THE GARDEN OF THE WOMAN LEARNED IN MAGIC







Then an old, old woman came out of the house; she was

leaning upon a big, hooked stick, and she wore a big sun hat, which was

covered with beautiful painted flowers.










But how was little Gerda getting on all this long time since Kay left

her? Where could he be? Nobody knew, nobody could say anything about

him. All that the other boys knew was, that they had seen him tie his

little sledge to a splendid big one which drove away down the street and

out of the town gates. Nobody knew where he was, and many tears were

shed; little Gerda cried long and bitterly. At last, people said he was

dead; he must have fallen into the river which ran close by the town.

Oh, what long, dark, winter days those were!



At last the spring came and the sunshine.



'Kay is dead and gone,' said little Gerda.



'I don't believe it,' said the sunshine.



'He is dead and gone,' she said to the swallows.



'We don't believe it,' said the swallows; and at last little Gerda did

not believe it either.



'I will put on my new red shoes,' she said one morning; 'those Kay never

saw; and then I will go down to the river and ask it about him!'



It was very early in the morning; she kissed the old grandmother, who

was still asleep, put on the red shoes, and went quite alone, out by the

gate to the river.



'Is it true that you have taken my little playfellow? I will give you my

red shoes if you will bring him back to me again.'



She thought the little ripples nodded in such a curious way, so she took

off her red shoes, her most cherished possessions, and threw them both

into the river. They fell close by the shore, and were carried straight

back to her by the little wavelets; it seemed as if the river would not

accept her offering, as it had not taken little Kay.



She only thought she had not thrown them far enough; so she climbed into

a boat which lay among the rushes, then she went right out to the

further end of it, and threw the shoes into the water again. But the

boat was loose, and her movements started it off, and it floated away

from the shore: she felt it moving and tried to get out, but before she

reached the other end the boat was more than a yard from the shore, and

was floating away quite quickly.



Little Gerda was terribly frightened, and began to cry, but nobody heard

her except the sparrows, and they could not carry her ashore, but they

flew alongside twittering, as if to cheer her, 'We are here, we are

here.' The boat floated rapidly away with the current; little Gerda sat

quite still with only her stockings on; her little red shoes floated

behind, but they could not catch up the boat, which drifted away faster

and faster.



The banks on both sides were very pretty with beautiful flowers, fine

old trees, and slopes dotted with sheep and cattle, but not a single

person.



'Perhaps the river is taking me to little Kay,' thought Gerda, and that

cheered her; she sat up and looked at the beautiful green banks for

hours.



Then they came to a big cherry garden; there was a little house in

it, with curious blue and red windows, it had a thatched roof, and two

wooden soldiers stood outside, who presented arms as she sailed past.

Gerda called out to them; she thought they were alive, but of course

they did not answer; she was quite close to them, for the current drove

the boat close to the bank. Gerda called out again, louder than before,

and then an old, old woman came out of the house; she was leaning upon a

big, hooked stick, and she wore a big sun hat, which was covered with

beautiful painted flowers.



'You poor little child,' said the old woman, 'how ever were you driven

out on this big, strong river into the wide, wide world alone?' Then she

walked right into the water, and caught hold of the boat with her hooked

stick; she drew it ashore, and lifted little Gerda out.



Gerda was delighted to be on dry land again, but she was a little bit

frightened of the strange old woman.



'Come, tell me who you are, and how you got here,' said she.



When Gerda had told her the whole story and asked her if she had seen

Kay, the woman said she had not seen him, but that she expected him.

Gerda must not be sad, she was to come and taste her cherries and see

her flowers, which were more beautiful than any picture-book; each one

had a story to tell. Then she took Gerda by the hand, they went into the

little house, and the old woman locked the door.



The windows were very high up, and they were red, blue, and yellow;

they threw a very curious light into the room. On the table were

quantities of the most delicious cherries, of which Gerda had leave to

eat as many as ever she liked. While she was eating, the old woman

combed her hair with a golden comb, so that the hair curled, and shone

like gold round the pretty little face, which was as sweet as a rose.



