"Man doth usurp all space,
- thee, in rock, bush, river, in
Never thine eyes behold a tree;
'Tis no sea thou seest in the sea,
'Tis but a disguised humanity.
To avoid thy fellow, vain thy plan;
All that interests a man, is man."
The trees, which were far apart where I entered, giving free
passage to the level rays of the sun, closed rapidly as I
advanced, so that ere long their crowded stems barred the
sunlight out, forming as it were a thick grating between me and
the East. I seemed to be advancing towards a second midnight.
In the midst of the intervening twilight, however, before I
entered what appeared to be the darkest portion of the forest, I
saw a country maiden coming towards me from its very depths. She
did not seem to observe me, for she was apparently intent upon a
bunch of wild flowers which she carried in her hand. I could
hardly see her face; for, though she came direct towards me, she
never looked up. But when we met, instead of passing, she turned
and walked alongside of me for a few yards, still keeping her
face downwards, and busied with her flowers. She spoke rapidly,
however, all the time, in a low tone, as if talking to herself,
but evidently addressing the purport of her words to me.
She seemed afraid of being observed by some lurking foe. "Trust
the Oak," said she; "trust the Oak, and the Elm, and the great
Beech. Take care of the Birch, for though she is honest, she is
too young not to be changeable. But shun the Ash and the Alder;
for the Ash is an ogre,--you will know him by his thick fingers;
and the Alder will smother you with her web of hair, if you let
her near you at night." All this was uttered without pause or
alteration of tone. Then she turned suddenly and left me,
walking still with the same unchanging gait. I could not
conjecture what she meant, but satisfied myself with thinking
that it would be time enough to find out her meaning when there
was need to make use of her warning, and that the occasion would
reveal the admonition. I concluded from the flowers that she
carried, that the forest could not be everywhere so dense as it
appeared from where I was now walking; and I was right in this
conclusion. For soon I came to a more open part, and by-and-by
crossed a wide grassy glade, on which were several circles of
brighter green. But even here I was struck with the utter
stillness. No bird sang. No insect hummed. Not a living
creature crossed my way. Yet somehow the whole environment
seemed only asleep, and to wear even in sleep an air of
expectation. The trees seemed all to have an expression of
conscious mystery, as if they said to themselves, "we could, an'
if we would." They had all a meaning look about them. Then I
remembered that night is the fairies' day, and the moon their
sun; and I thought--Everything sleeps and dreams now: when the
night comes, it will be different. At the same time I, being a
man and a child of the day, felt some anxiety as to how I should
fare among the elves and other children of the night who wake
when mortals dream, and find their common life in those wondrous
hours that flow noiselessly over the moveless death-like forms of
men and women and children, lying strewn and parted beneath the
weight of the heavy waves of night, which flow on and beat them
down, and hold them drowned and senseless, until the ebbtide
comes, and the waves sink away, back into the ocean of the dark.
But I took courage and went on. Soon, however, I became again
anxious, though from another cause. I had eaten nothing that
day, and for an hour past had been feeling the want of food. So
I grew afraid lest I should find nothing to meet my human
necessities in this strange place; but once more I comforted
myself with hope and went on.
Before noon, I fancied I saw a thin blue smoke rising amongst the
stems of larger trees in front of me; and soon I came to an open
spot of ground in which stood a little cottage, so built that the
stems of four great trees formed its corners, while their
branches met and intertwined over its roof, heaping a great cloud
of leaves over it, up towards the heavens. I wondered at finding
a human dwelling in this neighbourhood; and yet it did not look
altogether human, though sufficiently so to encourage me to
expect to find some sort of food. Seeing no door, I went round
to the other side, and there I found one, wide open. A woman sat
beside it, preparing some vegetables for dinner. This was homely
and comforting. As I came near, she looked up, and seeing me,
showed no surprise, but bent her head again over her work, and
said in a low tone:
"Did you see my daughter?"
"I believe I did," said I. "Can you give me something to eat,
for I am very hungry?"
"With pleasure," she replied, in the same tone; "but do not say
anything more, till you come into the house, for the Ash is
Having said this, she rose and led the way into the cottage;
which, I now saw, was built of the stems of small trees set
closely together, and was furnished with rough chairs and tables,
from which even the bark had not been removed. As soon as she
had shut the door and set a chair--
"You have fairy blood in you," said she, looking hard at me.
"How do you know that?"
"You could not have got so far into this wood if it were not so;
and I am trying to find out some trace of it in your countenance.
I think I see it."
"What do you see?"
"Oh, never mind: I may be mistaken in that."
"But how then do you come to live here?"
"Because I too have fairy blood in me."
