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The Seller Of Dreams

from The Firelight Fairy Book





Once upon a time a mother called her only son into the kitchen, gave him
a basket of fine, fresh eggs, and bade him carry them to his Aunt Jane,
who lived a few miles down the valley. The son, a lively lad about
twelve years of age, obeyed his mother with joy, and clapping his little
green hat on his head, stepped forth into the road. It was a beautiful
clear morning in the spring, and the earth, released from the icy chains
of winter, was rejoicing in her freedom and the return of the sun. A few
birds, just back from the southland, rocked on twigs swollen with
bursting buds, a thousand rills flowing from everywhere and in every
direction sparkled and sang, and the air was sweet with the odor of
ploughed fields.

The boy, whose name was Peter, walked along whistling. Suddenly he saw a
spot on the road shining as dazzlingly as if a bit of the sun itself had
fallen to the earth. "A bit of glass," thought Peter. But it was not a
bit of glass after all, but a fine golden florin which must have dropped
from somebody's purse.

Peter stooped, picked up the gold piece, put it in his pocket, and
walked off whistling louder than ever. In a little while he came to a
place where the road wound down a little hill, and Peter saw, trudging
up this hill, a very strange looking old man. He was a very old man; his
face was puckered up into a thousand wrinkles like the skin of a
shrunken apple, and he had long, snow-white hair and a white beard which
reached almost to his waist. Moreover, he was strangely dressed in a
robe of cherry scarlet, and wore golden shoes. From a kind of belt hung
two horns on silver chains, one an ordinary cow's horn, the other a
beautiful horn carved of the whitest ivory, and decorated with little
figures of men and animals.

"Dreams to sell! Dreams to sell!" called out the old man as soon as he
caught sight of Peter. "Don't you want to buy a dream, young man?"

"What kind of dreams have you?" asked Peter.

"Good, bad, true, false--all kinds," replied the seller of dreams. "I
have even a few thrilling nightmares. Dreams to sell! Dreams to sell!"

"How much does a dream cost?" asked Peter.

"A golden florin," answered the merchant.

"I'll have one, please," said Peter; and he handed over the florin he
had found.

The old man took a kind of wonderful sugarplum out of the ivory horn,
and gave it to Peter to eat.

"You will have the dream next time you sleep," said he, and trudged on.

So Peter continued his journey, stopping every once in a while to look
back at the strange old man, who was slowly climbing the hill. At length
Peter came to a little quiet grove of pines, and there he sat down on a
big stone and ate the luncheon which his mother had prepared for him.
The sun was high in the heavens; it was close on to high noon. Now, as
Peter was contentedly munching his bread and cheese, he heard, at first
far away, then quite near at hand, the clear notes of a coachman's horn.
The notes of the second call died away in a great pattering of hoofs and
tinkling of little bells, and suddenly, arriving in a great swirl of
yellow dust, came a magnificent coach drawn by twelve white horses. A
lady, very richly dressed and wearing many sparkling diamonds, sat
within the coach. To Peter's astonishment, the lady was his Aunt Jane.

The coach stopped with a great jingling of the twelve harnesses, and
Aunt Jane leaned out of the window, and said to Peter, "What are you
doing here, child?"

"I was on my way to your cottage with a basket of fine fresh eggs,"
answered Peter.

"Well, it's fortunate I found you," said Aunt Jane, "for I have given up
living in the cottage, and have now got a castle of my own. Jump in,
Peter, and don't forget your basket."

So Peter climbed into the coach, closed the door behind him, and was
driven away. The coach went over hill and down dale; it went through
strange forests from whose branches green parrots whooped and shrieked;
it rolled through valleys in strange shining mountains. Peter stole a
look at Aunt Jane and saw that she was wearing a crown.

"Are you a queen, Aunt Jane?" he asked.

"Indeed, I am," replied his aunt. "You see, Peter, two days ago, while I
was looking for my white cow who had strayed away, I came upon the
magnificent castle to which we are now going. It has four beautiful
towers, and a door set with diamonds.

"'Whose castle is this?' I said to the lodge-keeper.

"'It's nobody's, marm,' said he.

"'What,' said I; 'do you mean to say that nobody owns this fine castle?'

"'That's just what I mean to say, marm,' answered he; 'the castle
belongs to anyone who wants it.'

"So into the castle I walked, and I did n't go out, you may be sure,
till I had been into every room that I could find. Then I put on these
clothes and these diamonds, which I found in a cupboard, and went down
and told the servants I intended to be queen. You see, Peter dear,
there's nothing that a woman of determination and energy can't
accomplish."

The coach rolled on, and soon Peter caught sight of Aunt Jane's castle.
It was rather large, and had an enormous round tower at each corner--a
thing which brought to Peter's mind the picture of an elephant lying on
its back. Peter and Aunt Jane, accompanied by a train of servants
dressed in blue-and-buff livery, walked into the castle through the
diamond-studded door.

"Do you think you could eat a little more of something?" said Aunt Jane,
taking off her white-kid gloves; "because if you can I'll have a place
set for you at the luncheon table."

And Peter, who like all boys, could eat a little more anywhere and at
any time, readily answered, "Yes."

