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“And then on the top of the Caldon Low
There was no one left but me.”
Mary Howitt.
“I liked the blue the best—far, far the best of anything,” said Olive.
“‘The blue dwarfs!’” repeated Rex. “What do you mean? Why can’t you say what you mean plainly? Girls have such a stupid way of talking!”
“What can be plainer than the blue dwarfs?” said Olive rather snappishly, though, it must be allowed, with some reason. “We were talking about the things we liked best at the china place. You said the stags’ heads and the inkstands, and I say the blue dwarfs.”
“But I didn’t see any dwarfs,” persisted Rex.
“Well, I can’t help it if you didn’t. You had just as much chance of seeing them as I had. They were in a corner by themselves—little figures about two inches high, all with blue coats on. There were about twelve of them, all different, but all little dwarfs or . One was sitting on a barrel, one was turning head-over-heels, one was cuddling his knees—all funny ways like that. Oh, they were lovely!”
“I wish I had seen them better,” said Rex regretfully. “I do remember seeing a tray full of little blue-looking dolls, but I didn’t notice what they were.”
Olive did not at once answer. Her eyes were on something she saw passing before the window. It was a very, very little man. He was not exactly humpbacked, but his figure was somewhat , and he was so small that but for the sight of his rather old face one could hardly have believed he was a full-grown man. His eyes were bright and beady-looking, like those of a good-natured little weasel, if there be such a thing, and his face lighted up with a smile as he caught sight of the two, to him, strange-looking children at the open window of the little village inn.
“Guten Tag,” he said, nodding to them; and “Guten Tag,” replied the children, as they had learnt to do by this time to everybody they met. For in these remote villages it would be thought the greatest of courtesy to pass any one without this friendly greeting.
Rex drew a long breath when the had passed.
“Olive——” he began, but Olive interrupted him.
“Rex,” she said eagerly, “that’s exactly like them—like the blue dwarfs, I mean. Only, of course, their faces were prettier—nice little china faces, rather looking, but quite nice; and then their coats were such a pretty nice blue. I think,” she went on consideringly—“I think if I had that little man and washed his face very well, and got him a bright blue coat, he would look just like one of the blue dwarfs grown big.”
Rex looked at Olive with a queer expression.
“Olive,” he said in rather an -struck tone; “Olive, do you think perhaps they’re real? Do you think perhaps somewhere in this country—in those queer dark woods, perhaps—that there are real blue dwarfs, and that somebody must have seen them and made the little china ones like them? Perhaps,” and his voice dropped and grew still more solemn; “perhaps, Olive, that little man’s one of them, and they may have to take off their blue coats when they’re walking about. Do you know, I think it’s a little, just a very little frightening? Don’t you, Olive?”
“No, of course I don’t,” said Olive, and, to do her justice, her rather sharp answer was meant as much to her little brother as to express any feeling of . Rex was quite a little fellow, only eight, and Olive, who was nearly twelve, remembered that when she was as little as that, she used sometimes to feel frightened about things which she now couldn’t see anything the least frightening in. And she remembered how once or twice some of her big cousins had laughed at her, and amused themselves by telling her all sorts of nonsense, which still seemed terrible to her when she was alone in her room in the dark at night. “Of course there’s nothing frightening in it,” she said. “It would be rather a funny idea, I think. Of course it can’t be, you know, Rex. There are no dwarfs, and gnomes, and fairies now.”
“But that little man was a dwarf,” said Rex.
“Yes, but a dwarf needn’t be a fairy sort of person,” explained Olive. “He’s just a common little man, only he’s never grown as big as other people. Perhaps he had a bad fall when he was a baby—that might stop his growing.”
“Would it?” said Rex. “I didn’t know that. I hope I hadn’t a bad fall when I was a baby. Everybody says I’m very small for my age.” And Rex looked with concern at his short but sturdy legs.
Olive laughed .
“Oh, Rex, what a funny boy you are! No, certainly, you are not a dwarf. You’re as straight and strong as you can be.”
“Well, but,” said Rex, returning to the first subject, “I do think it’s very queer about that little dwarf man coming up the street just as you were telling me about the blue dwarfs. And he did look at us in a funny way, Olive, whatever you say, just as if he had heard what we were talking about.”
“All the people look at us in a funny way here,” said Olive. “We must look very queer to them. Your sailor suit, Rex, and my ‘Bolero’ hat must look to them quite as queer as the women’s purple skirts, with bright green , look to us.”
