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The Magic Nuts
Illustrator: Rosie M. M. Pitman
CHAPTER I. NIGHT AND MORNING
CHAPTER II. APPLES AND NUTS
CHAPTER III. IT IS HILDEGARDE
CHAPTER IV. ON THE WAY
CHAPTER V. 'WHAT'S O'CLOCK?'
CHAPTER VI. GNOMELAND
CHAPTER VII. A COLLATION UNDER DIFFICULTIES
CHAPTER VIII. TREE-TOP LAND
CHAPTER IX. A CONCERT
CHAPTER X. THE BLUE-SILK ROOM
CHAPTER XI. 'THE UNSELFISH MERMAID'
CHAPTER XII. 'THE UNSELFISH MERMAID' (continued)
THE UNSELFISH MERMAID.
The way was long.Lay of the Last Minstrel.
Little Leonore pressed her face against the window of the railway carriage and tried hard to see out. But it was no use. It all looked so dark and black, all the darker and blacker for the glimmer of the rain-drops trickling down thickly outside, and reflecting the feeble light of the lamp in the roof of the compartment.
Leonore sighed deeply. She was very tired, more tired than she knew, for she did not feel sleepy, or as if she would give anything to be undressed and go to bed. On the contrary, she wished with all her heart that it was daylight, and that it would leave off raining, and that she could get out of the stuffy old railway train, and go for a good run. It had been raining for so long, and they had been such a lot of hours shut in and bum-bumming along in this dreary way—it even seemed to her now and then as if she had always been sitting in her corner like this, and that it had always been night and always raining outside.
'I don't believe I'm going to be happy at all at Alten,' she said to herself. 'I'm sure it's going to be horrid. It's always the way if people tell you anything's going to be lovely and nice, it's sure to be dull, and—just horrid.'
She glanced at the other end of the railway carriage where a lady, comfortably muffled up in the corner, was sleeping peacefully. She was not an old lady, but she was not young. To Leonore she seemed past counting her age, for she never appeared to get older, and during the six or seven years she had been the little girl's governess she had not changed at all.
'I wish I could go to sleep like Fraulein,' was the next thought that came into her busy brain. 'When she wakes she'll think I have been asleep, for she did tuck me up nicely. And I'm feeling as cross as cross.'
Then her eyes fell on the little cushion and the railway rug that she had thrown on to the floor—should she try to settle herself again and perhaps manage to go to sleep? It would be so nice to wake up and find they had got there, and surely it could not be very much farther. Fraulein had said ten o'clock, had she not? Leonore remembered sitting up one night till ten o'clock—more than a year ago—when her father was expected to arrive, and Fraulein was sure he would like to find her awake to welcome him. It hadn't seemed half so late that night as it did now—would ten o'clock never come?
She stooped down and pulled up the rug, and tried to prop the cushion against the back of the seat for her head. It was not very easy to manage, but Leonore was not a selfish child; it never occurred to her to disturb her governess for the sake of her own comfort, though Fraulein would not have been the least vexed with her had she done so.
Just as she had made up her mind that she would try to go to sleep, she felt a slight change in the motion of the train—the bum and rattle, rattle and bum, grew fainter—was it only her fancy, or could it, oh! Could it be that they were slackening speed? If so, it could only mean arriving at Alten, for her governess had distinctly told her they would not stop again till they had reached their journey's end.
'Sleep, my dear,' she had said, 'sleep well till I wake you, and then we shall be there. There will be no other stopping anywhere to disturb you.'
Leonore held her breath in anxiety—yes, it was no fancy—they were moving more and more slowly, and through the darkness lights, which were not the glimmer of the rain-drops, began to appear. Then at last there was a pull-up.
'Fraulein, Fraulein,' cried Leonore, in great excitement, 'wake up, quick. We're there—do you hear? The train has stopped.'
Poor Fraulein had started up at the first words, but Leonore was too eager to leave off talking all at once, and in another moment the governess's head was out of the window, calling to a porter, for there was not too much time to spare, as the train had to start off again, not having finished its journey, though some of its passengers had done so. And almost before our little girl had quite taken in that the dreary rattle and bum in the darkness were over, she found herself on the platform, her own little travelling-bag and warm cloak in her grasp, while Fraulein, who insisted on loading herself as much as the porter, was chattering away to him in the cheeriest and liveliest of voices, far too fast for Leonore to understand much of what she said, as if she had never been asleep in her life.
