"I wish for a white kitten with blue eyes," said a little girl whose name was Therese.
"I shall wish to find an amber necklace that does not belong to any one," said another little girl.
"I wish to be a king," said a boy whose name was Karl. "No, I think I shall wish to be the burgomaster, that I may go on board the ships in the harbor, and make their captains show me what is in them. I shall see how the sailors make their sails go up."
"I shall wish to marry Hulda," said another boy; "when I am a man, I mean. And besides that, I wish I may find a black puppy in my room at home, for I love dogs."
"But that is not fair," said the other children. "You must only wish for one thing, as we did."
"But I really wish for both," said the boy.
"If you wish for both perhaps you will get neither," said little Hulda.
"Well, then," answered the boy, "I wish for the puppy."
And so they all went on wishing till at last it came to Hulda's turn.
"What do you wish for, my child?" said her mother.
"Not for anything at all," she answered, shaking her head.
"Oh, but you must wish for something!" cried all the children.
"Yes," said her mother, "and I am now going to cut the cake. See, Hulda, the knife is going into it. Think of something."
"Well, then," answered the little girl, "I cannot think of anything else, so I shall wish that you may all have your wishes."
Upon this the knife went crunching down into the cake, the children gave three cheers, and the white waxen tulip bud at the top came tumbling on the table, and while they were all looking it opened its leaves, and out of the middle of it stepped a beautiful little fairy woman, no taller than your finger.
She had a white robe on, a little crown on her long yellow hair; there were two wings on her shoulders, just like the downy brown wings of a butterfly, and in her hand she had a little sceptre sparkling with precious stones.
"Only one wish," she said, jumping down on to the table, and speaking with the smallest little voice you ever heard. "Your fathers and mothers were always contented if we gave them one wish every year."
As she spoke, Hulda's mother gave a slice of cake to each child, and, when Hulda took hers, out dropped the ring, and fell clattering on her platter.
"Only one wish," repeated the fairy. And the children were all so much astonished (for even in those days fairies were but rarely seen) that none of them spoke a word, not even in a whisper. "Only one wish.
Speak, then, little Hulda, for I am one of that race which delights to give pleasure and to do good. Is there really nothing that you wish, for you shall certainly have it if there is?"
"There was nothing, dear fairy, before I saw you," answered the little girl, in a hesitating tone.
"But now there is?" asked the fairy. "Tell it me, then, and you shall have it."
"I wish for that pretty little sceptre of yours," said Hulda, pointing to the fairy's wand.
The moment Hulda said this the fairy shuddered and became pale, her brilliant colors faded, and she looked to the children's eyes like a thin white mist standing still in her place. The sceptre, on the contrary, became brighter than ever, and the precious stones glowed like burning coals.
"Dear child," she sighed, in a faint, mournful voice, "I had better have left you with the gift of your satisfied, contented heart, than thus have urged you to form a wish to my destruction. Alas! alas! my power and my happiness fade from me, and are as if they had never been. My wand must now go to you, who can make no use of it, and I must flutter about forlornly and alone in the cold world, with no more ability to do good, and waste away my time--a helpless and defenceless thing."
"Oh, no, no!" replied little Hulda. "Do not speak so mournfully, dear fairy. I did not wish at first to ask for it. I will not take the wand if it is of value to you, and I should be grieved to have it against your will."
"Child," said the fairy, "you do not know our nature. I have said whatever you wished should be yours. I cannot alter this decree; it _must_ be so. Take my wand; and I entreat you to guard it carefully, and never to give it away lest it should get into the hands of my enemy; for if once it should, I shall become his miserable little slave. Keep my wand with care; it is of no use to you, but in the course of years it is possible I may be able to regain it, and on Midsummer night I shall for a few hours return to my present shape, and be able for a short time to talk with you again."
"Dear fairy," said little Hulda, weeping, and putting out her hand for the wand, which the fairy held to her, "is there nothing else that I can do for you?"
"Nothing, nothing," said the fairy, who had now become so transparent and dim that they could scarcely see her; only the wings on her shoulders remained, and their bright colors had changed to a dusky brown. "I have long contended with my bitter enemy, the chief of the tribe of the gnomes--the ill-natured, spiteful gnomes. Their desire is as much to do harm to mortals as it is mine to do them good. If now he should find me I shall be at his mercy. It was decreed long ages ago that I should one day lose my wand, and it depends in some degree upon you, little Hulda, whether I shall ever receive it again. Farewell."
