Now this pedlar was the fairy's enemy. He had long suspected that the wand must be concealed somewhere in that region, and near the sea, and he had disguised himself, and gone out wandering among the farmhouses and huts and castles to try if he could hear some tidings of it, and get it if possible into his power. The moment he heard Hulda mention her gold wand, he became excessively anxious to see it. He was a gnome, and when his malicious eyes gleamed with delight they shot out a burning ray, which scorched the hound who was lying asleep close at hand, and he sprang up and barked at him.
"Peace, peace, Rhan!" cried little Hulda; "lie down, you unmannerly hound!" The dog shrank back again growling, and the pedlar said in a careless tone to Hulda:
"Well, lady, I have no objection just to look at the little gold wand, and see if it is worth anything."
"But I am not sure that I could part with it," said Hulda.
"Very well," replied the pedlar, "as you please; but I may as well look at it. I should hope these beautiful things need not go begging."
As he spoke he began carefully to lock up some of the jewels in their little boxes, as if he meant to go away.
"Oh, don't go," cried Hulda. "I am going upstairs to fetch my wand. I shall not be long; pray wait for me."
Nothing was further from the pedlar's thought than to go away, and while little Hulda was running up to look for the wand he panted so hard for fear that after all he might not be able to get it that he woke the other hound, who came up to him, and smelt his leg.
"What sort of a creature is this?" said the old hound to his companion, speaking, of course, in the dogs' language.
"I'm sure I can't say," answered the other. "I wonder what he is made of,--he smells of mushrooms! quite earthy, I declare! as if he had lived underground all his life."
"Let us stand one on each side of him, and watch that he doesn't steal anything."
So the two dogs stood staring at him; but the pedlar was too cunning for them. He looked out of the window, and said, "I think I see the master coming," upon which they both turned to look across the heath, and the pedlar snatched up the opal ring, and hid it in his vest. When they turned around he was folding up his trinkets again as calmly as possible. "One cannot be too careful to count one's goods," he said, gravely. "Honest people often get cheated in houses like these, and honest as these two dogs look, I know where one of them hid that leg-of-mutton bone that he stole yesterday!" Upon hearing this the dogs sneaked under the table ashamed of themselves. "I would not have it on my conscience that I robbed my master for the best bone in the world," continued the pedlar, and as he said this he took up a little silver horn belonging to the lord of the castle, and, having tapped it with his knuckle to see whether the metal was pure, folded it up in cotton, and put it in his pack with the rest of his curiosities.
Presently Hulda came down with a little box in her hand, out of which she took the fairy's wand.
The pedlar was so transported at the sight of it that he could scarcely conceal his joy; but he knew that unless he could get it by fair means it would be of no use to him.
"How dim it looks!" said little Hulda; "the stones used to be so very bright when first I had it."
"Ah! that is a sign that the person who gave it you is dead," said the deceitful pedlar.
"I am sorry to hear she is dead," said Hulda, with a sigh. "Well, then, pedlar, as that is the case, I will part with the wand if you can give me one of your fine bracelets instead of it."
The pedlar's hand trembled with anxiety, as he held it out for the wand, but the moment he had got possession of it all his politeness vanished.
"There," he said, "you have got a very handsome bracelet in your hand.
It is worth a great deal more than the wand. You may keep it. I have no time to waste; I must be gone." So saying, he hastily snatched up the rest of his jewels, thrust them into his pack, and slung it over his shoulder, leaving Hulda looking after him with the bracelet in her hand. She saw him walk rapidly along the heath till he came to a gravel-pit, very deep, and with overhanging sides. He swung himself over by the branches of the trees.
"What can he be going to do there?" she said to herself. "But I will run after him, for I don't like this bracelet half so well as some of the others."
So Hulda ran till she came to the edge of the gravel-pit, but was so much surprised that she could not say a word. There were the great footmarks made by the pedlar down the steep sides of the pit; and at the bottom she saw him sitting in the mud, digging a hole with his hands.
"Hi!" he said, putting his head down. "Some of you come up. I've got the wand at last. Come and help me down with my pack."
"I'm coming," answered a voice, speaking under the ground; and presently up came a head, all covered with earth, through the hole the pedlar had made. It was shaggy with hair, and had two little bright eyes, like those of a mole. Hulda thought she had never seen such a curious little man. He was dressed in brown clothes, and had a red-peaked cap on his head; and he and the pedlar soon laid the pack at the bottom of the hole, and began to stamp upon it, dancing and singing with great vehemence. As they went on the pack sank lower and lower, till at last, as they still stood upon it, Hulda could see only their heads and shoulders. In a little time longer she could only see the top of the red cap; and then the two little men disappeared altogether, and the ground closed over them, and the white nettles and marsh marigolds waved their heads over the place as if nothing had happened.
Hulda walked away sadly and slowly. She looked at the beautiful bracelet, and wished she had not parted with the wand for it, for she now began to fear that the pedlar had deceived her. Nevertheless, who would not be delighted to have such a fine jewel? It consisted of a gold hoop, set with turquoise, and on the clasp was a beautiful bird, with open wings, all made of gold, and which quivered as Hulda carried it. Hulda looked at its bright eyes--ruby eyes, which sparkled in the sunshine--and at its crest, all powdered with pearls, and she forgot her regret.
