Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

'Come inside the circle, children,' said he at length. I am now going to light the touchwood.'

In they came accordingly, and sat down again on the moss cushion at the foot of the tall pine tree. The cat then put the touchwood on the ground and crouched down in front of it, with his nose resting against it; and he stared and stared at it with his flaming yellow eyes, and by-and-by it began to smoke and smoulder, and at last it caught fire and burned away famously.

'That will do nicely,' said the cat. Now put on some sticks.' Hilda and Harold heaped on dry sticks in handfuls; and so the enchanted fire was fairly started, and it burned blue, red and yellow. 'And now there is no time to be lost,' said Tom the Cat. Harold, you will stay beside this fire, and keep it burning until I come back with Hilda from the kingdoms of the Air Spirits and of the Gnomes. Remember, that if you let the fire go out, it can never again be lighted, and then all will be lost. Nevertheless, you must on no account go outside the circle to gather more faggots, if those which are already inside get used up before we return. You may, perhaps, be tempted to do so; but if you yield to the temptation all will go Your brother Hector will then be in greater danger than ever, and the only way you can save him will be to get into the fire yourself, and burn!'

Prince Harold did not much like the idea of being left alone in the woods all night, with the sound of Rumpty-Dudget's axe coming ever nearer and nearer. Still, since it was for his little brother Hector's sake, he never dreamed of refusing. But he made up his mind to be particularly careful not to use up the faggots too fast, so that he would not be tempted to go outside the ring.

Hilda and Tom kissed him, and bade him farewell; then Hilda got on the cat's back, and nestled down amidst the warm white fur. Tom sprang on to the trunk of the tall pine tree, and away! straight upwards they went, and were out of sight in the twinkling of an

eye.

CHAPTER V.

THE QUEEN OF THE AIR.

AFTER climbing upwards for a long time, they came at last to the very tip-top of the pine tree, which was just on a level with the upper surface of the clouds.

'We are now above the reach of the north wind,' remarked the cat; and this is the only tree in the forest tall enough for our purpose. All the clouds hereabouts, as you see, are blown by the south wind and by the west. If we rode on one blown by the north, we should be driven straight into Rumpty-Dudget's power.'

"Are we going to ride on a cloud, then?' asked Hilda, feeling a little nervous; for it was a terrible distance if they should fall.

Here

'Hold tight to me, and you will be safe,' replied Tom. comes the cloud we want-it will pass within two yards of us. As we make the jump, do you look down to the foot of the tree, and see whether Harold is in his place, and the fire still burning.'

Hardly had Tom done speaking, when the cloud sailed by, passing, as he had said, within two yards of the top of the pine tree to which they were clinging. The cat jumped, and alighted very cleverly on the cloud's edge, and a moment's scramble brought them to the top. Meanwhile, Hilda had looked downward to the foot of the tree as they took their leap; and she had caught a glimpse of Harold sitting within the ring, beside the enchanted fire, and seeming rather disconsolate. But the fire was burning brightly, yellow, red and blue.

The cloud sailed away, and took them to a part of the sky which Hilda had never seen before. It was full of a strange white light, and no darkness ever came there. On went the cloud, moving slowly but steadily, like a great ship steering its way amidst the sky. The kingdom of the Air Spirits soon loomed in sight; rainbow bridges spanned its shining rivers; its forests were like the tracery of the Northern Lights; and the houses and palaces in which the people lived were stars of different sizes, along whose rays was the only path to get to them.

At length the cloud entered the harbour, and letting down an anchor of raindrops, its motion ceased.

'You must go the rest of the way alone, Hilda,' said the cat. 'I shall wait for you, and you will find me here on your return.'

'But which way am I to go, and what am I to do?' asked Hilda in a tremulous tone; for being so high above the earth almost took her breath away.