“Or the bullock-carts,” said Rex. “Do you remember how queer we thought them at first? Now we’ve got quite used to seeing queer things, haven’t we, Olive? Oh! now do look there—at the top of the street—there, Olive, did you ever see such a load as that woman is carrying in the basket on her back? Why, it’s as big as a house!”
He seemed to have forgotten about the dwarfs, and Olive was rather glad of it. These two children were traveling with their uncle and aunt in a rather out-of-the-way part of Germany. Out-of-the-way, that is to say, to most of the regular summer tourists from other countries, who prefer going where they are more sure of finding the comforts and luxuries they are accustomed to at home. But it was by no means out-of-the-way in the sense of being dull or . It is a very busy part of the world indeed. You would be amazed if I were to tell you some of the beautiful things that are made in these bare little German cottages. For all about in the neighborhood there are great manufactories and for china and glass, and many other things; and some parts of the work are done by the people at home in their own houses. The morning of the day of which I am telling you had been spent by the children and their friends in visiting a very large china manufactory, and their heads were full of the pretty and wonderful things they had seen.
And now they were waiting in the best of the village inn while their uncle arranged about a carriage to take them all on to the small town where they were to stay a few days. Their aunt was tired, and was resting a little on the sofa, and they had planted themselves on the broad window-sill, and were looking out with amusement at all that passed.
“What have you been about all this time?” said their aunt, suddenly looking up. “I think I must have been asleep a little, but I have heard your voices going on like two birds twittering.”
“Have we disturbed you, Auntie?” asked Olive, with concern.
“Oh no, not a bit; but come here and tell me what you have been talking about.”
Instantly Rex’s mind went back to the dwarfs.
“Auntie,” he said seriously, “perhaps you can tell me better than Olive can. Are there really countries of dwarfs, and are they a kind of fairies, Auntie?”
Auntie looked rather puzzled.
“Dwarfs, Rex?” she said; “countries of dwarfs! How do you mean?”
Olive hastened to explain. Auntie was very much amused.
“Certainly,” she said, “we have already seen so many strange things in our travels that it is better not to be too sure what we may not see. But any way, Rex, you may be quite easy in your mind, that if ever you come across any of the dwarfs, you will find them very good-natured and , only you must be very respectful—always say ‘Sir,’ or ‘My lord,’ or something like that to them, and bow a great deal. And you must never seem to think anything they do the least odd, not even if they propose to you to walk on your head, or to eat roast fir- for dinner, for instance.”
Auntie was quite young—not so very much older than Olive—and very merry. Olive’s rather “grown-up” tones and manners used sometimes to her to make fun of the little girl, which, to tell the truth, Olive did not always take quite in good part. And it must for Olive be allowed, that Auntie did sometimes allow her spirits and love of fun to run away with her a little too far, just like pretty unruly , excited by the fresh air and sunshine, who toss their heads and off. It is great fun at first and very nice to see, but one is sometimes afraid they may do some on the way—without meaning it, of course; and, besides, it is not always so easy to pull them up as it was to start them.
Just as Auntie finished speaking the door opened and their uncle came in. He was Auntie’s elder brother—a good deal older—and very kind and sensible. At once all thoughts of the dwarfs or what Auntie had been saying danced out of Rex’s curly head. Like a true boy he flew off to his uncle, him with questions as to what sort of a carriage they were to go on in—was it an ox-cart; oh, mightn’t they for once go in an ox-cart? and might he—oh, might he sit beside the driver in front?
His uncle laughed and replied to his questions, but Olive stayed beside the sofa, staring gravely at her aunt.
“Auntie,” she said, “you’re not in earnest, are you, about there being really a country of dwarfs?”
Olive was twelve. Perhaps you will think her very silly to have imagined for a moment that her aunt’s joke could be anything but a joke, especially as she had been so sensible about not letting Rex get anything into his head which could frighten him. But I am not sure that she was so very silly after all. She had read in her geography about the Lapps and Finns, the tiny little men of the north, whom one might very well describe as dwarfs; there might be dwarfs in these strange Thüringian forests, which were little spoken of in geography books; Auntie knew more of such things than she did, for she had traveled in this country before. Then with her own eyes Olive had seen a dwarf, and though she had said to Rex that he was just an odd dwarf by himself as it were, not one of a race, how could she tell but what he might be one of a number of such queer little people? And even the blue dwarfs themselves—the little figures in the china manufactory—rather went to prove it than not.
“They may have taken the idea of dwarfs from the real ones, as Rex said,” thought Olive. “Any way I shall look well about me if we go through any of these forests again. They must live in the forests, for Auntie said they eat roast fir-cones for dinner.”
