The Spring-tide Of Love
: The Diamond Fairy Book
By Pleydell North (Mrs. Egerton Eastwick).
THE mists of the early twilight were falling, and Elsa, the little girl
who lived at the woodman's cottage, was still far from home. She had
wandered out in the spring sunshine in search of the bluebells and wild
anemones with which the wood abounded, for the child loved the company
of the birds and flowers better than the rough play of the boys who were
called her brothers.
The woodman and his wife said she was strange and dreamy, full of
curious fancies which they found it hard to understand; but, then, they
were not Elsa's real parents, which might account for their difficulty.
They were kind to her, however, in their fashion, and Elsa always tried
to remember to obey them; but sometimes she forgot. She had forgotten
to-day--for although the good wife had told her to remain near the
cottage, the eagerness of her search for the flowers she loved had led
her farther into the wood than she had ever been before.
The sunlight disappeared, and the darkness seemed to come quite suddenly
under the thick branches of the trees; the birds had chanted their last
evening song and gone to their nests--only a solitary thrush sang loudly
just overhead; Elsa thought it was warning her to hurry homewards. She
turned quickly, taking as she thought the direction of the cottage; but
as she was barely seven years old, and felt a little frightened, it is
not surprising that she only plunged deeper into the wood.
Now she found herself in the midst of a great silence; the beautiful
tracery of young green leaves through which she had hitherto caught
glimpses of the sky had disappeared, and over her head stretched only
bare brown branches, between which she saw the shining stars, clear as
on a frosty winter's night. The stars looked friendly, and she was glad
to see them, but it was growing dreadfully cold. The plucked flowers
withered and fell from her poor little numbed hands, and she shivered in
her thin cotton frock.
Ah! what would she not have given for a sight of the open door and the
fire in the woodman's cottage, and a basin of warm bread and milk, even
though it was given with a scolding from the woodman's wife! She
struggled on, with her poor little tired feet, for it seemed to her that
the wood was growing thinner--perhaps there might be a house hereabouts.
But, oh! how terribly cold. Now there was frost upon the ground at her
feet, frost upon dead leaves and blades of grass, frost upon the bare
tree branches. The moon had risen, and she could see that all the world
around her was white and chill and dead. Surely she had wandered back
into the cruel bitter winter, frost-bound and hard.
It was strange that she had strength to go on, but she looked up at the
stars, and thought that they were guiding her. At length she came to the
border of the wood, and there stretched before her a wide, open space,
with only a few trees scattered here and there, and through an opening
of the trees the cold moon shone down upon a white, silent house.
The house looked as dead and winter-bound as everything else; but still
it was a house, and Elsa said to herself that surely some one must
live in it. So she thanked the friendly stars for leading her aright,
and with what remaining strength she had, dragged her poor little numbed
feet up the broad path or road between the trees. At the end of the road
an iron gate hung open upon its hinges, and Elsa found herself in what
once had been a garden. Now the lawns and flower-beds were all alike one
blinding sheet of ice and frozen snow.
But, oh, joy! there was the great white house, and from one window shone
a light, surely the light of a fire. All the rest was dark. Up a flight
of stone steps the child dragged her weary feet, across a terrace that
had surely once been gay with flowers, until she stood before a huge
door, brown and black, except where the frost gleamed, closed and
barred with iron bars. The great knocker hung high above her reach; but
with her poor little hands she beat against the woodwork. Surely, if
some one did not let her in soon, she must fall down there and sleep and
die upon the step. But at the sound of her faint knocking there came
from within the deep baying of a hound, and Elsa was terrified anew, but
could not run away; then in a few moments a heavy bar seemed to be
withdrawn and the great door opened slowly.
A tall man stood within--a man in the dress of a hunter, pale-faced in
the moonlight, but strong and powerful, and wearing a long, dark beard
that reached almost to his waist. His was a figure to fill any child
with fear, but Elsa saw only the scene behind him. A great blazing wood
fire upon an open hearth, with rugs in front of it upon which were
stretched two large hounds; a third, shaking himself slowly, had
followed his master to the door. Elsa stretched out her little hands to
the blazing warmth, with the cry of a perishing child.
"Take me in--oh! take me in!" she pleaded. "Please let me come in!"
