Eva nodded to the gay little ones, as they peeped from among the leaves at the stranger, and then she listened to the Fairy lessons. Several tiny Elves stood on a broad leaf while the teacher sat among the petals of a flower that bent beside them, and asked questions that none but Fairies would care to know.
"Twinkle, if there lay nine seeds within a flower-cup and the wind bore five away, how many would the blossom have?" "Four," replied the little one.
"Rosebud, if a Cowslip opens three leaves in one day and four the next, how many rosy leaves will there be when the whole flower has bloomed?"
"Seven," sang the gay little Elf.
"Harebell, if a silkworm spin one yard of Fairy cloth in an hour, how many will it spin in a day?"
"Twelve," said the Fairy child.
"Primrose, where lies Violet Island?"
"In the Lake of Ripples."
"Lilla, you may bound Rose Land."
"On the north by Ferndale, south by Sunny Wave River, east by the hill of Morning Clouds, and west by the Evening Star."
"Now, little ones," said the teacher, "you may go to your painting, that our visitor may see how we repair the flowers that earthly hands have injured."
Then Eva saw how, on large, white leaves, the Fairies learned to imitate the lovely colors, and with tiny brushes to brighten the blush on the anemone's cheek, to deepen the blue of the violet's eye, and add new light to the golden cowslip.
"You have stayed long enough," said the Elves at length, "we have many things to show you. Come now and see what is our dearest work."
So Eva said farewell to the child Elves, and hastened with little Rose-Leaf to the gates. Here she saw many bands of Fairies, folded in dark mantles that mortals might not know them, who, with the child among them, flew away over hill and valley. Some went to the cottages amid the hills, some to the sea-side to watch above the humble fisher folks; but little Rose-Leaf and many others went into the noisy city.
Eva wondered within herself what good the tiny Elves could do in this great place; but she soon learned, for the Fairy band went among the poor and friendless, bringing pleasant dreams to the sick and old, sweet, tender thoughts of love and gentleness to the young, strength to the weak, and patient cheerfulness to the poor and lonely.
Then the child wondered no longer, but deeper grew her love for the tender-hearted Elves, who left their own happy home to cheer and comfort those who never knew what hands had clothed and fed them, what hearts had given of their own joy, and brought such happiness to theirs.
Long they stayed, and many a lesson little Eva learned: but when she begged them to go back, they still led her on, saying, "Our work is not yet done; shall we leave so many sad hearts when we may cheer them, so many dark homes that we may brighten? We must stay yet longer, little Eva, and you may learn yet more."
Then they went into a dark and lonely room, and here they found a pale, sad-eyed child, who wept bitter tears over a faded flower.
"Ah," sighed the little one, "it was my only friend, and I cherished it with all my lone heart's love; 't was all that made my sad life happy; and it is gone."
Tenderly the child fastened the drooping stem, and placed it where the one faint ray of sunlight stole into the dreary room.
"Do you see," said the Elves, "through this simple flower will we keep the child pure and stainless amid the sin and sorrow around her. The love of this shall lead her on through temptation and through grief, and she shall be a spirit of joy and consolation to the sinful and the sorrowing."
And with busy love toiled the Elves amid the withered leaves, and new strength was given to the flower; while, as day by day the friendless child watered the growing buds, deeper grew her love for the unseen friends who had given her one thing to cherish in her lonely home; sweet, gentle thoughts filled her heart as she bent above it, and the blossom's fragrant breath was to her a whispered voice of all fair and lovely things; and as the flower taught her, so she taught others.
The loving Elves brought her sweet dreams by night, and happy thoughts by day, and as she grew in childlike beauty, pure and patient amid poverty and sorrow, the sinful were rebuked, sorrowing hearts grew light, and the weak and selfish forgot their idle fears, when they saw her trustingly live on with none to aid or comfort her. The love she bore the tender flower kept her own heart innocent and bright, and the pure human flower was a lesson to those who looked upon it; and soon the gloomy house was bright with happy hearts, that learned of the gentle child to bear poverty and grief as she had done, to forgive those who brought care and wrong to them, and to seek for happiness in humble deeds of charity and love.
