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that he bids you, no matter how strange or disagreeable it may be; for, if you disobey him, your brother Hector cannot be saved.'
Though Hilda did not much like the idea of going on through this strange land all by herself, still, since it was for Hector's sake, she never dreamed of refusing: only she made up her mind to do everything the King bade her, whatever happened. So off she started, and after passing between the alabaster pillars, she came to a road on which the gold dust lay an inch thick; for it seldom rains in the centre of the earth. Pretty soon she met a little brown Gnome, running along on all fours, and turning summersaults, as all Gnomes do.
'Will you show me the place where the King ploughs?' asked Hilda.
'What do you want of him?' asked the Gnome.
'I want to ask him to tell me where the Golden Ivy-seed is,' Hilda replied.
'He ploughs in the emerald field on the other side of the mountain of amethyst,' said the Gnome; but unless you can go on all fours and turn summersaults better than you seem able to do, you will never get in this country.'
But Hilda had never walked on all fours, much less turned summersaults, since she was a baby a year old; so she trudged along the dusty golden road just as she was, and all the Gnomes who met her threw summersaults and said,
'See how upright she walks! She will never come to anything!' The road was very long, the amethyst mountain was very far away, and Hilda was very tired by the time she arrived at the emerald field. But there was the field at last, and there was the King of the Gnomes on all fours in the midst of it. He was a strange little being, with piercing black eyes, immensely broad shoulders, and a beard of white asbestos woven together like a woman's braid. As soon as he caught sight of Hilda, he shouted out to her,
'Get down on all fours this iustant! How dare you come into my kingdom walking upright?'
Hilda was a good deal frightened at the way the King spoke; but she answered resolutely, Your Majesty, I walked upright because there was no time to lose, and I have come to ask you for the Golden Ivy-seed.'
The Golden Ivy-seed, forsooth!' exclaimed the King, with a deep laugh. What made you suppose, I should like to know, that there was any Golden Ivy-seed to be got here? The Golden Ivyseed is not given to people with stiff necks, I can assure you; so get down on all fours at once, or else go about your business!'
Then Hilda remembered what Tom the Cat had told her, and down she dropped on all fours without a word.
'Now, listen to me,' said the King sternly. 'I shall harness you to that plough in the place of my horses, and you must drag it up
and down over this field until the whole of it is ploughed, while I follow behind with the whip. Hitch yourself on to the shaft immediately! Come!'
When Hilda heard this command, it seemed to her at first as if it was impossible that she could obey it. For she was weary with her long journey along the golden road and over the mountain of amethyst, and the King's plough looked very heavy, and his whip very long; and, besides, she thought it was much beneath the dignity of a princess such as she was to be driven on all fours through a ploughed field. 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 said humbly,
Oh, King of the Gnomes! I am so sorry for my brother Hector, that for his sake I will do as you bid me, in the hope that afterwards you will tell me where the Golden Ivy-seed is to be found, so that Hector may be saved from Rumpty-Dudget's tower.'
The King made no reply whatever, but he harnessed Hilda to the plough, and she dragged it back and forth across the emerald field until the whole of it was ploughed, while the King followed behind with the whip. At last he unharnessed her.
'Now begone about your business!' he said roughly.
But you have not told me where the Golden Ivy-seed is,' said Hilda, with a piteous throb in her heart.
I have no Golden Ivy-seed!' returned the King, with his deep laugh. Why don't you ask yourself where it is?'
At this poor Hilda's heart felt as if it were broken, and she sank down on the ground and sobbed out,
'Oh! what shall I do to save my little brother?'
But hereupon the King of the Gnomes smiled upon her, and he said, in a gentler voice than he had yet used,
'Put your hand to your heart, Hilda, and see what you find there.'
Hilda did not understand what he meant; but she had by this time got so used to obeying him, that she put her hand to her heart, and felt something fall into the palm of her hand; and when in astonishment she looked at it, behold, it was a tiny golden seed.
'Yes,' said the King kindly, 'you might have searched through all the kingdoms of the earth and air, and yet never have found that precious seed, had not your heart been broken like this field, with love of your brother Hector. Keep the Golden Ivy-seed in this hollow pearl; be humble, patient and gentle, and sooner or later Hector will be free.'
As he said these words, he fastened the pearl to her girdle with a jewelled clasp, and kissed her on the forehead and bade her farewell. And as Hilda trudged back along the golden road and over the mountain of amethyst, she kept thinking that somewhere she had heard a voice like this King's before; but where or when she could not tell.
In course of time she arrived at the alabaster pillars, and passing out between them, she found Tom the Cat awaiting her. He got up and stretched himself as she approached, and when he saw the hollow pearl at her girdle he said,
'So far all has gone well. But now we must see whether or not Harold has kept the enchanted fire going. There is no time to be lost; so jump on my back and hold fast, and let us be off.'
With that, he curved his back; Hilda clasped her arms round his neck as before, and away they went, through the gleaming caverns, and up the sombre passages, and through the cold damp tunnels, until at last out they popped beside the haystack in the field; and after they had come out, the little brown creature which had been sitting waiting at the entrance, threw a summersault into the great pit and disappeared. And immediately the whole heap of earth which Tom had dug up fell back into its place, and nothing was left but a small round crevice in the ground, like a field-mouse's hole.
THE ENCHANTED FIRE.