She ran forward. Then with a strange hoarse sound, that she did not
understand, the man stooped and lifted her in his arms, and carried her
forward and laid her gently down upon the rugs in the grateful warmth,
and the hounds sniffed round her and seemed well pleased, and ready to
welcome her--and--for a little while she remembered no more.
When Elsa came to herself (she thought she must have been asleep, but
the waking was a little strange and difficult) she found that she was
propped up among soft cushions still upon the rugs; the dogs now lay at
a respectful distance, each with his forepaws stretched out and his nose
held between them, while with gleaming eyes he watched with keenest
interest all that going was on.
The rough-looking man with the long, dark beard and the pale face knelt
beside her, holding a basin of warm, steaming broth. Then Elsa sat up
and tried to drink, but she was so weak with fatigue and cold that her
new friend was obliged to feed her with a spoon, which he did rather
awkwardly. After she had swallowed the broth, the warm blood flowed once
more freely through her veins, and she sank into a deep, sweet sleep,
her little head falling serenely against the stranger's breast and her
hair spreading out in golden waves over the arm that held her.
When Elsa once more opened her eyes, the cold grey light of morning fell
through the uncurtained windows into the hall. She found herself lying
on a couch covered with rugs of warm fur, at the side of the hearth,
where logs of pine wood, newly kindled, leapt and blazed, filling the
air with sweet, pungent odours.
For a while she was bewildered, wondering how she came to be there,
instead of in her little room at the woodman's cottage. Then she saw her
friend of the night before kneeling in front of the fire, evidently
preparing food, while the dogs, grouped around, sat on their haunches
with ears erect, keen and observant, watching his movements. Then Elsa
remembered; and she clapped her hands with a merry laugh, the laugh of a
happy, waking child. The man kneeling by the fire started at the sound,
and then turned his grave face towards her with a wistful expression
strange to see.
"I want to get up," said Elsa promptly. "If you please, I can wash and
dress myself; I've been taught how."
"Wait a few minutes, little lady, then you shall have all you want."
The voice sounded strangely, and the man seemed listening to its tones
as though surprised to hear himself speak. But the rough, halting
accents seemed less out of keeping with the old house than Elsa's laugh.
The dogs came and licked her hands, and she played with them until the
man rose from his place before the fire, and lifting her up bade her
come with him.
He led her to a small room off the hall, which was indeed curious in its
arrangements. A toilet-table stood there with most costly fittings;
brushes with silver and ivory handles were lying upon the faded silk; a
little pair of satin shoes had been thrown carelessly upon the floor; a
cloak of crimson satin was flung over a chair. All these things looked
as though a hand had cast them aside but yesterday--yet all were faded
and soiled, and the dust lay thick as though that yesterday had been
many years ago.
And among these relics of an unknown past the child made her simple
toilet. She had never seen such magnificence, or felt, she thought, so
sad. But when she returned to the hall ten minutes later, the sadness
She looked a quaint little figure, indeed, clad in a silken wrapper
provided by her host, which trailed far behind on the ground, greatly to
her delight; her little feet were cased in dainty slippers which, small
as they were, yet were many sizes too large. In spite of misfits,
however, she contrived to walk with a stately grandeur quite amazing to
behold, until the dogs jumped and fawned upon her, when she forgot her
finery in a game of play and lost her slippers in the rug.
On the table, a breakfast was rudely spread: cold meats for the master
of the house, who fed his dogs from his own plate, while for Elsa was
provided a bowl of goat's milk and some crisp cakes, which she thought
When the meal was over, Elsa pleaded to be allowed to do for her new
friend the household duties she had been taught to fulfil by the
woodman's wife; and soon, with the wrapper deftly pinned about her
waist, and the silken sleeves tucked up from bare and dimpled arms, she
stood before a bowl of steaming water, washing plates and dishes. Only
the table was rather high, and she was forced to stand upon a stool.
From that day a strange new life began for little Elsa.
The rough-looking man who had given her shelter seemed to be living
quite alone with his dogs. Every morning he went out with them and his
gun, apparently to hunt and shoot in the forest, for he usually returned
laden with game, which served to keep the larder stocked.
Of other kinds of provisions there seemed to be a plentiful supply on
the premises; the granaries were well stocked with corn, which the
master ground himself, while some goats tethered in the outhouses gave a
sufficient quantity of milk for the daily needs of the little household.