Here I, in my turn, looked hard at her, and thought I could
perceive, notwithstanding the coarseness of her features, and
especially the heaviness of her eyebrows, a something unusual--I
could hardly call it grace, and yet it was an expression that
strangely contrasted with the form of her features. I noticed
too that her hands were delicately formed, though brown with work
"I should be ill," she continued, "if I did not live on the
borders of the fairies' country, and now and then eat of their
food. And I see by your eyes that you are not quite free of the
same need; though, from your education and the activity of your
mind, you have felt it less than I. You may be further removed
too from the fairy race."
I remembered what the lady had said about my grandmothers.
Here she placed some bread and some milk before me, with a kindly
apology for the homeliness of the fare, with which, however, I
was in no humour to quarrel. I now thought it time to try to get
some explanation of the strange words both of her daughter and
"What did you mean by speaking so about the Ash?"
She rose and looked out of the little window. My eyes followed
her; but as the window was too small to allow anything to be seen
from where I was sitting, I rose and looked over her shoulder. I
had just time to see, across the open space, on the edge of the
denser forest, a single large ash-tree, whose foliage showed
bluish, amidst the truer green of the other trees around it; when
she pushed me back with an expression of impatience and terror,
and then almost shut out the light from the window by setting up
a large old book in it.
"In general," said she, recovering her composure, "there is no
danger in the daytime, for then he is sound asleep; but there is
something unusual going on in the woods; there must be some
solemnity among the fairies to-night, for all the trees are
restless, and although they cannot come awake, they see and hear
in their sleep."
"But what danger is to be dreaded from him?"
Instead of answering the question, she went again to the window
and looked out, saying she feared the fairies would be
interrupted by foul weather, for a storm was brewing in the west.
"And the sooner it grows dark, the sooner the Ash will be awake,"
I asked her how she knew that there was any unusual excitement in
the woods. She replied--
"Besides the look of the trees, the dog there is unhappy; and the
eyes and ears of the white rabbit are redder than usual, and he
frisks about as if he expected some fun. If the cat were at
home, she would have her back up; for the young fairies pull the
sparks out of her tail with bramble thorns, and she knows when
they are coming. So do I, in another way."
At this instant, a grey cat rushed in like a demon, and
disappeared in a hole in the wall.
"There, I told you!" said the woman.
"But what of the ash-tree?" said I, returning once more to the
subject. Here, however, the young woman, whom I had met in the
morning, entered. A smile passed between the mother and
daughter; and then the latter began to help her mother in little
"I should like to stay here till the evening," I said; "and then
go on my journey, if you will allow me."
"You are welcome to do as you please; only it might be better to
stay all night, than risk the dangers of the wood then. Where
are you going?"
"Nay, that I do not know," I replied, "but I wish to see all that
is to be seen, and therefore I should like to start just at
"You are a bold youth, if you have any idea of what you are
daring; but a rash one, if you know nothing about it; and, excuse
me, you do not seem very well informed about the country and its
manners. However, no one comes here but for some reason, either
known to himself or to those who have charge of him; so you shall
do just as you wish."
Accordingly I sat down, and feeling rather tired, and disinclined
for further talk, I asked leave to look at the old book which
still screened the window. The woman brought it to me directly,
but not before taking another look towards the forest, and then
drawing a white blind over the window. I sat down opposite to it
by the table, on which I laid the great old volume, and read. It
contained many wondrous tales of Fairy Land, and olden times, and
the Knights of King Arthur's table. I read on and on, till the
shades of the afternoon began to deepen; for in the midst of the
forest it gloomed earlier than in the open country. At length I
came to this passage--
"Here it chanced, that upon their quest, Sir Galahad and Sir
Percivale rencountered in the depths of a great forest. Now, Sir
Galahad was dight all in harness of silver, clear and shining;
the which is a delight to look upon, but full hasty to tarnish,
and withouten the labour of a ready squire, uneath to be kept
fair and clean. And yet withouten squire or page, Sir Galahad's
armour shone like the moon. And he rode a great white mare,
whose bases and other housings were black, but all besprent with
fair lilys of silver sheen. Whereas Sir Percivale bestrode a red
horse, with a tawny mane and tail; whose trappings were all to-
smirched with mud and mire; and his armour was wondrous rosty to
behold, ne could he by any art furbish it again; so that as the
sun in his going down shone twixt the bare trunks of the trees,
full upon the knights twain, the one did seem all shining with
light, and the other all to glow with ruddy fire. Now it came
about in this wise. For Sir Percivale, after his escape from the
demon lady, whenas the cross on the handle of his sword smote him
to the heart, and he rove himself through the thigh, and escaped
away, he came to a great wood; and, in nowise cured of his fault,
yet bemoaning the same, the damosel of the alder tree encountered
him, right fair to see; and with her fair words and false
countenance she comforted him and beguiled him, until he followed
her where she led him to a---"
Here a low hurried cry from my hostess caused me to look up from
the book, and I read no more.
"Look there!" she said; "look at his fingers!"
