"In that temple there was no sound but the rustling of the bat's wings as they flew in before dawn, or sometimes the chirping of a swallow which had lost its way, and was frightened to see all the grim marble faces gazing at it. But the quietness did me good, and I waited, hoping that the young King of Sweden would marry, and that an heir would be born to him (for I am a Swedish fairy), and then I should recover my liberty according to an ancient statute of the fairy realm, and my wand would also come again into my possession; but alas! he is dead, and the reason you see me to-day is, that, like the rest of my race, I am come to strew leaves on his grave and recount his virtues.
I must now return, for the birds are stirring; I hear the cows lowing to be milked, and the maids singing as they go out with their pails.
Farewell, little Hulda; guard well the bracelet; I must to my ruined temple again. Happy for me will be the day when you see my enemy (if that day ever comes); the bird will warn you of his neighborhood by pecking your hand.
"One moment stay, dear fairy," said Hulda. "Where am I most likely to see the gnome?"
"In the south," replied the fairy, "for they love hot sunshine. I can stay no longer. Farewell."
So saying, the fairy again became a moth and fluttered to the window.
Little Hulda opened it, the brown moth settled for a moment upon her lips as if it wished to kiss her, and then it flew out into the sunshine, away and away.
Little Hulda watched her till her pretty wings were lost in the blue distance; then she turned and took her bracelet, and put it on her wrist, where, from that day forward, she always wore it night and day.
Hulda now grew tall, and became a fair young maiden, and she often wished for the day when she might go down to the south, that she might have a better chance of seeing the cruel gnome, and as she sat at work in her room alone she often asked the bird to sing to her, but he never sang any other songs than the two she had heard at first.
And now two full years had passed away, and it was again the height of the Norway summer, but the fairy had not made her appearance.
As the days began to shorten, Hulda's cheeks lost their bright color, and her steps their merry lightness; she became pale and wan. Her parents were grieved to see her change so fast, but they hoped, as the weary winter came on, that the cheerful fire and gay company would revive her; but she grew worse and worse, till she could scarcely walk alone through the rooms where she had played so happily, and all the physicians shook their heads and said, "Alas! alas! the lord and lady of the castle may well look sad: nothing can save their fair daughter, and before the spring comes she will sink into an early grave."
The first yellow leaves now began to drop, and showed that winter was near at hand.
"My sweet Hulda," said her mother to her one day, as she was lying upon a couch looking out into the sunshine, "is there anything you can think of that would do you good, or any place we can go to that you think might revive you?"
"I had only one wish," replied Hulda, "but that, dear mother, I cannot have."
"Why not, dear child?" said her father. "Let us hear what your wish was."
"I wished that before I died I might be able to go into the south and see that wicked pedlar, that if possible I might repair the mischief I had done to the fairy by restoring her the wand."
"Does she wish to go into the south?" said the physicians. "Then it will be as well to indulge her, but nothing can save her life; and if she leaves her native country she will return to it no more."
"I am willing to go," said Hulda, "for the fairy's sake."
So they put her on a pillion, and took her slowly on to the south by short distances, as she could bear it. And as she left the old castle, the wind tossed some yellow leaves against her, and then whirled them away across the heath to the forest. Hulda said:
"Yellow leaves, yellow leaves, Whither away?
Through the long wood paths How fast do ye stray!"
The yellow leaves answered:
"We go to lie down Where the spring snowdrops grow, Their young roots to cherish Through frost and through snow."
Then Hulda said again to the leaves:
"Yellow leaves, yellow leaves, Faded and few, What will the spring flowers Matter to you?"
And the leaves said:
"We shall not see them, When gaily they bloom, But sure they will love us For guarding their tomb."
Then Hulda said:
"The yellow leaves are like me: I am going away from my place for the sake of the poor fairy, who now lies hidden in the dark Egyptian ruin; but if I am so happy as to recover her wand by my care, she will come back glad and white, like the snowdrops when winter is over, and she will love my memory when I am laid asleep in my tomb."
