Christmas Tree Land Part 22

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'But they can't know as much as godmother, and she isn't sad,' said Maia.

'Sometimes she is,' said Silva. 'Besides, she has more to do than the eagles. They have only to watch--she puts things right. You'll understand better some day,' she added, seeing that Maia looked puzzled.

'But isn't it cold? Oh, see there--that's to wrap ourselves up in,' for just at this moment there flapped down on them, from no one could tell where, the great soft fluffy cloak or rug which had kept them so beautifully warm during their air-journey.

'Come under the shawl,' cried Maia to the two boys, and all the children drew their seats close together and wrapped the wonderful cloak well round them.

'But aren't we going home soon?' said Maia. 'I'm so afraid of being late.'



'Godmother knows all about it,' said Waldo. 'She's sent us this cloak on purpose. There's nothing to do but sit still--till she tells us what we're to do. I don't mind, for somehow I'm rather sleepy.'

'I think I am too,' said Rollo, and though Silva and Maia were less ready to allow it, I think they must have felt the same, for somehow or other two minutes later all the four were taking a comfortable nap, and knew nothing more till a soft clear voice whispered in their ears:

'Children, it is time to wake up.'

'Time to go home! Are the birds coming for us again?' said Maia, rubbing her eyes and staring about her. A voice softly laughing replied to her:

'Birds--what birds are you talking about? You're not awake yet, Maia, and I've been telling you to wake ever so long.'

It was Rollo.

'You, why I thought it was godmother,' said Maia; 'I heard her say, "Children, it is time to wake up," and I thought we were all in the feather-hall still. How did we get back, Rollo?'

For 'back' they were. Maia in her own little bed in the white castle, and Rollo standing beside her in his ordinary dress. Where were Waldo and Silva--where the feather-hall--where the wonderful dresses in which godmother had clothed them for the air-journey? Maia looked up at Rollo as she spoke, with disappointment in her eyes.

'We _are_ back,' he said, 'and that's all there is to say about it, as far as I can see. But come, Maia, don't look so unhappy. We've had great fun, and we must be very good after it to please godmother. It's a lovely day, and after we've finished our lessons we can have some nice runs in the fields. Jump up--you're not a bit tired, are you? I'm not.'

'Nor am I,' said Maia, slowly bestirring herself. 'But I'm rather dull.

I'm afraid we shan't see them again for a good while, Rollo.'

CHAPTER XII.

A VISION OF CHRISTMAS TREES.

'The angels are abroad to-night.'

_At Christmas-tide._

It was early summer when _we_ saw them last. It is mid-winter--December--now. And winter comes in good earnest in the country where I have shown you the white castle, and told you of the doings and adventures of its two little guests. Many more could I tell you of--many a joyous summer day had they spent with their forest friends, many a wonderful dance had godmother led them, till they had got to know nearly as much as Waldo and Silva themselves of the strange happy creatures that lived in this marvellous Christmas-tree Land, and in other lands too. For as the days shortened again, and grew too cold for air-journeys and cave explorings and visits to many other denizens of the forest than I have space to tell you about, then began the season of godmother's story-tellings, which I think the children found as delightful as any other of her treats. Oh, the wonderful tales that were told round the bright little fire in Silva's dainty kitchen! Oh, the wood-fairies, and water-sprites, and dwarfs, and gnomes that they learnt about! Oh, the lovely songs that godmother sang in that witching voice of hers--that voice like none other that the children had ever heard! It was a true fairyland into which she led them--a fairyland where entered nothing ugly or cruel or mean or false, though the dwellers in it were of strange and fantastic shape and speech, children of the rainbow and the mist, unreal and yet real, like the cloud-castles that build themselves for us in the sky, or the music that weaves itself in the voice of the murmuring stream.

But even to these happy times there came an end--and the beginning of this end began to be felt when the first snow fell and Christmas-tree Land was covered with the thick white mantle it always wore till the spring's soft breath blew it off again.

'A storm is coming--a heavy storm is on its way, my darlings,' said godmother one afternoon, when she had been spinning some lovely stories for them with her invisible wheel. She had left the fireside and was standing by the open doorway, looking out at the white landscape, and as she turned round, it seemed to the children that her own face was whiter than usual--her _hair_ certainly was so. It had lost the golden tinge it sometimes took, which seemed to make a gleam all over her features--so that at such times it was impossible to believe that godmother was old--and now she seemed a very tiny little old woman, as small and fragile as if she herself was made out of a snowflake, and her face looked anxious and almost sad. 'A storm is on its way,' she repeated; 'you must hasten home.'

'But why do you look so sad, godmother dear?' said Maia. 'We can get home quite safely. _You_ can see to that. Nothing will ever hurt us when _you_ are taking care of us.'