All these thoughts were crowding through her mind as she stared up into Auntie’s face and asked solemnly—
“Auntie, were you in earnest?”
Auntie’s blue eyes sparkled.
“In earnest, Olive?” she said. “Of course! Why shouldn’t I be in earnest? But come, quick, we must get our things together. Your uncle must have got a carriage.”
“Yes,” said he, “I have. Not an ox-cart, Rex. I’m sorry for your sake, but for no one else’s; for I don’t think there would be much left of us by the end of the journey if we were to be jogged along the forest roads in an ox-cart. No! I have got quite a respectable vehicle; but we must stop an hour or two on the way, to rest the horses and give them a feed, otherwise we could not get through to-night.”
“Where shall we stop?” said Auntie, as with the bundles of shawls and bags they followed the children’s uncle to the door.
“There is a little place in the forest, where they can look after the horses,” said he; “and I daresay we can get some coffee there for ourselves, if we want it. It is a pretty little nook. I remember it long ago, and I shall be glad to see it again.”
Olive had up her ears. “A little place in the forest!” she said to herself; “that may be near where the dwarfs live: it is most likely not far from here, because of the one we saw.” She would have liked to ask her uncle about it, but something in the look of her aunt’s eyes kept her from doing so.
“Perhaps she was joking,” thought Olive to herself. “But perhaps she doesn’t know; she didn’t see the real dwarf. It would be rather nice if I did find them, then Auntie couldn’t laugh at me any more.”
They were soon comfortably settled in the carriage, and set off. The first part of the drive was not particularly interesting; and it was so hot, though already afternoon, that they were all—Olive especially, you may be sure—delighted to exchange the open country for the pleasant shade of a grand pine forest, through which their road now lay.
“Is it a very large forest, Uncle?” said Olive.
“Yes, very large,” he replied rather sleepily, to tell the truth: for both he and Auntie had been nodding a little, and Rex had once or twice been fairly asleep. But Olive’s imagination was far too hard at work to let her sleep.
“The largest in Europe?” she went on, without giving much thought to poor Uncle’s sleepiness.
“Oh yes, by far,” he replied, for he had not heard clearly what she said, and fancied it was “the largest hereabouts.”
“Dear me!” thought Olive, looking round her with awe and satisfaction. “If there are dwarfs anywhere, then it must be here.”
And she was just beginning another. “And please, Uncle, is——?” when her aunt looked up and said lazily—
“Oh, my dear child, do be quiet! Can’t you go to sleep yourself a little! We shall have more than enough of the forest before we are out of it?” Which offended Olive so much that she relapsed into silence.
Auntie was a truer prophet than she knew; for when they got to the little hamlet in the wood, where they were to rest, something proved to be wrong with one of the horse’s shoes; so wrong, indeed, that after a prolonged examination, at which all the inhabitants turned out to assist, it was that the horse must be re-shod before he could go any farther; and this made it impossible for the party who had come in the carriage to go any farther either. For the nearest smithy was two miles off; the horse must be led there and back by the driver, which would take at least two, if not three, hours. It was now past six, and they had come barely half way. The driver shook his head, and said he would not like to go on to the town till morning. The horse had pricked his foot; it might cause inflammation to drive him farther without a rest, and the carriage was far too heavy for the other horse alone, which had suddenly struck the children’s uncle as a brilliant idea.
“There would be no difficulty about the harnessing, any way,” he said to Auntie, laughing; “for all the vehicles hereabouts by one horse have the animal at one side of a pole, instead of between .”
But Auntie thought it better to give in.
“It really doesn’t much matter,” she said; “we can stay here well enough. There are two bedrooms, and no doubt they can give us something to eat; beer and sausages, and brown bread any way.”
And so it was settled greatly to Olive’s satisfaction; it would give her capital opportunities for a dwarf hunt! though as to this she kept her own counsel.
The of the little post-house where they had stopped was accustomed to occasional visits of this kind from or travelers. She thought nothing of turning her two daughters out of their bedroom, which, it must be owned, was very clean, for Auntie and Olive, and a second room on the ground-floor was prepared for Rex and his uncle. She had coffee ready in five minutes, and promised them a comfortable supper before bedtime. Altogether, everything seemed very satisfactory, and when they felt a little refreshed, Auntie proposed a walk—“a good long walk,” she said, “would do us good. And the landlady says we get out of the forest up there behind the house, where the ground rises, and that there is a lovely view. It will be rather a climb, but it isn’t more than three quarters of an hour from here, and we have not walked all day.”
Uncle thought it a good idea, and Rex was ready to start at once; but Olive looked less pleased.