'I suppose she's very pleased to be in her own country,' thought Leonore. 'I wish it wasn't night, so that I could see what it all looks like,' and she gazed about her eagerly, as she followed Fraulein and the porter out of the station.
Something, after all, was to be seen. The rain was clearing off; overhead it was almost dry, though very wet and puddly underfoot. In front of the station was a wide open space, with trees surrounding it, except where a broad road, at the end of which lamps showed some carriages waiting, led away to somewhere, though no streets or even houses were to be seen. The air felt fresh and pleasant, and Leonore's spirits began to rise.
'It feels like the country,' she said to herself; 'I wonder where the town is.'
But Fraulein was still too busy talking to the porter and to two or three other men who had somehow sprung up, to be asked any questions just yet. One of the men had a band round his cap with some words stamped on it in gilt letters. Leonore could only make out one word, 'Hotel ——,' and then he turned away, and she could not see the others.
By this time her governess was picking up her skirts in preparation for crossing the wet space before them.
'He says we had better step over to where the carriages are standing,' she explained to the little girl; 'it will be quicker'; and when, a moment later, the two found themselves alone, with plenty of room, in the comfortable omnibus, she lent back with a sigh of satisfaction.
'It is so pleasant to be in a land where things are well managed,' she said. 'We do not need to wait for our big luggage. I give the paper to the hotel porter, he sees to it all for us.'
'Yes,' said Leonore, though without paying much attention; the care of the luggage did not trouble her; 'but do tell me, Fraulein, dear, where is the hotel? Where are the streets and—and—everything? It seems like the country, and oh, aren't you glad to be out of the train? I thought we should never get here, and it was so dark and raining so hard, and I couldn't go to sleep.'
'Poor dear,' said tender-hearted Fraulein, 'and I who slept comfortably for so long. Had I known you were awake I would have kept awake also.'
'Never mind now,' said Leonore amiably; 'but tell me where we are going.'
'The station is half a mile or so out of the town,' explained the governess. 'See now, the houses are appearing. We cross the bridge—by daylight it is beautiful, such a view down the river.'
But Leonore did not care very much about beautiful views—not just now especially.
'I wish it wasn't so far to the town,' she said wearily, though almost as she said the words her tone changed. 'Oh now,' she exclaimed brightly, 'we are really getting into the streets. How queer everything looks—do you think the people are all in bed, Fraulein?'
It was a natural question, for as they drove through the wide dark streets, faintly lighted by an occasional lamp, there was nothing to be seen but closed shutters and barred doors. The houses, for the most part, looked large, particularly as regarded the entrance, for many of these led into courtyards, with great double gates.
Fraulein nodded her head.
'They are all in their houses,' she said, 'though perhaps not all in bed yet, for it is not really so very late. In Alten we keep to the good old ways, you see, my dear—"early to bed and early to rise," as your rhyme says.'
'It's very dull-looking,' said Leonore discontentedly. 'It seems like a lot of prisons, and—oh——'
She broke off suddenly, for they were stopping at last, or at least preparing to stop, as they turned in through a large doorway standing open to admit them into a courtyard, paved with cobble stones, and dimly lighted like the streets by an old-fashioned lamp or lantern at one side.
There was more light at the other side, however, where a short flight of steps led into the hotel, and here they pulled up, to be received by a funny little man in black, with a large expanse of shirt-front, and by what looked to Leonore's half-dazzled eyes like a whole troop of waiters, also in black, fluttering about him, though in reality there were only three—all the party bowing in the most polite way, and almost tumbling over each other in their eagerness to help the ladies to alight.
This sort of thing was quite to Leonore's taste, and for the moment all feeling of dullness or tiredness left her. She bent her head graciously to the little fat man, who was really the landlord, and allowed one of the others to take her cloak and bag. Fraulein seemed more than ever in her element. Yes; rooms were ready for the ladies—two bedrooms opening into each other—would they have supper upstairs, or (and as he spoke the polite little man threw open a door they were passing) in here? 'Here' being the large dining-room. They would be quite undisturbed.
'Oh, in here, Fraulein, do say in here,' said Leonore, 'I don't like eating in bedrooms; it makes me feel as if I had the measles or something. And, I'm not sure, but I think I'm rather hungry, so mayn't we have supper at once?'
Fraulein was quite willing, and supper, in the shape of chocolate and an omelette, would be ready immediately. So the two settled themselves at one end of the long narrow table, and Leonore's eyes set to work to see what they could see by the light of the two not very bright lamps.