Just as I had been reading in the book, the setting sun was
shining through a cleft in the clouds piled up in the west; and a
shadow as of a large distorted hand, with thick knobs and humps
on the fingers, so that it was much wider across the fingers than
across the undivided part of the hand, passed slowly over the
little blind, and then as slowly returned in the opposite
"He is almost awake, mother; and greedier than usual to-night."
"Hush, child; you need not make him more angry with us than he
is; for you do not know how soon something may happen to oblige
us to be in the forest after nightfall."
"But you are in the forest," said I; "how is it that you are safe
"He dares not come nearer than he is now," she replied; "for any
of those four oaks, at the corners of our cottage, would tear him
to pieces; they are our friends. But he stands there and makes
awful faces at us sometimes, and stretches out his long arms and
fingers, and tries to kill us with fright; for, indeed, that is
his favourite way of doing. Pray, keep out of his way to-night."
"Shall I be able to see these things?" said I.
"That I cannot tell yet, not knowing how much of the fairy nature
there is in you. But we shall soon see whether you can discern
the fairies in my little garden, and that will be some guide to
"Are the trees fairies too, as well as the flowers?" I asked.
"They are of the same race," she replied; "though those you call
fairies in your country are chiefly the young children of the
flower fairies. They are very fond of having fun with the thick
people, as they call you; for, like most children, they like fun
better than anything else."
"Why do you have flowers so near you then? Do they not annoy
"Oh, no, they are very amusing, with their mimicries of grown
people, and mock solemnities. Sometimes they will act a whole
play through before my eyes, with perfect composure and
assurance, for they are not afraid of me. Only, as soon as they
have done, they burst into peals of tiny laughter, as if it was
such a joke to have been serious over anything. These I speak
of, however, are the fairies of the garden. They are more staid
and educated than those of the fields and woods. Of course they
have near relations amongst the wild flowers, but they patronise
them, and treat them as country cousins, who know nothing of
life, and very little of manners. Now and then, however, they
are compelled to envy the grace and simplicity of the natural
"Do they live IN the flowers?" I said.
"I cannot tell," she replied. "There is something in it I do not
understand. Sometimes they disappear altogether, even from me,
though I know they are near. They seem to die always with the
flowers they resemble, and by whose names they are called; but
whether they return to life with the fresh flowers, or, whether
it be new flowers, new fairies, I cannot tell. They have as many
sorts of dispositions as men and women, while their moods are yet
more variable; twenty different expressions will cross their
little faces in half a minute. I often amuse myself with
watching them, but I have never been able to make personal
acquaintance with any of them. If I speak to one, he or she
looks up in my face, as if I were not worth heeding, gives a
little laugh, and runs away." Here the woman started, as if
suddenly recollecting herself, and said in a low voice to her
daughter, "Make haste--go and watch him, and see in what
direction he goes."
I may as well mention here, that the conclusion I arrived at from
the observations I was afterwards able to make, was, that the
flowers die because the fairies go away; not that the fairies
disappear because the flowers die. The flowers seem a sort of
houses for them, or outer bodies, which they can put on or off
when they please. Just as you could form some idea of the nature
of a man from the kind of house he built, if he followed his own
taste, so you could, without seeing the fairies, tell what any
one of them is like, by looking at the flower till you feel that
you understand it. For just what the flower says to you, would
the face and form of the fairy say; only so much more plainly as
a face and human figure can express more than a flower. For the
house or the clothes, though like the inhabitant or the wearer,
cannot be wrought into an equal power of utterance. Yet you
would see a strange resemblance, almost oneness, between the
flower and the fairy, which you could not describe, but which
described itself to you. Whether all the flowers have fairies, I
cannot determine, any more than I can be sure whether all men and
women have souls.
The woman and I continued the conversation for a few minutes
longer. I was much interested by the information she gave me,
and astonished at the language in which she was able to convey
it. It seemed that intercourse with the fairies was no bad
education in itself. But now the daughter returned with the
news, that the Ash had just gone away in a south-westerly
direction; and, as my course seemed to lie eastward, she hoped I
should be in no danger of meeting him if I departed at once. I
looked out of the little window, and there stood the ash-tree, to
my eyes the same as before; but I believed that they knew better
than I did, and prepared to go. I pulled out my purse, but to my
dismay there was nothing in it. The woman with a smile begged me
not to trouble myself, for money was not of the slightest use
there; and as I might meet with people in my journeys whom I
could not recognise to be fairies, it was well I had no money to
offer, for nothing offended them so much.
"They would think," she added, "that you were making game of
them; and that is their peculiar privilege with regard to us."
So we went together into the little garden which sloped down
towards a lower part of the wood.