So they set out on their journey, and every day went a little distance toward the south, till at last, on Christmas Eve, they came to an ancient city at the foot of a range of mountains.
"What a strange Christmas this is!" said Hulda, when she looked out the next morning. "Let us stay here, mother, for we are far enough to the south. Look how the red berries hang on yonder tree, and these myrtles on the porch are fresh and green, and a few roses bloom still on the sunny side of the window."
It was so fine and warm that the next day they carried Hulda to a green bank where she could sit down.
It was close by some public gardens, and the people were coming and going. She fell into a doze as she sat with her mother watching her, and in her half-dream she heard the voices of the passers-by, and what they said about her, till suddenly a voice which she remembered made her wake with a start, and as she opened her frightened eyes, there, with his pack on his back, and his cunning eyes fixed upon her, stood the pedlar.
"Stop him!" cried Hulda, starting up. "Mother, help me to run after him!"
"After whom, my child?" asked her mother.
"After the pedlar," said Hulda. "He was here but now, but before I had time to speak to him, he stepped behind that thorn-bush and disappeared."
"So that is Hulda," said the pedlar to himself, as he went down the steep path into the middle of the world. "She looks as if a few days more would be all she has to live. I will not come here any more till the spring, and then she will be dead, and I shall have nothing to fear."
But Hulda did not die. See what a good thing it is to be kind. The soft, warm air of the south revived her by degrees--so much, that by the end of the year she could walk in the public garden and delight in the warm sunshine; in another month she could ride with her father to see all the strange old castles in that neighborhood, and by the end of February she was as well as ever she had been in her life; and all this came from her desire to do good to the fairy by going to the south.
"And now," thought the pedlar, "there is no doubt that the daisies are growing on Hulda's grave by this time, so I will go up again to the outside of the world, and sell my wares to the people who resort to those public places."
So one day when in that warm climate the spring flowers were already blooming on the hillsides, up he came close to the ruined walls of a castle, and set his pack down beside him to rest after the fatigues of his journey.
"This is a cool, shady place," he said, looking round, "and these dark yew-trees conceal it very well from the road. I shall come here always in the middle of the day, when the sun is too hot, and count over my gains. How hard my mistress, the Lizard, makes me work! Who would have thought she would have wished to deck her green head with opals down there, where there are only a tribe of brown gnomes to see her? But I have not given her that one out of the ring which I stole, nor three others that I conjured out of the crozier of the priest as I knelt at the altar, and they thought I was rehearsing a prayer to the Virgin."
After resting some time, the pedlar took up his pack and went boldly on to the gardens, never doubting but that Hulda was dead; but it so happened that at that moment Hulda and her mother sat at work in a shady part of the garden under some elder-trees.
"What is the matter, my sweet bird?" said Hulda, for the bird pecked her wrist, and fluttered its wings, and opened its beak as if it were very much frightened.
"Let us go, mother, and look about us," said Hulda.
So they both got up and wandered all over the gardens; but the pedlar, in the meantime, had walked on toward the town, and they saw nothing of him.
"Sing to me, my sweet bird," said Hulda that night as she lay down to sleep. "Tell me _why_ you pecked my wrist."
Then the bird sang to her:
"Who came from the ruin, the ivy-clad ruin, With old shaking arches, all moss overgrown, Where the flitter-bat hideth, The limber snake glideth, And chill water drips from the slimy green stone?"
"Who did?" asked Hulda. "Not the pedlar, surely? Tell me, my pretty bird." But the bird only chirped a little and fluttered its golden wings, so Hulda ceased to ask it, and presently fell asleep, but the bird woke her by pecking her wrist very early, almost before sunrise, and sang:
"Who dips a brown hand in the chill shaded water The water that drips from a slimy green stone?
Who flings his red cap At the owlets that flap Their white wings in his face as he sits there alone?"
Hulda, upon hearing this, arose in great haste and dressed herself; then she went to her father and mother, and entreated that they would come with her to the old ruin. It was now broad day, so they all three set out together. It was a very hot morning, the dust lay thick upon the road, and there was not air enough to stir the thick leaves of the trees which hung overhead.