'What a funny old man,' she exclaimed. 'Look, Fraulein, the walls are all dark wood like a church, and the ceiling has white carvings on it, and the floor is red and black squares like the kitchen at Aunt Isabella's. And it isn't like a hotel, is it? Not like the one at Paris, where there was such a bustle. I don't believe there's anybody staying here except you and me.'
'Oh yes, there are probably other people,' said Fraulein, 'but it is long past proper supper-time, you see, my dear. It is very polite of the landlord to have received us himself, and to have all the waiters in attendance.'
And by the way Fraulein leant back in her chair Leonore saw that she was in a state of great satisfaction with everything, and exceedingly delighted to find herself again in her own country.
Upstairs, where they soon made their way, guided by two, if not three, of the attentive waiters, the house seemed even queerer and older than down below. Leonore was now getting too sleepy to notice anything very clearly, but the dark wainscotted walls, the long passages and funny little staircases, struck her as very mysterious and interesting, and she said to herself that she would have a good exploring the next day.
The bedrooms prepared for them looked large and imposing, partly perhaps because the candles left the corners in darkness. The beds were small and cosy, with their white eider-down quilts, and very comfortable too, as the tired little girl stretched herself out with a sigh of relief and content, to fall asleep long before Fraulein had completed her unpackings and arrangements.
If Leonore had any dreams that night she did not know it, for the sun had been up some hours before she awoke, though it was already late autumn. She did not feel at all ashamed of her laziness however, and considering everything I do not see that she had any reason to feel so. And she gave a cry of welcome and pleasure as she caught sight of the merry little rays of sunshine creeping over the white bed as if to wish her a kindly good morning.
'Oh I am glad it is a fine day,' she thought to herself, 'and I am so glad we are not going in that horrid old train again.'
She lay still and looked about her. Yes, it was a curiously old-fashioned room; even a child could see at once that the house must be very, very old.
'I wonder if many little girls have slept here and waked up in the morning, and looked at the funny walls and queer-shaped ceiling just like I'm doing,' she thought to herself. 'Some of them must be quite old women by now, and perhaps even, lots who have been dead for hundreds of years have lived here. How queer it is to think of! I wonder if Fraulein is awake, and I do hope we shall have breakfast soon. I'm so hungry.'
The sound of a tap seemed to come as an answer to these questions and hopes, and as Fraulein put her head in at one door, a maid carrying a bath and a large can of hot water appeared at the other. She was a pleasant-faced girl with rosy cheeks, and as she passed the bed she wished the young lady good morning with a smile.
'You are awake, my child?' said the governess. 'That is right. You have slept well? Call me as soon as you want me to help you to do your hair, and then we shall have our breakfast. You would rather have it downstairs, I suppose?'
'Oh yes,' said Leonore decidedly. 'I am quite rested, Fraulein, and I want dreadfully to go downstairs and see this funny old place by daylight, and I want to look out of the window to see if the streets look nice, and—and——'
'Well, get dressed first, my dear,' said her governess, pleased to find the little girl in such a cheerful frame of mind. 'It is just a trifle cold, though it will probably be warmer as the day goes on, thanks to this bright sunshine. You have had rainy weather lately, I suppose?' she went on, turning to the maid-servant.
The girl held up her hands.
'Rain,' she repeated, 'yes, indeed, I should rather think so—rain, rain, rain, for ever so many days. The ladies have brought us the sunshine.'
So it seemed, for when they made their way downstairs, Leonore scarcely knew the dining-room again, it looked so bright and cheerful in comparison with the night before. Their coffee and rolls had not yet made their appearance, so the little girl flew to the window to see what she could through the muslin blinds. For the window opened straight out on to the pavement, so that any inquisitive passer-by could peep in, which made the blinds quite necessary, as, though it is very pleasant to look out, it is not equally so to feel that strangers can look in when one is sitting at table.
Leonore pulled a tiny corner of the blind aside.
'Oh, Fraulein,' she exclaimed, 'it is such a nice street. And there are lots of people passing, and shops a little way off, and I see the top of a big old church quite near, and—and—a sort of open square place up that short street—do you see?' Fraulein having joined her by this time.
'That is the market-place,' said her governess, 'and I rather think—yes, I am sure it is market-day to-day.'
Leonore danced about in excitement.
'Oh, please take me to see it,' she said. 'I have never seen a proper market, and perhaps the people would have funny dresses—costumes like what you were telling me about. Do you think we should see any of them?'