'I have long wanted a little girl like you!' said the old woman. 'You

will see how well we shall get on together.' While she combed her hair

Gerda had forgotten all about Kay, for the old woman was learned in the

magic art; but she was not a bad witch, she only cast spells over people

for a little amusement, and she wanted to keep Gerda. She therefore went

into the garden and waved her hooked stick over all the rose-bushes, and

however beautifully they were flowering, all sank down into the rich

black earth without leaving a trace behind them. The old woman was

afraid that if Gerda saw the roses she would be reminded of Kay, and

would want to run away. Then she took Gerda into the flower garden. What

a delicious scent there was! and every imaginable flower for every

season was in that lovely garden; no picture-book could be brighter or

more beautiful. Gerda jumped for joy and played till the sun went down

behind the tall cherry trees. Then she was put into a lovely bed with

rose-coloured silken coverings stuffed with violets; she slept and

dreamt as lovely dreams as any queen on her wedding day.



The next day she played with the flowers in the garden again--and many

days passed in the same way. Gerda knew every flower, but however many

there were, she always thought there was one missing, but which it was

she did not know.



One day she was sitting looking at the old woman's sun hat with its

painted flowers, and the very prettiest one of them all was a rose. The

old woman had forgotten her hat when she charmed the others away. This

is the consequence of being absent-minded.



'What!' said Gerda, 'are there no roses here?' and she sprang in among

the flower-beds and sought, but in vain! Her hot tears fell on the very

places where the roses used to be; when the warm drops moistened the

earth the rose-trees shot up again, just as full of bloom as when they

sank. Gerda embraced the roses and kissed them, and then she thought of

the lovely roses at home, and this brought the thought of little Kay.



'Oh, how I have been delayed,' said the little girl, 'I ought to have

been looking for Kay! Don't you know where he is?' she asked the roses.

'Do you think he is dead and gone?'



'He is not dead,' said the roses. 'For we have been down underground,

you know, and all the dead people are there, but Kay is not among them.'



'Oh, thank you!' said little Gerda, and then she went to the other

flowers and looked into their cups and said, 'Do you know where Kay is?'



But each flower stood in the sun and dreamt its own dreams. Little Gerda

heard many of these, but never anything about Kay.



And what said the Tiger lilies?



'Do you hear the drum? rub-a-dub, it has only two notes, rub-a-dub,

always the same. The wailing of women and the cry of the preacher. The

Hindu woman in her long red garment stands on the pile, while the flames

surround her and her dead husband. But the woman is only thinking of the

living man in the circle round, whose eyes burn with a fiercer fire than

that of the flames which consume the body. Do the flames of the heart

die in the fire?'



'I understand nothing about that,' said little Gerda.



'That is my story,' said the Tiger lily.



'What does the convolvulus say?'



'An old castle is perched high over a narrow mountain path, it is

closely covered with ivy, almost hiding the old red walls, and creeping

up leaf upon leaf right round the balcony where stands a beautiful

maiden. She bends over the balustrade and looks eagerly up the road. No

rose on its stem is fresher than she; no apple blossom wafted by the

wind moves more lightly. Her silken robes rustle softly as she bends

over and says, 'Will he never come?''



'Is it Kay you mean?' asked Gerda.



'I am only talking about my own story, my dream,' answered the

convolvulus.



What said the little snowdrop?



'Between two trees a rope with a board is hanging; it is a swing. Two

pretty little girls in snowy frocks and green ribbons fluttering on

their hats are seated on it. Their brother, who is bigger than they are,

stands up behind them; he has his arms round the ropes for supports, and

holds in one hand a little bowl and in the other a clay pipe. He is

blowing soap-bubbles. As the swing moves the bubbles fly upwards in all

their changing colours, the last one still hangs from the pipe swayed by

the wind, and the swing goes on. A little black dog runs up, he is

almost as light as the bubbles, he stands up on his hind legs and wants

to be taken into the swing, but it does not stop. The little dog falls

with an angry bark; they jeer at it; the bubble bursts. A swinging

plank, a fluttering foam picture--that is my story!'



