They had not gone far before they found themselves in a crowd of people, all going toward the castle ruin, for there, they told Hulda, the pedlar, the famous pedlar from the north, who sold such fine wares, was going to perform some feats of jugglery of most surprising cleverness.
"Child," whispered Hulda's mother, "nothing could be more fortunate for us; let us mingle with the crowd and get close to the pedler."
Hulda assented to her mother's wish, but the heat and dust, together with her own intense desire to rescue the lost wand, made her tremble so that she had great difficulty in walking. They went among gypsies, fruit-women, peasant girls, children, travelling musicians, common soldiers, and laborers; the heat increased, and the dust and the noise, and at last Hulda and her parents were borne forward into the old ruin among a rush of people running and huzzaing, and heard the pedlar shout to them:
"Keep back, good people; leave a space before me; leave a large space between me and you."
So they pressed back again, jostling and crowding each other, and left an open space before him from which he looked at them with his cunning black eyes, and with one hand dabbling in the cold water of the spring.
The place was open to the sky, and the broken arches and walls were covered with thick ivy and wall flowers. The pedlar sat on a large gray stone, with his red cap on and his brown fingers adorned with splendid rings, and he spread them out and waved his hands to the people with ostentatious ceremony.
"Now, good people," he said, without rising from his seat, "you are about to see the finest, rarest, and most wonderful exhibition of the conjuring art ever known!"
"Stop!" cried a woman's voice from the crowd, and a young girl rushed wildly forward from the people, who had been trying to hold her back.
"I impeach you before all these witnesses!" she cried, seizing him by the hand. "See justice done, good people. I impeach you, pedlar.
Where's the ring--my mother's ring--which you stole on Midsummer's day in the castle?"
"Good people," said the pedlar, pulling his red cap over his face, and speaking in a mild, fawning voice, "I hope you'll protect me. I hope you won't see me insulted."
"My ring, my ring!" cried Hulda; "he wore it on his finger but now!"
"Show your hand like a man!" said the people. "If the lady says falsely, can't you face her and tell her so? Never hold it down so cowardly!"
The pedlar had tucked his feet under him, and when the people cried out to him to let the rings on his hand be seen, he had already burrowed with them up to his knees in the earth.
"Oh, he will go down into the earth!" cried Hulda. "But I will not let go! Pedlar, pedlar, it is useless! If I follow you before the Lizard, your mistress, I will not let go!"
The pedlar turned his terrified, cowardly eyes upon Hulda, and sank lower and lower. The people were too frightened to move.
"Stop, child," cried her mother. "Oh, he will go down and drag thee with him."
But Hulda would not and could not let go. The pedlar had now sunk up to his waist. Her mother wrung her hands, and in an instant the earth closed upon them both, and, after falling in the dark down a steep abyss, they found themselves, not at all the worse, standing in a dimly lighted cave with a large table in it piled with mouldy books.
Behind the table was a smooth and perfectly round hole in the wall about the size of a cartwheel.
Hulda looked that way, and saw how intensely dark it was through this hole, and she was wondering where it led to when an enormous green Lizard put its head through into the cave, and gazed at her with its great brown eyes.
"What is thy demand, fine child of the daylight?" said the Lizard.
"Princess," replied Hulda, "I demand that this thy servant should give up to me a ring which he stole in my father's castle when I was a child."
The pedlar no sooner heard Hulda boldly demand her rights than he fell on his knees and began to cry for mercy.
"Mercy rests with this maiden," said the Lizard. At the same time she darted out her tongue, which was several yards in length and like a scarlet thread, and with it stripped the ring from the gnome's finger and gave it to Hulda.
"Speak, maiden, what reparation do you demand of this culprit, and what shall be his punishment?"
"Great princess," replied Hulda, "let him restore to me a golden wand which I sold to him, for it belongs to a fairy whom he has long persecuted."
"Here it is, here it is!" cried the cowardly gnome, putting his hand into his bosom and pulling it out, shaking all the time, and crying out most piteously, "Oh, don't let me be banished from the sunshine!"