Of Elsa's return to the woodman's cottage there seemed to be no
question. She was terrified at the thought of being again lost in the
wood, and pleaded hard to remain with her new friend, who, on his side,
was equally loth to part with her.
Soon, having learned many useful ways from the woodman's wife, she
became a clever little housekeeper, and could make a good stew, while
Ulric, as the master of the house bade her call him, was out with his
dogs in the forest, though now only two of the hounds accompanied him in
his expeditions; one was always left as Elsa's companion and guardian.
Then, too, she could milk and feed the goats, and keep the house-place
clean and tidy. But all the day was not given to such work as this.
When Ulric had returned, and they had dined together, he would bring the
great carved wooden chair with the huge back up to the fire, and Elsa
would fetch a stool to his side and busy herself with needle and thread,
while he told her strange stories; or sometimes he would fetch a
ponderous volume from a library the house contained and read, either to
himself or aloud to her, such things as she could understand.
Now, if you wonder where Elsa found the needle and thread which I have
mentioned, I must tell you that Ulric had given her a little work-basket
neatly fitted, but the silk lining of which was much faded, and some of
the needles were rusty. There was in it also a golden thimble, which
Elsa found a little too large.
And as for the clothes she worked at, one day he brought her a quantity
of beautiful garments, some of silk and satin, and some of fine cloth,
and in these, having nothing of her own but her one poor little cotton
frock, the child managed to dress herself, till she looked like a quaint
little fairy princess. Her stitches were awkward and badly done at
first, but as time went on, instinct helped her small knowledge, and she
grew handy with her needle.
When she was cooking and feeding the goats, she wore a woollen
petticoat and an apron, a costume more suited to the occasion.
In the evenings Ulric taught her many things: to read and to write, and
even to speak in strange languages, so that her education was by no
means neglected. He let her wander over the great mansion where she
would, and showed her many of the rooms himself. All bore signs of
having been used quite recently, and yet a long time ago. Dust was thick
everywhere, and soon Elsa grew to understand that the dust must remain
and accumulate; no hand was to be allowed to touch anything in that
strange, silent house beyond the hall and the little room which Ulric
had arranged for her sleeping apartment. One part of the mansion,
however, she never penetrated. At the end of a long passage hung a heavy
velvet curtain, and behind this was a door, always securely locked. Only
Ulric passed beyond it, at stated times, and when he returned from these
visits he was more than usually sad for many hours.
The weeks slipped into months, and Elsa dwelt on in this strange home.
Every day at first she looked eagerly for the breaking of the frost--for
the promise of the sunshine and flowers she had left behind her in the
wood. But the spring never came. The bitter cold and the frost
continued, and in time the child's heart must have frozen too, but for
the strong, warm love which had sprung up within it for Ulric.
Old and thoughtful she grew, beyond her years, but never unhappy. Ulric
needed her, was glad of her presence; she could minister to his wants
and brighten his sad life.
So Ulric's love grew more to her than the flowers and sunshine of the
outer world; to think of leaving him now would break her heart, but she
wondered often over the mystery that shadowed his life and hers. And
the months grew to years, and Elsa was twelve years old.
Then one evening Ulric came in from one of his visits to the closed
chamber, more sad and thoughtful even than usual, and taking Elsa's hand
in his, bade her sit beside him for a little while and put aside her
work. She came obediently, looking anxiously into his face.
"Little Elsa," he said, "I have counted the time, and it is now five
years since you came to me. You told me then you were seven years old,
now you are therefore twelve, and will soon be growing into a maiden.
The time has come----"
Instinctively the child clasped his hand closer.
"Not to part us, father?" (for so she had learned to call him.)
"That, my child, must rest with you."
"Then it is soon settled," said Elsa, trying to laugh, "for I will never
Something like the light of hope shone in the man's clouded eyes--eyes
in which Elsa had never seen a smile, although his lips had smiled at
"Listen," he said; "before you speak rash words, I must tell you all.
Then you shall decide.
"It is a little more than eleven years since the curse fell upon me. I
was a hard man then, Elsa--hard and cruel and strong--it was my boast
that I never forgave a debt, or pardoned an enemy.
"I had married a young and beautiful wife, and her I loved passionately,
but in my own hard and selfish fashion. Often I refused to heed even
her gentle pleadings for the suffering, the sinful, and the poor. And we
had one child--a girl--then only a few months old.