'I daresay what you tell me is very pretty, but you speak so sadly and

you never mention little Kay.'



What says the hyacinth?



'They were three beautiful sisters, all most delicate, and quite

transparent. One wore a crimson robe, the other a blue, and the third

was pure white. These three danced hand-in-hand, by the edge of the lake

in the moonlight. They were human beings, not fairies of the wood. The

fragrant air attracted them, and they vanished into the wood; here the

fragrance was stronger still. Three coffins glide out of the wood

towards the lake, and in them lie the maidens. The fire-flies flutter

lightly round them with their little flickering torches. Do these

dancing maidens sleep, or are they dead? The scent of the flower says

that they are corpses. The evening bell tolls their knell.'



'You make me quite sad,' said little Gerda; 'your perfume is so strong

it makes me think of those dead maidens. Oh, is little Kay really dead?

The roses have been down underground, and they say no.'



'Ding, dong,' tolled the hyacinth bells; 'we are not tolling for little

Kay; we know nothing about him. We sing our song, the only one we know.'



And Gerda went on to the buttercups shining among their dark green

leaves.



'You are a bright little sun,' said Gerda. 'Tell me if you know where I

shall find my playfellow.'



The buttercup shone brightly and returned Gerda's glance. What song

could the buttercup sing? It would not be about Kay.



'God's bright sun shone into a little court on the first day of spring.

The sunbeams stole down the neighbouring white wall, close to which

bloomed the first yellow flower of the season; it shone like burnished

gold in the sun. An old woman had brought her arm-chair out into the

sun; her granddaughter, a poor and pretty little maid-servant, had come

to pay her a short visit, and she kissed her. There was gold, heart's

gold, in the kiss. Gold on the lips, gold on the ground, and gold above,

in the early morning beams! Now that is my little story,' said the

buttercup.



'Oh, my poor old grandmother!' sighed Gerda. 'She will be longing to see

me, and grieving about me, as she did about Kay. But I shall soon go

home again and take Kay with me. It is useless for me to ask the flowers

about him. They only know their own stories, and have no information to

give me.'



Then she tucked up her little dress, so that she might run the faster;

but the narcissus blossoms struck her on the legs as she jumped over

them, so she stopped and said, 'Perhaps you can tell me something.'



She stooped down close to the flower and listened. What did it say?



'I can see myself, I can see myself,' said the narcissus. 'Oh, how sweet

is my scent. Up there in an attic window stands a little dancing girl

half dressed; first she stands on one leg, then on the other, and looks

as if she would tread the whole world under her feet. She is only a

delusion. She pours some water out of a teapot on to a bit of stuff that

she is holding; it is her bodice. "Cleanliness is a good thing," she

says. Her white dress hangs on a peg; it has been washed in the teapot,

too, and dried on the roof. She puts it on, and wraps a saffron-coloured

scarf round her neck, which makes the dress look whiter. See how high

she carries her head, and all upon one stem. I see myself, I see

myself!'



'I don't care a bit about all that,' said Gerda; 'it's no use telling me

such stuff.'



And then she ran to the end of the garden. The door was fastened, but

she pressed the rusty latch, and it gave way. The door sprang open, and

little Gerda ran out with bare feet into the wide world. She looked back

three times, but nobody came after her. At last she could run no

further, and she sat down on a big stone. When she looked round she saw

that the summer was over; it was quite late autumn. She would never have

known it inside the beautiful garden, where the sun always shone, and

the flowers of every season were always in bloom.



'Oh, how I have wasted my time,' said little Gerda. 'It is autumn. I

must not rest any longer,' and she got up to go on.



Oh, how weary and sore were her little feet, and everything round looked

so cold and dreary. The long willow leaves were quite yellow. The damp

mist fell off the trees like rain, one leaf dropped after another from

the trees, and only the sloe-thorn still bore its fruit; but the sloes

were sour and set one's teeth on edge. Oh, how grey and sad it looked,

out in the wide world.





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