"After this double crime no mercy can be shown you," said the Lizard, and she twined her scarlet tongue round him, and drew him through the hole to herself. At the same instant it closed, and a crack came in the roof of the cave, through which the sunshine stole, and as Hulda looked up in flew a brown moth and settled on the magic bracelet. She touched the moth with the wand, and instantly it stood upon her wrist--a beautiful and joyous fairy. She took her wand from Hulda's hand, and stood for a moment looking gratefully in her face without speaking. Then she said to the wand:
"Art thou my own again, and wilt thou serve me?"
"Try me," said the wand.
So she struck the wall with it, and said, "Cleave, wall!" and a hole came in the wall large enough for Hulda to creep through, and she found herself at the foot of a staircase hewn in the rock, and, after walking up it for three hours, she came out in the old ruined castle, and was astonished to see that the sun had set. The moment she appeared her father and mother, who had given her over for lost, clasped her in their arms and wept for joy as they embraced her.
"My child," said her father, "how happy thou lookest, not as if thou hadst been down in the dark earth!"
Hulda kissed her parents and smiled upon them; then she turned to look for the fairy, but she was gone. So they all three walked home in the twilight, and the next day Hulda set out again with her parents to return to the old castle in Norway. As for the fairy, she was happy from that day in the possession of her wand; but the little golden bird folded its wings and never sang any songs again.
SNAP-DRAGONS--A TALE OF CHRISTMAS EVE
By Juliana Horatia Ewing
Once upon a time there lived a certain family of the name of Skratdj.
(It has a Russian or Polish look, and yet they most certainly lived in England.) They were remarkable for the following peculiarity: They seldom seriously quarrelled, but they never agreed about anything. It is hard to say whether it were more painful for their friends to hear them constantly contradicting each other, or gratifying to discover that it "meant nothing," and was "only their way."
It began with the father and mother. They were a worthy couple, and really attached to each other. They had a habit of contradicting each other's statements, and opposing each other's opinions, which, though mutually understood and allowed for in private, was most trying to the bystanders in public. If one related an anecdote, the other would break in with half a dozen corrections of trivial details of no interest or importance to any one, the speakers included. For instance: Suppose the two dining in a strange house, and Mrs. Skratdj seated by the host, and contributing to the small talk of the dinner-table. Thus:
"Oh, yes. Very changeable weather indeed. It looked quite promising yesterday morning in the town, but it began to rain at noon."
"A quarter-past eleven, my dear," Mr. Skratdj's voice would be heard to say from several chairs down, in the corrective tones of a husband and father; "and really, my dear, so far from being a promising morning, I must say it looked about as threatening as it well could.
Your memory is not always accurate in small matters, my love."
But Mrs. Skratdj had not been a wife and a mother for fifteen years, to be snuffed out at one snap of the marital snuffers. As Mr. Skratdj leaned forward in his chair, she leaned forward in hers, and defended herself across the intervening couples.
"Why, my dear Mr. Skratdj, you said yourself the weather had not been so promising for a week."
"What I said, my dear, pardon me, was that the barometer was higher than it had been for a week. But, as you might have observed if these details were in your line, my love, which they are not, the rise was extraordinarily rapid, and there is no surer sign of unsettled weather. But Mrs. Skratdj is apt to forget these unimportant trifles,"
he added, with a comprehensive smile round the dinner-table; "her thoughts are very properly absorbed by the more important domestic questions of the nursery."
"Now I think that's rather unfair on Mr. Skratdj's part," Mrs. Skratdj would chirp, with a smile quite as affable and as general as her husband's. "I'm sure he's _quite_ as forgetful and inaccurate as _I_ am. And I don't think _my_ memory is at _all_ a bad one."
"You forgot the dinner-hour when we were going out to dine last week, nevertheless," said Mr. Skratdj.
"And you couldn't help me when I asked you," was the sprightly retort.
"And I'm sure it's not like you to forget anything about _dinner_, my dear."
"The letter was addressed to you," said Mr. Skratdj.
"I sent it to you by Jemima," said Mrs. Skratdj.