It was about three o'clock, this November afternoon, when I rode down into "Fairyland," as it is called about here. The birch-trees there are more beautiful than any in the world; and when the clouds are streaming over in rain-grey, and the sky soaring above in higher blue, just-seen, those gold and silver creatures have such magical loveliness as makes the hearts of mortals ache. The fairies, who have been driven off the moor, alone watch them with equanimity, if they be not indeed the birch-trees themselves—especially those little very golden ones which have strayed out into the heather, on the far side of the glen. "Revenge!" the fairies cried when a century ago those, whom they do not exist just to amuse, made the new road over the moor, cutting right through the home of twilight, that wood above the "Falls," where till then they had always enjoyed inviolable enchantment. They trooped forthwith in their multitudinous secrecy down into the glen, to swarm about the old road. In half a century or so they had it almost abandoned, save for occasional horsemen and harmless persons seeking beauty, for whom the fairies have never had much feeling of aversion. And now, after a hundred years, it is all theirs; the ground so golden with leaves and bracken that the old track is nothing but a vague hardness beneath a horse's feet, nothing but a runnel for the rains to gather in. There is everywhere that glen scent of mouldering leaves, so sweet when the wind comes down and stirs it, and the sun frees and livens it. Not very many birds, perhaps because hawks are fond of hovering here. This was once the only road up to the village, the only communication with all that lies to the south and east! Now the fairies have got it indeed, they have witched to skeletons all the little bridges across the glen stream; they have mossed and thinned the gates to wraiths. With their dapple-gold revelry in sunlight, and their dance of pied beauty under the moon, they have made all their own.
I have ridden many times down into this glen; and slowly up among the beeches and oaks into the lanes again, hoping and believing that, some day, I should see a fairy take shape to my thick mortal vision; and to-day, at last, I have seen.
I heard it first about half-way up the wood, a silvery voice piping out very true what seemed like mortal words, not quite to be caught. Resolved not to miss it this time, I got off quietly and tied my mare to a tree. Then, tiptoeing in the damp leaves which did not rustle, I stole up till I caught sight of it, from behind an oak.
It was sitting in yellow bracken as high as its head, under a birch-tree that had a few branches still gold-feathered. It seemed to be clothed in blue, and to be swaying as it sang. There was something in its arms, as it might be a creature being nursed. Cautiously I slipped from that tree to the next, till I could see its face, just like a child's, fascinating, very, very delicate, the little open mouth poised and shaped ever so neatly to the words it was singing; the eyes wide apart and ever so wide open, fixed on nothing mortal. The song, and the little body, and the spirit in the eyes, all seemed to sway—sway together, like a soft wind that goes sough-sough, swinging, in the tops of the ferns. And now it stretched out one arm, and now the other, beckoning in to it those to which it was singing; so that one seemed to feel the invisible ones stealing up closer and closer.
These were the words which came so silvery and slow through that little mouth: "Chil-dren, chil-dren! Hussh!"
It seemed as if the very rabbits must come and sit-up there, the jays and pigeons settle above; everything in all the wood gather. Even one's own heart seemed to be drawn in by those beckoning arms, and the slow enchantment of that tinkling voice, and the look in those eyes, which, lost in the unknown, were seeing no mortal glen, but only that mazed wood, where friendly wild things come, who have no sound to their padding, no whirr to the movement of their wings; whose gay whisperings have no noise, whose eager shapes no colour—the fairy dream-wood of the unimaginable.
"Chil-dren, chil-dren! Hus-s-h!"
For just a moment I could see that spirit company, ghosts of the ferns and leaves, of butterflies and bees and birds, and four-footed things innumerable, ghosts of the wind, the sun-beams, and the rain-drops, and tiny flickering ghosts of moon-rays. For just a moment I saw what the fairy's eyes were seeing, without knowing what they saw.
And then my mare trod on a dead branch, and all vanished. My fairy was gone; and there was only little "Connemara," as we called her, nursing her doll, and smiling up at me from the fern, where she had come to practise her new school-song.
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