6

'You must ask the first Air Spirit you meet to show you the star where the Queen lives, and then you must get there the best way you can,' Tom replied. When you have found her, you must ask her for the Diamond Waterdrop. But be very careful not to sit down, however much you may be tempted to do so; for if you do, your little brother Hector never can be saved.'

Hilda did not much like the idea of making so perilous a journey as this promised to be, without even the cat to go with her; but, since it was for Hector's sake, she never dreamed of refusing: only she made up her mind on no account to sit down, no matter what happened. She bade Tom farewell, therefore, and walked off.

She had not gone far when she met an Air Spirit, carrying its nose in the air, as, of course, all Air Spirits do.

'Can you tell me which star the Queen sits in?' Hilda asked. What do you want of the Queen?' inquired the Air Spirit, superciliously.

I want to ask her where the Diamond Waterdrop is,' answered Hilda.

'You will never get on in this country unless you carry your

'As for

nose more in the air than you do,' observed the Air Spirit. her Majesty, she sits in the large star up yonder, with the white ray. Mind you don't break your neck. Ta-ta!'

Hilda went onward very disconsolately. As to carrying her nose in the air, she had never in her life felt less inclined to do such a thing. By and by she came to the spot where the white ray of light from the Queen's star touched the solid air. A number of Air Spirits were walking up and down it like so many tight-rope dancers. 'Look at that absurd child!' they said to one another. 'See how she hangs her head! Why doesn't she put on airs? She will never come to anything!'

Hilda began to climb up the long white ray; and though at first she was very much frightened, by degrees she gained courage, and at last she was able to walk along tolerably fast. But it was a long distance to the top, and by the time she got there she was almost ready to drop with fatigue.

The star, when she entered it, was a glorious place indeed; and the Queen of the Air Spirits was dazzlingly beautiful, though Hilda fancied that she looked upon her rather haughtily. She was seated upon a throne of fretted sunshine; and as soon as Hilda was within hearing, she said,

'I have been expecting you. You have come a long way, and you look very tired. Come here and sit down.'

'No, your Majesty,' replied Hilda faintly, I have no time to sit down, or to stay. I have come to ask you for the Diamond Waterdrop.'

For the Diamond Waterdrop, indeed!' exclaimed the Queen, laughing. And pray, what made you suppose that you would find the Diamond Waterdrop here? However, sit down here beside me, and let us talk about it. Such a question as you ask cannot be answered in a moment.'

But Hilda shook her head.

'Listen to me, my dear Princess,' said the Queen again, more courteously than she had yet spoken; I know that you like to have everything your own way; and, as you are perhaps aware, there is no one who can have things so entirely her own way as can the Queen of the Air Spirits. Now, Princess Hilda, if you will sit down here on my throne, I will let you be Queen of the Air Spirits instead of me. You shall have everything your own way, and you shall put on as many airs as you please. Come!'

When Hilda heard this, she certainly felt for a moment very much tempted to do as the Queen asked her. But the next moment the thought came to her of her poor little brother Hector, standing in the hundred-and-first corner of Rumpty-Dudget's tower, with his face to the wall and his hands behind his back. So she answered, with tears in her eyes,

'Oh, Queen of the Air Spirits, I am so sorry for my little brother that I do not any longer care to have everything my own way, or to

put on airs, or to do anything except find the Diamond Waterdrop, so that Hector may be saved. Can you tell me where it is?'

But the Queen shook her beautiful head and frowned.

'I have no Diamond Waterdrop,' said she. Ask yourself where it is!'

Then poor Hilda felt as if her heart would break, and she sobbed out,

'Oh, what shall I do to save my poor little brother?'

There was no answer, and Hilda turned away. But, as she did so, the Queen suddenly said,

'I see the Diamond Waterdrop now, Hilda!'

'Oh, where?' cried Hilda, turning again eagerly.

The Queen was smiling upon her now, with a very kind expression.

'It is on your own cheek!' said she.

Hilda was so bewildered that, at first, she could only gaze at the Queen without moving or speaking.