"My beautiful bird!" she said, "I will not hide you in a dark box, as the pedlar did. I will wear you on my wrist, and let you see all my toys, and you shall be carried every day into the garden, that the flowers may see how elegant you are. But stop! I think I see a little dust on your wings. I must rub it off." So saying, Hulda took up her frock and began gently rubbing the bird's wings, when, to her utter astonishment, it opened its pretty beak and sang:
"My master, oh, my master, The brown hard-hearted gnome, He goes down faster, faster, To his dreary home.
Little Hulda sold her Golden wand for me, Though the fairy told her That must never be-- Never--she must never Let the treasure go.
Ah! lost forever, Woe! woe! woe!"
The bird sang in such a sorrowful voice, and fluttered its golden wings so mournfully, that Hulda wept.
"Alas! alas!" she said, "I have done very wrong. I have lost the wand forever! Oh, what shall I do, dear little bird? Do tell me."
But the bird did not sing again, and it was now time to go to bed. The old nurse came out to fetch Hulda. She had been looking all over the castle for her, and been wondering where she could have hidden herself.
In Norway, at midsummer, the nights are so short that the sun only dips under the hills time enough to let one or two stars peep out before he appears again. The people, therefore, go to bed in the broad sunlight.
"Child," said the old nurse, "look how late you are--it is nearly midnight. Come, it is full time for bed. This is Midsummer day."
"Midsummer day!" repeated Hulda. "Ah, how sorry I am! Then this is a day when I might have seen the fairy. How very, very foolish I have been!"
Hulda laid her beautiful bracelet upon a table in her room, where she could see it, and kissed the little bird before she got into bed. She had been asleep a long time when a little sobbing voice suddenly awoke her, and she sat up to listen. The house was perfectly still; her cat was curled up at the door, fast asleep; her bird's head was under its wing; a long sunbeam was slanting down through an opening in the green window-curtain, and the motes danced merrily in it.
"What could that noise have been?" said little Hulda, lying down again. She had no sooner laid her head on the pillow than she heard it again; and, turning round quickly to look at the bracelet, she saw the little bird fluttering its wings, and close to it, with her hands covering her face, the beautiful, long lost fairy.
"Oh, fairy, fairy! what have I done!" said Hulda. "You will never see your wand again. The gnome has got it, and he has carried it down under the ground, where he will hide it from us forever."
The fairy could not look up, nor answer. She remained weeping, with her hands before her till the little golden bird began to chirp.
"Sing to us again, I pray you, beautiful bird!" said Hulda; "for you are not friendly to the gnome. I am sure you are sorry for the poor fairy."
"Child," said the fairy, "be cautious what you say--that gnome is my enemy; he disguised himself as a pedlar the better to deceive you, and now he has got my wand he can discover where I am; he will be constantly pursuing me, and I shall have no peace; if once I fall into his hands, I shall be his slave forever. The bird is not his friend, for the race of gnomes have no friends. Speak to it again, and see if it will sing to you, for you are its mistress."
"Sing to me, sweet bird," said Hulda, in a caressing tone, and the little bird quivered its wings and bowed its head several times; then it opened its beak and sang:
"Where's the ring?
Oh the ring, my master stole the ring, And he holds it while I sing, In the middle of the world.
Where's the ring?
Where the long green Lizard curled All its length, and made a spring Fifty leagues along.
There he stands, With his brown hands, And sings to the Lizard a wonderful song.
And he gives the white stone to that Lizard fell, For he fears it--and loves it parsing well."
"What!" said Hulda, "did the pedlar steal my mother's ring--that old opal ring which I told him I could not let him have?"
"Child," replied the fairy, "be not sorry for his treachery; this theft I look to for my last hope for recovering the wand."
"How so?" asked Hulda.
"It is a common thing among mortals," replied the fairy, "to say the thing which is not true, and do the thing which is not honest; but among the other races of beings who inhabit this world the penalty of mocking and imitating the vices of you, the superior race, is, that if ever one of us can be convicted of it, that one, be it gnome, sprite, or fairy, is never permitted to appear in the likeness of humanity again, nor to walk about on the face of the land which is your inheritance. Now the gnomes hate one another, and if it should be discovered by the brethren of this my enemy that he stole the opal ring, they will not fail to betray him. There is, therefore, no doubt, little Hulda, that he carries both the ring and the wand about with him wherever he goes, and if in all your walks and during your whole life you should see him again, and go boldly up to him and demand the stolen stone, he will be compelled instantly to burrow his way down again into the earth, and leave behind him all his ill-gotten gains."
"There is, then, still some hope," said Hulda, in a happier voice; "but where, dear fairy, have you hidden yourself so long?"
"I have passed a dreary time," replied the fairy. "I have been compelled to leave Europe and fly across to Africa, for my enemy inhabits that great hollow dome which is the centre of the earth, and he can only come up in Europe; but my poor little brown wings were often so weary in my flight across the sea that I wished, like the birds, I could drop into the waves and die; for what was to me the use of immortality when I could no longer soothe the sorrow of mortals?
But I cannot die; and after I had fluttered across into Egypt, where the glaring light of the sun almost blinded me, I was thankful to find a ruined tomb or temple underground, where great marble sarcophagi were ranged around the walls, and where in the dusky light I could rest from my travels, in a place where I only knew the difference between night and day by the redness of the one sunbeam which stole in through a crevice, and the silvery blue of the moonbeam that succeeded it.