Christmas Tree Land Part 23
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'We might have looked out the whole of last night without seeing anything,' said Maia, 'the snow was driving so. And if godmother means to take us anywhere, Rollo, it _is_ a good thing it's so fine to-night.
She was afraid of our being out in the storm the other day, you remember.'
'Because there was no need for it,' said Rollo. 'It was already time for us to be home. I'm sure she could prevent any storm hurting us if she really wanted to take us anywhere. There's Nanni coming, Maia--as soon as she's gone call me, and we'll look out together.'
Maia managed to persuade Nanni that she--Nanni, not Maia--was extra sleepy that evening, and had better go to bed without waiting to undress her. I am not quite sure that Nanni _did_ go at once to bed, for the servants were already amusing themselves with Christmas games and merriment down in the great kitchen, where the fireplace itself was as large as a small room, and she naturally liked to join the fun. But all Maia cared about was to be left alone with Rollo. She called to him, and then in great excitement the two children drew back the window-curtains, and extinguishing their candles, stood hand-in-hand looking out to see what was going to happen. There was no moon visible, but it must have been shining all the same, faintly veiled perhaps behind a thin cloud, for a soft light, increased by the reflection of the spotless snow, gleamed over all. But there was nothing to be seen save the smooth white expanse, bounded at a little distance from the house by the trees which clothed the castle hill, whose forms looked strangely fantastic, half shrouded as they were by their white garment.
'There is no one--nothing there,' said Maia in a tone of disappointment.
'She must have forgotten.'
'_Forgotten_--never!' said Rollo reproachfully. 'When has godmother ever forgotten us? Wait a little, Maia; you are so impatient.'
They stood for some minutes in perfect silence. Suddenly a slight, very slight crackling was heard among the branches--so slight was it, that, had everything been less absolutely silent, it could not have been heard--and the children looked at each other in eager expectation.
'Is it Silva--or Waldo?' said Maia in a whisper. 'She said her _messenger_.'
'Hush!' said Rollo, warningly.
A dainty little figure hopped into view from the shade of some low bushes skirting the lawn. It was a robin-redbreast. He stood still in the middle of the snow-covered lawn, his head on one side, as if in deep consideration. Suddenly a soft, low, but very peculiar whistle was heard, and the little fellow seemed to start, as if it were a signal he had been listening for, and then hopped forward unhesitatingly in the children's direction.
'Did _you_ whistle, Rollo?' said Maia in a whisper.
'No, certainly not. I was just going to ask if _you_ did,' answered Rollo.
But now the robin attracted all their attention. He came to a stand just in front of their window, and then looked up at them with the most unmistakable air of invitation.
'We're to go with him, I'm sure we are,' said Maia, beginning to dance with excitement; 'but _how_ can we get to him? All the doors downstairs will be closed, and it's far too high to jump.'
Rollo, who had been leaning out of the window the better to see the robin, suddenly drew his head in again with a puzzled expression.
'It's _very_ strange,' he said. 'I'm _sure_ it wasn't there this morning. Look, Maia, do you see the top of a ladder just a tiny bit at this side of the window? I could get on to it quite easily.'
'So could I,' said Maia, after peeping out. 'It's all right, Rollo.
_She's_ had it put there for us. Look at the robin--he knows all about it. You go first, and when you get down call to me and tell me how to manage.'
Two minutes after, Rollo's voice called up that it was all right. Maia would find it quite easy if she came rather slowly, which she did, and to her great delight soon found herself beside her brother.
'Dear me, we've forgotten our hats and jackets,' she exclaimed. 'But it's not cold--how is that?'
'_You_ haven't forgotten your--what is it you've got on?' said Rollo, looking at her.
'And you--what have you got on?' said Maia in turn. 'Why, we've _both_ got cloaks on, something like the shawl we had for the air-journey, only they're quite, _quite_ white.'
'Like the snow--we can't be seen. They're as good as invisible cloaks,'
said Rollo, laughing in glee.
'And they fit so neatly--they seem to have grown on to us,' said Maia, stroking herself. But in another moment, 'Oh, Rollo!' she exclaimed, half delighted and half frightened, 'they _are_ growing, or we're growing, or something's growing. Up on your shoulders there are little _wings_ coming, real little white wings--they're getting bigger and bigger every minute.'
'And they're growing on you too,' exclaimed Rollo. 'Why, in a minute or two we'll be able to fly. Indeed, I think I can fly a little already,'
and Rollo began flopping about his white wings like a newly-fledged and rather awkward cygnet. But in a minute or two Maia and he found--thanks perhaps to the example of the robin, who all this time was hovering just overhead, backwards and forwards, as if to say, 'do like me'--to their great joy that they could manage quite well; never, I am sure, did two little birds ever learn to fly so quickly!
All was plain-sailing now--no difficulty in following their faithful little guide, who flew on before, now and then cocking back his dear little head to see if the two queer white birds under his charge were coming on satisfactorily. I wonder in what tribe or genus the learned men of that country, had there been any to see the two strange creatures careering through the cold wintry air, would have classed them!
But little would they have cared. Never--oh, never, if I talked about it for a hundred years--could I give you an idea of the delightfulness of being able to fly! All the children's former pleasures seemed as nothing to it. The drive in godmother's pony-carriage, the gymnastics with the squirrels, the sail in the air--all seemed nothing in comparison with it. It was so perfectly enchanting that Maia did not even feel inclined to talk about it. And on, and on, and on they flew, till the robin stopped, wheeled round, and looking at them, began slowly to fly downwards. Rollo and Maia followed him. They touched the ground almost before they knew it; it seemed as if for a moment they melted into the snow which was surrounding them here, too, on all sides, and then as if they woke up again to find themselves wingless, but still with their warm white garments, standing at the foot of an immensely high tree--for they were, it was evident, at the borders of a great forest.
