his eyes, and his nose, and his ears, and his tail, and the way he growled whenever the stock was mentioned, that he knew all about it. As, on the other hand, he had no difficulty in conveying to her by sympathetic whines the sentiment, "Of course I would have helped you if I could; but they tied me up, and this disgusting old rope has taken me a month to worry through."
So, in spite of the past, Amelia grew up good and gentle, unselfish and considerate for others. She was unusually clever, as those who have been with the "Little People" are said always to be.
And she became so popular with her mother's acquaintances that they said--"We will no longer call her Amelia, for it is a name we learnt to dislike, but we will call her Amy, that is to say, 'Beloved.'"
* * * * *
"And did my godmother's grandmother believe that Amelia had really been with the fairies, or did she think it was all fever ravings?"
"That, indeed, she never said, but she always observed that it was a pleasant tale with a good moral, which was surely enough for anybody."