And now nothing was visible but the wings: the fairy had changed into a moth, with large brown wings freckled with dark eyes, and it stood trembling upon the table, till at length, when the children had watched it some time, it fluttered toward the window and beat against the panes, as if it wished to be released, so they opened the casement and let it out in the wind and cold.
Poor little thing! They were very sorry for it; but after a while they nearly forgot it, for they were but children. Little Hulda only remembered it, and she carefully enclosed the beautiful sceptre in a small box. But Midsummer day passed by, and several other Midsummer days, and still Hulda saw nothing and heard nothing of the fairy. She then began to fear that she must be dead, and it was a long time since she had looked at the wand, when one day in the middle of the Norway summer, as she was playing in one of the deep bay windows of the castle, she saw a pedlar with a pack on his back coming slowly up the avenue of pine-trees, and singing a merry song.
"Can I speak to the lady of this castle?" he said to Hulda, making at the same time a very low bow.
Hulda did not much like him, he had such restless black eyes and such a cunning smile. His face showed that he was a foreigner; it was as brown as a nut. His dress also was very strange; he wore a red turban, and had large earrings in his ears, and silver chains wound round and round his ankles.
Hulda replied that her mother was gone to the fair at Christiania, and would not be back for several days.
"Can I then speak with the lord of the castle?" asked the pedlar.
"My father is gone out to fish in the fiord," replied little Hulda; "he will not return for some time, and the maids and the men are all gone to make hay in the fields; there is no one left at home but me and my old nurse."
The pedlar was very much delighted to hear this. However, he pretended to be disappointed.
"It is very unfortunate," he said, "that your honored parents are not at home, for I have got some things here of such wonderful beauty that nothing could have given them so much pleasure as to have feasted their eyes with the sight of them--rings, bracelets, lockets, pictures--in short, there is nothing beautiful that I have not got in my pack, and if your parents could have seen them they would have given all the money they had in the world rather than not have bought some of them."
"Good pedlar," said little Hulda, "could you not be so very kind as just to let me have a sight of them?"
The pedlar at first pretended to be unwilling, but after he had looked all across the wide heath and seen that there was no one coming, and that the hounds by the doorway were fast asleep in the sun, and the very pigeons on the roof had all got their heads under their wings, he ventured to step across the threshold into the bay window, and begin to open his pack and display all his fine things, taking care to set them out in the sunshine, which made them glitter like glowworms.
Little Hulda had never seen anything half so splendid before. There were little glasses set round with diamonds, and hung with small tinkling bells which made delightful music whenever they were shaken; ropes of pearls which had a more fragrant scent than bean-fields or hyacinths; rings, the precious stones of which changed color as you frowned or smiled upon them; silver boxes that could play tunes; pictures of beautiful ladies and gentlemen, set with emeralds, with devices in coral at the back; little golden snakes, with brilliant eyes that would move about; and so many other rare and splendid jewels that Hulda was quite dazzled, and stood looking at them with blushing cheeks and a beating heart, so much she wished that she might have one of them.
"Well, young lady," said the cunning pedlar, "how do you find these jewels? Did I boast too much of their beauty?"
"Oh, no!" said Hulda, "I did not think there had been anything so beautiful in the world. I did not think even our queen had such fine jewels as these. Thank you, pedlar, for the sight of them."
"Will you buy something, then, of a poor man?" answered the pedlar.
"I've travelled a great distance, and not sold anything this many a day."
"I should be very glad to buy," said little Hulda, "but I have scarcely any money; not half the price of one of these jewels, I am sure."
Now there was lying on the table an ancient signet-ring set with a large opal.
"Maybe the young lady would not mind parting with this?" said he, taking it up. "I could give her a new one for it of the latest fashion."
"Oh, no, thank you!" cried Hulda, hastily, "I must not do so. This ring is my mother's, and was left her by my grandmother."
The pedlar looked disappointed. However, he put the ring down, and said, "But if my young lady has no money, perhaps she has some old trinkets or toys that she would not mind parting with--a coral and bells, or a silver mug, or a necklace, or, in short, anything that she keeps put away, and that is of no use to her?"
"No," said the little girl, "I don't think I have got anything of the kind. Oh, yes! to be sure, I have got somewhere up-stairs a little gold wand, which I was told not to give away; but I'm afraid she who gave it me must have been dead a long while, and it is of no use keeping it any longer."