"It was a New Year's Eve that I decided upon giving a great
entertainment to all the country round. I did it for my own
glorification. Among the rich I was disliked, but tolerated on account
of my position; by the poor far and wide I was feared and hated.
"Every one invited came to my ball. My wife looked exquisitely lovely,
more lovely I thought than on our bridal day--everything ministered to
my pride and satisfaction.
"We had mustered here, here in this hall, to drink the health of the
dying year and welcome the incoming of the new, when above the sounds of
laughter and good cheer was heard from without a pitiful, feeble
wail--the wail of a child in pain. That feeble cry rang then above every
other sound--it rings in my heart still.
"Before I could interfere, my wife, with her own hands, had flung wide
the great barred door, and I saw a sight which I alone could explain.
"Upon the step was huddled a woman, with a child in her arms. A man,
gaunt and hunger-stricken, towered behind her in the darkness; two other
children clung to her, shivering and weeping. We were in the midst of
the cruel, bitter winter; the earth was frost-bound, hard and cold, even
as now. That day I had given orders that these people, poor and starving
as they were, should be turned from their home. The man I had suspected
of being a poacher, and he was doing no work--a good-for-nothing--but
she, my wife, had pleaded for them that I would wait, at least, until
the summer. Now she bent down to that poor creature on the step, who was
striving to nurse and warm her babe in her chill arms, and whispered
something--I guessed it was a promise of shelter.
"In my fierce pride and anger I laid my hand upon her arm, and with a
strong grip drew her back--then without a word I closed the door and
barred it. But within there was no more laughter. A voice rose upon the
still night air--the sound of a bitter curse--a curse that should rest
upon me and mine, the chill of winter and of death, of pitiless
desolation and remorse, until human love should win me back to human
pity and God's forgiveness.
"One by one, with cold good-nights, my guests departed. My wife stole
away to her own apartments without a word; upon her arm I saw the mark
of my cruel hand.
"In the morning the curse had fallen. The woman I had turned away had
been found at my gates, dead, her child still clasped to her breast.
"The servants fled and left me alone, taking with them our child; my
wife--that night--she, too--died--to me."
The man's head drooped upon his hands. For a moment there was silence in
Elsa stood--her child's heart grieved at the terrible story, her whole
nature sorrowing, pitiful, shocked.
Presently Ulric recovered himself and continued: "Now, Elsa, you know
all. My child, if you will return to the world and leave me to work out
my fate, you shall not go penniless. I have wealth. For your sake I will
venture once more among the haunts of men and see you placed in a safe
home, then--I will try to forget. It is right that you should shrink."
"Father, dear father, I love you--you are sorry--I will not leave
you--do not send me away."
A look almost of rapture changed the worn and tear-stained face of the
man who had owned his sin--and the child's arms closed once more around
his neck, and her golden head nestled to his breast. A few minutes later
he led her to the closed chamber. Together they passed beyond it, and
Elsa found herself standing in a richly furnished room.
Near a window was a couch covered with dark velvet, and upon the couch a
figure lay stretched as if in quiet, death-like sleep, or carved in
marble. The figure was that of a young and very fair woman. Her dress of
white satin had yellowed with time; her hands were clasped upon her
breast as though in prayer; her golden hair lay unbound upon the pillow.
"It is fitting now," said Ulric, "that you should come here."
Softly Elsa advanced. She stood beside the couch, gazing down upon the
still, white face, so sweet in its settled grief, but which in this long
silence seemed to have lost its first youth. Elsa bent lower, lower.
What new instinct filled her warm, young heart, and made her speak?
"Mother, awake!" she said. "Mother!" and kissed the cold, quiet lips.
Was it a ray of sunlight that stole through the open window and trembled
upon the mouth, curving it into a smile? Slowly the dark eyes opened and
rested with a look of ineffable love upon Elsa's face.
And so the curse and the shadows of eternal winter passed away from the
house of Ulric, and his young bride came back from her long slumber. In
due time the garden, too, awoke to the touch of spring, and the flowers
bloomed, and the birds mated once more and sang in budding trees, and
the sun shone. And Elsa's love bound closely together the hearts of her
father and mother; for perhaps you have been clever enough to find out
that the woodman's wife was the nurse who had carried away with her in
her flight Ulric's little daughter on the night of the New Year's ball.