“Don’t you want to come, Olive?” said Auntie. “Are you tired? You didn’t take a nap like the rest of us.”
“I am a little tired,” said Olive, which was true in one sense, though not in another, for she was quite fit for a walk. It struck her that her excuse was not quite an honest one, so she added, “If you don’t mind, I would rather stay about here. I don’t mind being alone, and I have my book. And I do so like the forest.”
“Very well,” said her uncle; “only don’t lose yourself. She is safe,” he added, turning to her aunt; “there are neither wolves, nor bears, nor robbers nowadays, in these peaceful forests.”
So the three set off, leaving Olive to her own devices. She waited till they were out of sight, then she made her preparations.
“I’d better take my purse,” she said to herself, “in case I meet the dwarfs. Auntie told me to be very polite, and perhaps they would like some of these tiny pieces; they just look as if they were meant for them.” So she chose out a few one-pfennig coins, which are much smaller than our farthings, and one or two silver pieces, worth about twopence-halfpenny each, still smaller. Then she put in her pocket half a slice of the brown bread they had had with their coffee, and arming herself, more for appearance’-sake than anything else, with her parasol and the book she had with her in her traveling bag, she set off on her .
It was still hot—though the forest trees made a pleasant shade. Olive walked some way, farther and farther, as far as she could make out, into the heart of the forest, but in her inexperience she took no sort of care to notice the way she went, or to make for herself any kind of . She just wandered on and on, first by some mysterious little path, and then by another, her mind full of the idea of the discoveries she was perhaps about to make. Now and then a squirrel across from one tree to another, disappearing among the branches almost before Olive could be sure she had seen it, or some wild wood birds, less familiar to the little foreigner, would startle her with a , strange note. There were here and there lovely flowers growing among the , and more than once she heard the sound of not far off water. It was all strangely beautiful, and she would greatly have enjoyed and admired it had not her mind been so full of the queer fascinating idea of the blue dwarfs.
At last—she had wandered about for some time—Olive began to feel tired.
“I may as well sit down a little,” she thought; “I have lots of time to get back. This seems the very heart of the forest. They are just as likely to be seen here as anywhere else.”
So Olive ensconced herself in a comfortable corner, her back against the root of a tree, which seemed hollowed out on purpose to serve as an armchair. She thought at first she would read a little, but the light was already slightly , and the tree shadows made it still fainter. Besides, Olive had plenty to think of—she did not require any amusement. Queer little noises now and then made themselves heard—once or twice it really sounded as if small feet were pattering along, or as if shrill little voices were laughing in the distance; and with each sound, Olive’s heart beat faster with excitement—not with fear.
“If I sit very still,” she thought, “who knows what I may see? Of course, it would be much nicer and prettier if the dwarfs were quite tiny—not like the little man we saw in the street at that place—I forget the name—for he was not pretty at all—but like the blue dwarfs at the manufactory. But that, I suppose, is impossible, for they would be really like fairies. But they might be something between: not so big as the little man, and yet bigger than the blue dwarfs.”
And then Olive grew a little confused in trying to settle in her mind how big, or how small rather, it was possible or impossible for a nation of dwarfs to be. She thought it over till she hardly seemed sure what she was trying to decide. She kept saying to herself, “Any way, they could not but be a good deal bigger than my thumb! What does that mean? Perhaps it means more in German measures than in English, perhaps——”
But what was that that suddenly hit her on the nose! Olive looked up, a very little inclined to be offended; it is not a pleasant thing to be hit[221] on the nose; could it be Rex come behind her suddenly, and playing her a trick? Just as she was thinking this, a second smart tap on the nose startled her still more, and this time there was no mistake about it; it came from above, and it was a fir-cone! Had it come of itself? Somehow the words, “Roast fir-cones for dinner,” kept running in her head, and she took up the fir-cone in her fingers to examine it, but quickly dropped it again, for it was as hot as a coal.
“It has a very roasty smell,” thought Olive; “where can it have come from?”
And hardly had she asked herself the question, when a sudden noise all round her made her again look up. They were sliding down the branches of the tree in all directions. At first, to her dazzled eyes, they seemed a whole army, but as they touched the ground one by one, and she was able to distinguish them better, she saw that after all there were not so very many. One, two, three, she began quickly counting to herself, not aloud, of course—that would not have been polite—one, two, three, up to twelve, then thirteen, fourteen and so on up to—yes, there were just twenty-four of them.
“Two of each,” said Olive to herself; “a double set of the blue dwarfs.”
For they were the blue dwarfs, and no mistak............
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