"Our work is done," whispered the Elves, and with blessings on the two fair flowers, they flew away to other homes;—to a blind old man who dwelt alone with none to love him, till through long years of darkness and of silent sorrow the heart within had grown dim and cold. No sunlight could enter at the darkened eyes, and none were near to whisper gentle words, to cheer and comfort.
Thus he dwelt forgotten and alone, seeking to give no joy to others, possessing none himself. Life was dark and sad till the untiring Elves came to his dreary home, bringing sunlight and love. They whispered sweet words of comfort,—how, if the darkened eyes could find no light without, within there might be never-failing happiness; gentle feelings and sweet, loving thoughts could make the heart fair, if the gloomy, selfish sorrow were but cast away, and all would be bright and beautiful.
They brought light-hearted children, who gathered round him, making the desolate home fair with their young faces, and his sad heart gay with their sweet, childish voices. The love they bore he could not cast away, sunlight stole in, the dark thoughts passed away, and the earth was a pleasant home to him.
Thus their little hands led him back to peace and happiness, flowers bloomed beside his door, and their fragrant breath brought happy thoughts of pleasant valleys and green hills; birds sang to him, and their sweet voices woke the music in his own soul, that never failed to calm and comfort. Happy sounds were heard in his once lonely home, and bright faces gathered round his knee, and listened tenderly while he strove to tell them all the good that gentleness and love had done for him.
Still the Elves watched near, and brighter grew the heart as kindly thoughts and tender feelings entered in, and made it their home; and when the old man fell asleep, above his grave little feet trod lightly, and loving hands laid fragrant flowers.
Then went the Elves into the dreary prison-houses, where sad hearts pined in lonely sorrow for the joy and freedom they had lost. To these came the loving band with tender words, telling of the peace they yet might win by patient striving and repentant tears, thus waking in their bosoms all the holy feelings and sweet affections that had slept so long.
They told pleasant tales, and sang their sweetest songs to cheer and gladden, while the dim cells grew bright with the sunlight, and fragrant with the flowers the loving Elves had brought, and by their gentle teachings those sad, despairing hearts were filled with patient hope and earnest longing to win back their lost innocence and joy.
Thus to all who needed help or comfort went the faithful Fairies; and when at length they turned towards Fairy-Land, many were the grateful, happy hearts they left behind.
Then through the summer sky, above the blossoming earth, they journeyed home, happier for the joy they had given, wiser for the good they had done.
All Fairy-Land was dressed in flowers, and the soft wind went singing by, laden with their fragrant breath. Sweet music sounded through the air, and troops of Elves in their gayest robes hastened to the palace where the feast was spread.
Soon the bright hall was filled with smiling faces and fair forms, and little Eva, as she stood beside the Queen, thought she had never seen a sight so lovely.
The many-colored shadows of the fairest flowers played on the pure white walls, and fountains sparkled in the sunlight, making music as the cool waves rose and fell, while to and fro, with waving wings and joyous voices, went the smiling Elves, bearing fruit and honey, or fragrant garlands for each other's hair.
Long they feasted, gayly they sang, and Eva, dancing merrily among them, longed to be an Elf that she might dwell forever in so fair a home.
At length the music ceased, and the Queen said, as she laid her hand on little Eva's shining hair:—
"Dear child, tomorrow we must bear you home, for, much as we long to keep you, it were wrong to bring such sorrow to your loving earthly friends; therefore we will guide you to the brook-side, and there say farewell till you come again to visit us. Nay, do not weep, dear Rose-Leaf; you shall watch over little Eva's flowers, and when she looks at them she will think of you. Come now and lead her to the Fairy garden, and show her what we think our fairest sight. Weep no more, but strive to make her last hours with us happy as you can."
With gentle caresses and most tender words the loving Elves gathered about the child, and, with Rose-Leaf by her side, they led her through the palace, and along green, winding paths, till Eva saw what seemed a wall of flowers rising before her, while the air was filled with the most fragrant odors, and the low, sweet music as of singing blossoms.
"Where have you brought me, and what mean these lovely sounds?" asked Eva.
"Look here, and you shall see," said Rose-Leaf, as she bent aside the vines, "but listen silently or you cannot hear."