So Peter and Aunt Jane sat down to a wonderful little table covered with
a snow-white cloth.

"Draw your chair nearer, Peter dear," said Aunt Jane.

"I can't" said Peter, "it's stuck to the floor."

And so it was; the chair was stuck to the floor, and no amount of
pushing or pulling could budge it.

"That's odd," said Aunt Jane; "but never mind, I'll push the table over
to the chair."

But like the chair, the table refused to budge. Peter then tried to
slide his plate of soup closer to him, but the plate, which the servant
had placed on the cloth but an instant before, had evidently frozen to
the table in some extraordinary manner and could not be moved an inch.
The soup in the plate, however, was not fastened to the dish, nor were
the wonderful strawberry-cakes and the delicious ices with which the
dinner closed.

"You don't suppose this castle is enchanted, do you, Aunt Jane?" asked
Peter.

"Not a bit of it," replied Aunt Jane. "And even if it were," she
continued recklessly, "I should n't mind, for there's nothing that a
woman of determination and energy can't accomplish." There was a pause,
and then Aunt Jane added, "I am going to have some guests to dinner this
evening, so run round and amuse yourself as well as you can. There's
ever so much to see in the castle, and in the garden there's a pond with
swans in it."

Attended by her servants, Aunt Jane majestically walked away. Peter
spent the afternoon exploring the castle. He went through room after
room; he scurried through the attics like a mouse, and was even lost for
a while in the cellars. And everywhere he went, he found everything
immovable. The beds, tables, and chairs could neither be moved about nor
lifted up, and even the clocks and vases were mysteriously fastened to
their places on the shelves.

The night came on. Coach after coach rolled up to the diamond door,
which sparkled in the moonlight. When the guests had all arrived, a
silver trumpet sounded, and Aunt Jane, dressed in a wonderful gown of
flowering brocade edged with pearls, came solemnly down the great
stairway of the castle hall. Two little black boys, dressed in oriental
costume and wearing turbans, held up her gorgeous train, and she looked
very grand indeed. Peter, to his great surprise, found himself dressed
in a wonderful suit of plum-colored velvet.

"Welcome, my friends," said Queen Jane, who had opened a wonderful
ostrich-feather fan. "Are we not fortunate in having so beautiful a
night for our dinner?"

And the Queen, giving her arm to a splendid personage in the uniform of
an officer of the King's dragoons, led the way to the banquet-hall.

The wonderful party, all silks and satins, and gleaming with jewels,
swept like a peacock's tail behind her. Soon dinner was over, and the
guests began to stray by twos and threes to the ballroom. Aunt Jane and
the soldier led off the grand march; then came wonderful, stately
minuets, quadrilles, and sweet old-fashioned waltzes. The merriment was
at its height when somebody ran heavily up the great stairs leading to
the ballroom, and the guests, turning round to see whence came the
clatter, saw standing in the doorway a strange old man dressed in a robe
of cherry scarlet and wearing golden shoes. It was the seller of dreams.
His white hair was disheveled, his robe was awry, and there was dust on
his golden shoes.

"Foolish people!" screamed the old seller of dreams, his voice rising to
a shriek, "Run your lives! This castle lies under a terrible
enchantment; in a few minutes it will turn upside-down. Have you not
seen that everything is fastened to the floor? Run for your lives!"

Immediately there was a great babble of voices, some shrieks, and more
confusion, and the guests ran pell-mell down the great stairs and out
the castle door. To Peter's dismay, Aunt Jane was not among them. So
into the castle he rushed again, calling at the top of his voice, "Aunt
Jane! Aunt Jane!" He ran through the brilliantly lit and deserted
ballroom; he saw himself running in the great mirrors of the gallery.
"Aunt Jane!" he cried; but no Aunt Jane replied.

Peter rushed up the stairs leading to the castle tower, and emerged upon
the balcony. He saw the black shadow of the castle thrown upon the grass
far below by the full moon; he saw the great forest, so bright above and
so dark and mysterious below, and the long snow-clad range of the
Adamant Mountains. Suddenly a voice, louder than the voice of any human
being, a voice deep, ringing, and solemn as the sound of a great bell,
cried,--

"'T is time!"

Immediately everything became as black as ink, people shrieked, the
enchanted castle rolled like a ship at sea, and leaning far to one side,
began to turn upside-down. Peter felt the floor of the balcony tip
beneath him; he tried to catch hold of something, but could find
nothing; suddenly, with a scream, he fell. He was falling, falling,
falling, falling, falling.


When Peter came to himself, instead of its being night, it was still
noonday, and he was sitting on the same stone in the same quiet roadside
grove from which he had caught sight of his Aunt Jane in her wonderful
coach. A blue jay screamed at him from overhead. For Aunt Jane, the
coach, and the enchanted castle had been only a dream. Peter, you see,
had fallen asleep under the pines, and while he slept, he had dreamed
the dream he purchased from the seller of dreams.

Very glad to be still alive, Peter rubbed his eyes, took up his basket
of eggs, and went down the road whistling.


[Illustration: Old man and boy in the forest.]
"How much does a dream cost?" asked Peter.
"A golden florin," answered the Seller of Dreams





Next: The Treasure Castle

Previous: The Adventures Of Florian



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