The robin had disappeared. For an instant or two they remained standing still in bewilderment; perhaps, to tell the truth, a _very_ little frightened, for it was much darker down here than it had been up in the air; indeed, it appeared to them that but for the gleaming snow, which seemed to have a light of its own, it would have been quite, _quite_ dark.
'Rollo,' said Maia tremulously, 'hold my hand tight; don't let it go.
What----' 'Are we to do?' she would have added, but a sound breaking on the silence made her stop short.
A soft, far-away sound it was at first, though gradually growing clearer and nearer. It was that of children's voices singing a sweet and well-known Christmas carol, and somehow in the refrain at the end of each verse it seemed to Rollo and Maia that they heard their own names.
'Come, come,' were the words that sounded the most distinctly. They hesitated no longer; off they ran, diving into the dark forest fearlessly, and though it was so dark they found no difficulty. As if by magic, they avoided every trunk and stump which might have hurt them, till, half out of breath, but with a strange brightness in their hearts, they felt themselves caught round the necks and heartily kissed, while a burst of merry laughter replaced the singing, which had gradually melted away. It was Waldo and Silva of course!
'Keep your eyes shut,' they cried. 'Still a moment, and then you may open them.'
'But they're _not_ shut,' objected the children.
'Ah, aren't they? Feel them,' said Waldo; and Rollo and Maia, lifting their hands to feel, found it was true. Their eyes were not only shut, but a slight, very fine gossamer thread seemed drawn across them.
'We could not open them if we would,' they said; but I don't think they minded, and they let Waldo and Silva draw them on still a little farther, till--
'Now,' they cried, and snap went the gossamer thread, and the two children stood with eyes well open, gazing on the wonderful scene around them.
They seemed to be standing in the centre of a round valley, from which the ground on every side sloped gradually upwards. And all about them, arranged in the most orderly manner, were rows and rows--tiers, perhaps, I should say--of Christmas trees--real, genuine Christmas trees of every kind and size. Some loaded with toys of the most magnificent kind, some simpler, some with but a few gifts, and those of little value. But one and all brilliantly lighted up with their many-coloured tapers--one and all with its Christmas angel at the top. And nothing in fairy-doll shape that Rollo and Maia had ever seen was so beautiful as these angels with their gleaming wings and sweet, joyous loving faces. I think, when they had a little recovered from their first astonishment, that the beauty of the tree-angels was what struck them most.
'Yes,' said a voice beside them, in answer to their unspoken thought; 'yes, each tree has _always_ its angel. Not always to be seen in its true beauty--sometimes you might think it only a poor, coarsely-painted little doll. But _the_ angel is there all the same. Though it is only in Santa Claus' own garden that they are to be seen to perfection.'
'Are we in Santa Claus' garden now, dear godmother?' asked Maia softly.
'Yes, dears. He is a very old friend of mine--one of my oldest friends, I may say. And he allowed me to show you this sight. No other children have ever been so favoured. By this time to-morrow night--long before then, indeed--these thousands of trees will be scattered far and wide, and round each will be a group of the happy little faces my old friend loves so well.'
'But, godmother,' said Maia practically, 'won't the tapers be burning down? Isn't it a pity to keep them lighted just for us? And, oh, dear me! however can Santa Claus get them packed and sent off in time? I _hope_ he hasn't kept them too late to please us?'
'Don't trouble your little head about that,' she said. 'But come, have you no curiosity to know which is your own Christmas-tree? Among all these innumerable ones, is there not one for you too?'
Maia and Rollo looked up in godmother's eyes--they were smiling, but something in their expression they could not quite understand. Suddenly a kind of darkness fell over everything--darkness almost complete in comparison with the intense light of the million tapers that had gleamed but an instant before--though gradually, as their eyes grew used to it, there gleamed out the same soft faint light as of veiled moonbeams, that they had remarked before.
'You can see now,' said godmother. 'Go straight on--quite straight through the trees'--for they were still in the midst of the forest--'till you come to what is waiting for you. But first kiss me, my darlings--a long kiss, for it is good-bye--and kiss, too, your little friends, Waldo and Silva, for in this world one may _hope_, but one can never be as _sure_ as one would fain be, that good-byes are not for long.'
Too overawed by her tone to burst into tears, as they were yet ready to do, the children threw themselves into each other's arms.
'We _must_ see each other again, we must; oh, godmother, say we shall!'
cried all the four voices. And godmother, as she held them all together in her arms seemed to whisper--
'I hope it. Yes, I hope and think you will.' And then, almost without having felt that Waldo and Silva were gently but irresistibly drawn from them, Rollo and Maia found themselves again alone, hand-in-hand in the midst of the forest, as they had so often stood before. Without giving themselves time to realise that they had said good-bye to their dear little friends, off they set, as godmother had told them, running straight on through the trees, where it almost seemed by the clear though soft light that a little path opened before them as they went.
Till, suddenly, for a moment the light seemed to fade and disappear, leaving them almost in darkness, which again was as unexpectedly dispersed by a wonderful brilliance, spreading and increasing, so that at first they were too dazzled to distinguish whence it came. But not for long.
'See, Rollo,' cried Maia; 'see, there is _our_ Christmas tree.'
Christmas Tree Land Part 23
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Christmas Tree Land Part 23 summary
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