Then Eva, looking through the drooping vines, beheld a garden filled with the loveliest flowers; fair as were all the blossoms she had seen in Fairy-Land, none were so beautiful as these. The rose glowed with a deeper crimson, the lily's soft leaves were more purely white, the crocus and humble cowslip shone like sunlight, and the violet was blue as the sky that smiled above it.
"How beautiful they are," whispered Eva, "but, dear Rose-Leaf, why do you keep them here, and why call you this your fairest sight?"
"Look again, and I will tell you," answered the Fairy.
Eva looked, and saw from every flower a tiny form come forth to welcome the Elves, who all, save Rose-Leaf, had flown above the wall, and were now scattering dew upon the flowers' bright leaves and talking gayly with the Spirits, who gathered around them, and seemed full of joy that they had come. The child saw that each one wore the colors of the flower that was its home. Delicate and graceful were the little forms, bright the silken hair that fell about each lovely face; and Eva heard the low, sweet murmur of their silvery voices and the rustle of their wings. She gazed in silent wonder, forgetting she knew not who they were, till the Fairy said,—
"These are the spirits of the flowers, and this the Fairy Home where those whose hearts were pure and loving on the earth come to bloom in fadeless beauty here, when their earthly life is past. The humblest flower that blooms has a home with us, for outward beauty is a worthless thing if all be not fair and sweet within. Do you see yonder lovely spirit singing with my sister Moonlight? a clover blossom was her home, and she dwelt unknown, unloved; yet patient and content, bearing cheerfully the sorrows sent her. We watched and saw how fair and sweet the humble flower grew, and then gladly bore her here, to blossom with the lily and the rose. The flowers' lives are often short, for cruel hands destroy them; therefore is it our greatest joy to bring them hither, where no careless foot or wintry wind can harm them, where they bloom in quiet beauty, repaying our care by their love and sweetest perfumes."
"I will never break another flower," cried Eva; "but let me go to them, dear Fairy; I would gladly know the lovely spirits, and ask forgiveness for the sorrow I have caused. May I not go in?"
"Nay, dear Eva, you are a mortal child, and cannot enter here; but I will tell them of the kind little maiden who has learned to love them, and they will remember you when you are gone. Come now, for you have seen enough, and we must be away."
On a rosy morning cloud, surrounded by the loving Elves, went Eva through the sunny sky. The fresh wind bore them gently on, and soon they stood again beside the brook, whose waves danced brightly as if to welcome them.
"Now, ere we say farewell," said the Queen, as they gathered nearer to the child, "tell me, dear Eva, what among all our Fairy gifts will make you happiest, and it shall be yours."
"You good little Fairies," said Eva, folding them in her arms, for she was no longer the tiny child she had been in Fairy-Land, "you dear good little Elves, what can I ask of you, who have done so much to make me happy, and taught me so many good and gentle lessons, the memory of which will never pass away? I can only ask of you the power to be as pure and gentle as yourselves, as tender and loving to the weak and sorrowing, as untiring in kindly deeds to all. Grant me this gift, and you shall see that little Eva has not forgotten what you have taught her."
"The power shall be yours," said the Elves, and laid their soft hands on her head; "we will watch over you in dreams, and when you would have tidings of us, ask the flowers in your garden, and they will tell you all you would know. Farewell. Remember Fairy-Land and all your loving friends."
They clung about her tenderly, and little Rose-Leaf placed a flower crown on her head, whispering softly, "When you would come to us again, stand by the brook-side and wave this in the air, and we will gladly take you to our home again. Farewell, dear Eva. Think of your little Rose-Leaf when among the flowers."
Long Eva watched their shining wings, and listened to the music of their voices as they flew singing home, and when at length the last little form had vanished among the clouds, she saw that all around her where the Elves had been, the fairest flowers had sprung up, and the lonely brook-side was a blooming garden.
Thus she stood among the waving blossoms, with the Fairy garland in her hair, and happy feelings in her heart, better and wiser for her visit to Fairy-Land.
"Now, Star-Twinkle, what have you to teach?" asked the Queen.
"Nothing but a little song I heard the hare-bells singing," replied the Fairy, and, taking her harp, sang, in a low, sweet voice:—
THE FLOWER'S LESSON.