'But there are some things I cannot do,' said godmother, smiling, 'or rather that I would not do if I could. Times and seasons pass away and come to an end, and it is best so. Still, it may make even me sad sometimes.'

All the four pairs of eyes looked up in quick alarm. They felt that there was something--though what, they did not know--that godmother was thinking of in particular, and the first idea that came into their minds was not far from the truth.

'Godmother! oh, godmother!' exclaimed all the voices together, so that they sounded like one, 'you don't mean that we're not to see each other any more?'

'Not yet, dears, not yet,' said godmother. 'But happy times pass and sad times pass. It must be so. And, after all, why should one fret? Those who love each other meet again as surely as the bees fly to the flowers.'

'In Heaven, godmother? Do you mean in Heaven?' asked Maia, in a low voice and with a look in her eyes telling that the tears were not far off.

Godmother smiled again.

'Sooner than that sometimes. Do not look so distressed, my pretty Maia.

But come now. I must get you home before the storm breaks. Kiss each other, my darlings, but it is not good-bye yet. You will soon be together again--sooner than you think.'

No one ever thought of not doing--and at once--what godmother told them.

Rollo and Maia said good-bye even more lovingly than usual to their dear Waldo and Silva, and then godmother, holding a hand of each, set out on their homeward journey.

It was as she had said--the storm-spirits were in the air. Above the wind and the cracking of the branches, brittle with the frost, and the far-off cries of birds and other creatures on their way to shelter in their nests or lairs, came another sound which the children had heard of but never before caught with their own ears--a strange, indescribable sound, neither like the murmuring of the distant sea nor the growl of thunder nor the shriek of the hurricane, yet recalling all of these.

"Tis the voice of the storm,' said godmother softly. 'Pray to the good God, my darlings, for those that travel by land or sea. And now, farewell!--that beaten path between the trees will bring you out at the castle gate, and no harm will come to you. Good-bye!'

She lingered a little over the last word, and this encouraged Maia to ask a question.

'When shall we see you again, dear godmother? And will you not tell us more about why you are sad?'

'It will pass with the storm, for all is for the best,' said godmother dreamily. 'When one joy passes, another comes. Remember that. And no true joy is ever past. Keep well within shelter, my children, till the storm has had its way, and then----' she stopped again.

'Then? What then? Oh, _do_ tell us,' persisted Maia. 'You know, dear godmother, it is _very_ dull in the white castle when we mayn't go out.

Lady Venelda makes them give us many more lessons to keep us out of mischief, she says, and we really don't much mind. It's better to do lessons than nothing. Oh, godmother, we would have been _so_ miserable here if we hadn't had you and Waldo and Silva!'

Godmother stroked Maia's sunny head and smiled down into her eyes. And something just then--was it a last ray of the setting sun hurrying off to calmer skies till the storm should have passed?--lighted up godmother's own face and hair with a wonderful glow. She looked like a beautiful young girl.

'Oh, how pretty you are!' said the children under their breath. But they were too used to these strange changes in godmother's appearance to be as astonished as many would have been.

'Three nights from now will be the day before Christmas Eve,' said godmother. 'When you go to bed look out in the snow and you will see my messenger. And remember, remember, if one joy goes, another comes. And no true joys are ever lost.'

And as they listened to her words, she was gone! So hand-in-hand, wondering what it all might mean, the children turned to the path in the snow she had shown them, which in a few minutes brought them safely home.

Though none too soon--scarcely were they within shelter when the tempest began. The wind howled, the sleet and hail dashed down, even the growling of distant thunder, or what sounded like it, was heard--the storm-spirits had it all their own way for that night and the day following; and when the second night came, and the turmoil seemed to have ceased, it had but changed its form, for the snow again began to fall, ever more and more heavily, till it lay so deep that one could hardly believe the world would ever again burst forth from its silent cold embrace.

And the white castle looked white no longer. Amid the surrounding purity it seemed gray and soiled and grimly ashamed of itself.

Three days had passed; the third night was coming.

'The snow has left off falling, and seems hardening,' Lady Venelda had said that afternoon. 'If it continues so, the children can go out to-morrow. It is not good for young people to be so long deprived of fresh air and exercise. But it is a hard winter. I only hope we shall have no more of these terrible storms before----,' but then she stopped suddenly, for she was speaking to the old doctor, and had not noticed that Rollo and Maia were standing near.

The children had seen with satisfaction that the snow had left off falling, for, though they had faith in godmother's being able to do what no one else could, they did not quite see how she was to send them a message if the fearful weather had continued.

Christmas Tree Land Part 22

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Christmas Tree Land Part 22 summary

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