Now Harold-after he had seen Hilda and the cat vanish up the trunk of the tall pine tree-had sat himself down rather disconsolately beside the fire, which was blazing away famously, yellow, red and blue. He rested his back against the trunk of the tree, and fixed his eyes upon the fire; it made a slight rustling and crackling noise as it burned. There was also another noise, but that did not come from the fire; it was a chopping noise, sounding far away in the forest, and Harold knew that it was Rumpty-Dudget cutting down the trees. Each time he heard this sound it seemed to be a little nearer. Then he would wonder to himself what he should do if Rumpty-Dudget were suddenly to appear. He must not, at all events, let the fire go out; and every once in a while he took a faggot from the pile that he and Hilda had heaped up, and put it in the leaping flame; but he was very careful to avoid stepping outside the circle which Tom the Cat had drawn with the tip of his tail.
In this manner a very long time passed away, and Harold, who had never.sat up so late before in his life, began to get uncommonly sleepy. But still Hilda and Tom did not return; and Harold knew that, if he were to lie down and take a nap, the enchanted fire might go out before he waked up again; and, as Tom had warned him, once out it could never be rekindled. Moreover, Rumpty-Dudget would then be able to steal the fire-blackened logs, and blacken poor Hector's face all over with them, so that he never could be saved. Therefore Harold kept himself awake, partly by sitting on a pine-needle which he had found stuck in the moss cushion, and partly by putting fresh faggots into the flame, which went on burning blue, yellow and red.
But another very long time passed away, and the sound of RumptyDudget's axe sounded nearer, and the forest was dark and full of mystery, and there was no sign yet of Hilda and the cat. 'I never knew before,' said Harold to himself, 'that a night was so much longer than a day. I always thought they were a great deal shorter. But then, I have no Fairy Aunt now, to come and whisper pleasant stories into my ear. Heigho! well, I suppose I must put on another faggot.' And he got up to fetch one.
Much to his consternation, however, he found that there was now only a single faggot left of all those that he and Hilda had gathered together.
He was really frightened at this, and knew not what to do; for this last faggot would soon be burnt up, and then what was to be done to keep the enchanted fire going? He made a careful search inside the ring, and satisfied himself that there was not so much as another chip to be found there; and Tom had told him that if he went outside the ring all would be lost.
However, the last faggot was not gone yet, and in order to make it last as long as possible, Harold took it apart and put only one stick at a time on the fire; but it was alarming to see how quickly the flame ate up one after another, and seemed hungrier than ever. After a while all but the last stick was gone. A little while more, and that had to be put in too. And then Prince Harold sat down quite in despair, and cried with all his might. He was at the end of everything, and at his wits' end too.
At that moment he heard a voice calling to him; and looking up he saw an odd little man standing just outside the circle, carrying a great bundle of faggots on his shoulder. Harold's eyes were so full of tears that he did not see that this odd little man was RumptyDudget himself; or else (what is quite as likely) the dwarf had some spell by means of which he could make himself appear different from what he was.
'What are you crying for, my poor dear little boy?' asked Rumpty-Dudget of Prince Harold, in his most coaxing voice.
'Because I have used up all my faggots,' he answered.
Used them all up? But surely there are plenty more in the forest, where those came from?' the dwarf answered in pretended surprise. 'Besides, what harm if the fire does go out? It isn't a cold night, and the moon will be up presently.'
'But if the fire goes out,' said Harold, my poor little brother Hector cannot be saved.'
Oh, that is the trouble, is it?' exclaimed the dwarf. Well now, it is lucky I happened to come along this way; you could not have met with a better adviser than I am. For I know all about this RumptyDudget, with whom your brother Hector is staying; and I saw Hector myself not an hour ago.'
'Oh, did you?' cried Harold, in great excitement.
'To be sure I did; and very well he looked, I can tell you! He
has done nothing but eat sugar-candy and blow on a tin whistle ever since he went there; and he says he wants nothing better than to stay with Rumpty-Dudget all his life. And, by the way, he asked me to tell you if I saw you that he hoped you and your sister would come and join; for that Rumpty-Dudget is the pleasantest fellow in the world, and not at all like what you had been made to believe him.' 'Oh-h!' exclaimed Harold, staring at Rumpty-Dudget with wide open eyes. I don't see how that can be true. Who are you?' 'A friend,' replied Rumpty-Dudget. And to prove it I have brought over this bundle of faggots; and when these are used up I will get you some more.'
"Oh, thank you very much!' exclaimed Harold, jumping for joy, and going as near to the inside edge of the circle as he could. 'Give them to me quick! for there is no time to be lost; the fire is just going out.'
'I can't bring them inside the circle,' said the dwarf, suddenly putting the bundle on the ground, and pretending to be very much exhausted. I have carried them already all the way from the further side of the forest, and that is far enough. Surely you can come the rest of the way for them yourself.'
'But I must not come outside the circle, you know,' said Harold, dancing up and down with impatience.
'Because Tom the Cat said that, if I did, all would go wrong."
'Pshaw! what should a cat know about a thing like this?' demanded the dwarf, very scornfully. At all events, your fire will burn less than a minute longer; and you know what will happen when it goes out!'
At that, Harold became almost beside himself with anxiety and bewilderment, and what to do he could not tell. But at last he thought that anything would be better than to let the fire go out; so he put one foot outside the circle, and stretched forth his hand for the faggots.
'Just the least bit further!' said the dwarf coaxingly. I would save you the trouble if I could; but I am really too tired to stir.'
Harold saw that by stretching about six inches further, he could reach a faggot. But, in order to stretch six inches, he would be obliged to put the other foot outside the circle. After all, what can it matter?' he thought. And the next moment there he was, outside!
Immediately, with a loud laugh, the dwarf flung away the faggots far into the depths of the forest; and rushing into the circle, he began to stamp out with his feet what was left of the enchanted
Then Harold recognised Rumpty-Dudget for the first time, for the spell was off him. And Harold remembered what Tom the Cat had said, and he leaped back into the circle, and as the last bit of flame flickered at the end of the stick, he laid himself down upon it. No. 610 (No. cxxx. x. s.)