THERE grew a fragrant rose-tree where the brook flows,
With two little tender buds, and one full rose;
When the sun went down to his bed in the west,
The little buds leaned on the rose-mother's breast,
While the bright eyed stars their long watch kept,
And the flowers of the valley in their green cradles slept;
Then silently in odors they communed with each other,
The two little buds on the bosom of their mother.
"O sister," said the little one, as she gazed at the sky,
"I wish that the Dew Elves, as they wander lightly by,
Would bring me a star; for they never grow dim,
And the Father does not need them to burn round him.
The shining drops of dew the Elves bring each day
And place in my bosom, so soon pass away;
But a star would glitter brightly through the long summer hours,
And I should be fairer than all my sister flowers.
That were better far than the dew-drops that fall
On the high and the low, and come alike to all.
I would be fair and stately, with a bright star to shine
And give a queenly air to this crimson robe of mine."
And proudly she cried, "These fire-flies shall be
My jewels, since the stars can never come to me."
Just then a tiny dew-drop that hung o'er the dell
On the breast of the bud like a soft star fell;
But impatiently she flung it away from her leaf,
And it fell on her mother like a tear of grief,
While she folded to her breast, with wilful pride,
A glittering fire-fly that hung by her side.
"Heed," said the mother rose, "daughter mine,
Why shouldst thou seek for beauty not thine?
The Father hath made thee what thou now art;
And what he most loveth is a sweet, pure heart.
Then why dost thou take with such discontent
The loving gift which he to thee hath sent?
For the cool fresh dew will render thee far
More lovely and sweet than the brightest star;
They were made for Heaven, and can never come to shine
Like the fire-fly thou hast in that foolish breast of thine.
O my foolish little bud, do listen to thy mother;
Care only for true beauty, and seek for no other.
There will be grief and trouble in that wilful little heart;
Unfold thy leaves, my daughter, and let the fly depart."
But the proud little bud would have her own will,
And folded the fire-fly more closely still;
Till the struggling insect tore open the vest
Of purple and green, that covered her breast.
When the sun came up, she saw with grief
The blooming of her sister bud leaf by leaf.
While she, once as fair and bright as the rest,
Hung her weary head down on her wounded breast.
Bright grew the sunshine, and the soft summer air
Was filled with the music of flowers singing there;
But faint grew the little bud with thirst and pain,
And longed for the cool dew; but now 't was in vain.
Then bitterly she wept for her folly and pride,
As drooping she stood by her fair sister's side.
Then the rose mother leaned the weary little head
On her bosom to rest, and tenderly she said:
"Thou hast learned, my little bud, that, whatever may betide,
Thou canst win thyself no joy by passion or by pride.
The loving Father sends the sunshine and the shower,
That thou mayst become a perfect little flower;—
The sweet dews to feed thee, the soft wind to cheer,
And the earth as a pleasant home, while thou art dwelling here.
Then shouldst thou not be grateful for all this kindly care,
And strive to keep thyself most innocent and fair?
Then seek, my little blossom, to win humility;
Be fair without, be pure within, and thou wilt happy be.
So when the quiet Autumn of thy fragrant life shall come,
Thou mayst pass away, to bloom in the Flower Spirits' home."
Then from the mother's breast, where it still lay hid,
Into the fading bud the dew-drop gently slid;
Stronger grew the little form, and happy tears fell,
As the dew did its silent work, and the bud grew well,
While the gentle rose leaned, with motherly pride,
O'er the fair little ones that bloomed at her side.
Night came again, and the fire-flies flew;
But the bud let them pass, and drank of the dew;
While the soft stars shone, from the still summer heaven,
On the happy little flower that had learned the lesson given.
The music-loving Elves clapped their hands, as Star-Twinkle ceased; and the Queen placed a flower crown, with a gentle smile, upon the Fairy's head, saying,—
"The little bud's lesson shall teach us how sad a thing is pride, and that humility alone can bring true happiness to flower and Fairy. You shall come next, Zephyr."
And the little Fairy, who lay rocking to and fro upon a fluttering vine-leaf, thus began her story:—
"As I lay resting in the bosom of a cowslip that bent above the brook, a little wind, tired of play, told me this tale of