'Yes,' the Queen continued, in a gentle tone, 'you might have searched through all the kingdoms of the earth and air, and yet never have found that precious Diamond, had you not loved your brother Hector more than you loved to be Queen. That tear upon your cheek, Hilda, which you shed for love of him, is the Diamond Waterdrop that you have sought. Keep it in this crystal phial; be prudent, patient and resolute, and sooner or later Hector will be free.'

As the Queen spoke, she held out a small crystal phial, and the tear from Hilda's cheek fell into it. Then the Queen hung the phial about Hilda's neck by a chain of moon-sparkles, and kissed her tenderly, and bade her farewell. And away went Hilda, light of foot, for the weariness had left her. But as she went, she kept fancying that she had somewhere heard a voice like this Queen's before; but where or when she could not tell.

She now reached the solid air again, and hastening her steps, she presently arrived at the harbour in which the cloud was anchored: and there she found Tom the Cat awaiting her. He got up and stretched himself as she approached; and when he saw the crystal phial hanging at her neck by its chain of moon-sparkles, he said,

'So far all has gone well. But the hardest part is yet to come; we have to find the Golden Ivy-seed. There is no time to be lost, so jump on my back, and let us be off!'

With that, he curved his back, Hilda put her arms round his neck and nestled down in the soft white fur, and Tom gave a great leap off the edge of the cloud, and away! down they went through the empty air like a live snowball, and it seemed to Hilda that they never would have done falling. At length, however, they alighted safely on the top of a haystack, and the next moment they were standing in the hayfield.

CHAPTER VI.

THE KING OF THE GNOMES.

JUST beside the haystack was a field-mouse's hole, or what looked like one; and something that looked like a little brown mouse, but which might have been something else for all Hilda could tell, was sitting at the entrance of it. But when it saw the cat, it rose up on its little hind legs, turned a complete summersault, and then darted away down the hole, and Hilda noticed that it had no tail.

'What a curious mouse!' she said to Tom.

6

'It was a gnome,' he replied: they are often mistaken for mice when they appear on the surface of the ground.'

'Where has he gone to?' inquired Hilda.

'Down to the centre of the earth, to be sure,' said Tom, 'to tell the others that we are coming.'

'But we can never get into such a little hole as that,' Hilda said. 'Get on my back, and hold fast!' was all Tom's answer: and when Hilda had nestled down in his soft white fur and clasped her arms round his neck, he began scratching at the hole with both his fore-paws, and throwing up the dirt in a mighty heap behind; till in a wonderfully short time a large passage was made, opening towards the centre of the earth.

'Hold fast!' said Tom again, and into the passage they went.

If it had not been for the cat's eyes, which shone like two yellow carriage-lamps, they might more than once have missed their way, for it was as dark as pitch during the first part of the journey. Hilda, as she clung close to the cat's back, could see that they were passing rapidly through what seemed to be a series of caves, one opening into another, and growing always higher and broader as they went on. At first the air felt damp and cold; but as they sped onwards it grew warmer and drier; and now the wall of the caverns began to throw back gleams of many-coloured light, as if from gigantic jewels sticking there; and presently the light increased, without seeming to come from anywhere in particular; and the great vault o 'erhead seemed to soar aloft, until only a misty brightness was visible, like the sky at sunset-time, when it is feathered with gorgeous clouds. clouds. It was a new and marvellous country, with gold and silver filagree instead of foliage, and fields of emerald, and rivers of sapphires, and distant mountains of amethyst. By-and-by the cat came to two lofty pillars of plain white alabaster, and there he stopped.

[ocr errors]

Now, Hilda,' he said, 'you must go the rest of the way alone. Pass between those pillars, and then you will be in the kingdom of the Gnomes. Ask the first Gnome you meet to show you the place where the King ploughs; and when you have found him, ask him where the Golden Ivy-seed is. But be very careful to do everything

« AnteriorContinuar »