'I hope so,' said Fraulein, 'we must go out as soon as we have had breakfast and see. I have to ask about a carriage to take us to Dorf. I almost wish——'
'What?' asked Leonore.
'That we could stay till to-morrow, if Alten amuses you so—indeed, I do not see why we need hurry. My aunt is not quite certain what day we are coming, and she is quite certain to be ready for us whenever we arrive. Indeed, I have no doubt she has had our rooms prepared for weeks past, so good and careful a housewife is she. Our beds will have been aired every day, I daresay.'
But Leonore was scarcely old enough to care whether the beds were aired or not. For the moment her whole thoughts were running on having a good exploring of the quaint town which had so taken her fancy, and while she drank her coffee and munched the nice crisp rolls, which tasted better than any bread she had ever eaten before, she kept urging her governess to stay another day where they were.
'You see,' she said, 'I'm so used to the country, and we shall be there all the winter, and I daresay it will be rather dull.'
'I hope not,' said Fraulein, somewhat anxiously. 'I shall do my best, you know, my child, to make you happy, and so will my good aunt, I am sure.'
'Oh yes, I know you are always very kind,' said Leonore, with a funny little tone of condescension which she sometimes used to her governess. 'But, you see, it must be dull when anybody has no brothers and sisters, and no mamma—and papa so far away.'
She gave a little sigh. She rather liked to pity herself now and then, and it made Fraulein all the kinder, but in reality she was not in some ways so much to be pitied as might have seemed. For she could not remember her mother, and she had been accustomed all her life to her father's being as a rule away from her, though when he was in England he spent most of his time in planning pleasures for his little daughter. Then she had had plenty of kind aunts and uncles, and, above all, the constant care of her devoted Fraulein.
But Fraulein's heart was very tender. She kissed Leonore fondly, and as soon as breakfast was over, out they sallied, after settling that they should stay at Alten another night, to please the little lady.
I love old women best, I think; She knows a friend in me.—Ashe.
It was market-day, to Leonore's great delight, and scarcely less to that of her governess. The scene was a busy and amusing one, and added to that was the charm of everything being so new to the little girl. She wanted to buy all sorts of treasures, but when Fraulein reminded her that there was no hurry, and that she would probably have plenty of chances of choosing the things that took her fancy at the yearly fair at Dorf, or in the little village shops there, she gave in, and contented herself with some delicious tiny pots and jugs, which she declared must really have been made by fairies.
'You are in the country of fairies now,' said Fraulein, smiling. 'Not Fairyland itself, of course, but one of the earth countries which lie nearest its borders.'
Leonore looked up gravely. Some feeling of the kind had already come over her—ever since their arrival the night before at the queer old inn, she had felt herself in a sort of new world, new to her just because of its strange oldness.
'Oh, Fraulein,' she said, 'I do like you to say that. Do you really mean it? And is Dorf as near Fairyland as this dear old town, do you think?'
'Quite, I should say,' replied Fraulein, taking up the little girl's fancy. 'Even nearer, perhaps. There are wonderful old woods on one side of the village, which look like the very home of gnomes and kobolds and all kinds of funny people. And——' she broke off abruptly, for Leonore had given her arm a sudden tug.
'Do look, Fraulein,' she said in a half whisper. 'Isn't she like an old fairy? And she's smiling as if she understood what we were saying.'
'She' was a tiny little old woman, seated in a corner of the market-place, with her goods for sale spread out before her. These were but a poor display—a few common vegetables, a trayful of not very inviting-looking apples, small and grayish, and a basket filled with nuts. But the owner of these seemed quite content. She glanced up as Leonore stopped to gaze at her and smiled—a bright, half-mischievous sort of smile, which was reflected in her twinkling eyes, and made her old brown wrinkled face seem like that of an indiarubber doll.
Fraulein looked at her too with interest in her own kindly blue eyes.
'She must be very poor,' she said.
Fraulein was very practical, though she was fond of fairy stories and such things too.
'Oh, do let us buy something from her,' said Leonore. 'I've plenty of money, you know—and if you'll lend me a little, you can pay yourself back when you get my English gold pound changed, can't you, dear Fraulein? I have spent those funny pretence-silver pennies you gave me yesterday.'
Fraulein opened her purse and put two small coins into the child's hand.
'Buy apples with one of these,' she said; 'that will be enough to please the poor old thing.'
'And nuts with the other?' asked Leonore.
Fraulein shook her head.