Here, to my great pleasure, all was life and bustle. There was
still light enough from the day to see a little; and the pale
half-moon, halfway to the zenith, was reviving every moment. The
whole garden was like a carnival, with tiny, gaily decorated
forms, in groups, assemblies, processions, pairs or trios, moving
stately on, running about wildly, or sauntering hither or
thither. From the cups or bells of tall flowers, as from
balconies, some looked down on the masses below, now bursting
with laughter, now grave as owls; but even in their deepest
solemnity, seeming only to be waiting for the arrival of the next
laugh. Some were launched on a little marshy stream at the
bottom, in boats chosen from the heaps of last year's leaves that
lay about, curled and withered. These soon sank with them;
whereupon they swam ashore and got others. Those who took fresh
rose-leaves for their boats floated the longest; but for these
they had to fight; for the fairy of the rose-tree complained
bitterly that they were stealing her clothes, and defended her
"You can't wear half you've got," said some.
"Never you mind; I don't choose you to have them: they are my
"All for the good of the community!" said one, and ran off with a
great hollow leaf. But the rose-fairy sprang after him (what a
beauty she was! only too like a drawing-room young lady), knocked
him heels-over-head as he ran, and recovered her great red leaf.
But in the meantime twenty had hurried off in different
directions with others just as good; and the little creature sat
down and cried, and then, in a pet, sent a perfect pink snowstorm
of petals from her tree, leaping from branch to branch, and
stamping and shaking and pulling. At last, after another good
cry, she chose the biggest she could find, and ran away laughing,
to launch her boat amongst the rest.
But my attention was first and chiefly attracted by a group of
fairies near the cottage, who were talking together around what
seemed a last dying primrose. They talked singing, and their
talk made a song, something like this:
"Sister Snowdrop died
Before we were born."
"She came like a bride
In a snowy morn."
"What's a bride?"
"What is snow?
"Do not know."
"Who told you about her?"
"Little Primrose there
Cannot do without her."
"Oh, so sweetly fair!"
She will come,
"Is she dumb?"
"She'll come by-and-by."
"You will never see her."
"She went home to dies,
"Till the new year."
"Snowdrop!" "'Tis no good
To invite her."
"Primrose is very rude,
"I will bite her."
"Oh, you naughty Pocket!
"Look, she drops her head."
"She deserved it, Rocket,
"And she was nearly dead."
- your hammock--off with you!"
"And swing alone."
- one will laugh with you."
"No, not one."
"Now let us moan."
"And cover her o'er."
"Primrose is gone."
"All but the flower."
"Here is a leaf."
"Lay her upon it."
"Follow in grief."
"Pocket has done it."
"Deeper, poor creature!
Winter may come."
- cannot reach her--
That is a hum."
"She is buried, the beauty!"
"Now she is done."
"That was the duty."
"Now for the fun."
And with a wild laugh they sprang away, most of them towards the
cottage. During the latter part of the song-talk, they had
formed themselves into a funeral procession, two of them bearing
poor Primrose, whose death Pocket had hastened by biting her
stalk, upon one of her own great leaves. They bore her solemnly
along some distance, and then buried her under a tree. Although
I say HER I saw nothing but the withered primrose-flower on its
long stalk. Pocket, who had been expelled from the company by
common consent, went sulkily away towards her hammock, for she
was the fairy of the calceolaria, and looked rather wicked. When
she reached its stem, she stopped and looked round. I could not
help speaking to her, for I stood near her. I said, "Pocket, how
could you be so naughty?"
"I am never naughty," she said, half-crossly, half-defiantly;
"only if you come near my hammock, I will bite you, and then you
will go away."
"Why did you bite poor Primrose?"
"Because she said we should never see Snowdrop; as if we were not
good enough to look at her, and she was, the proud thing!--served
"Oh, Pocket, Pocket," said I; but by this time the party which
had gone towards the house, rushed out again, shouting and
screaming with laughter. Half of them were on the cat's back,
and half held on by her fur and tail, or ran beside her; till,
more coming to their help, the furious cat was held fast; and
they proceeded to pick the sparks out of her with thorns and
pins, which they handled like harpoons. Indeed, there were more
instruments at work about her than there could have been sparks
in her. One little fellow who held on hard by the tip of the
tail, with his feet planted on the ground at an angle of forty-
five degrees, helping to keep her fast, administered a continuous
flow of admonitions to Pussy.
"Now, Pussy, be patient. You know quite well it is all for your
good. You cannot be comfortable with all those sparks in you;
and, indeed, I am charitably disposed to believe" (here he became
very pompous) "that they are the cause of all your bad temper; so
we must have them all out, every one; else we shall be reduced to
the painful necessity of cutting your claws, and pulling out your
eye-teeth. Quiet! Pussy, quiet!"
But with a perfect hurricane of feline curses, the poor animal
broke loose, and dashed across the garden and through the hedge,
faster than even the fairies could follow. "Never mind, never
mind, we shall find her again; and by that time she will have
laid in a fresh stock of sparks. Hooray!" And off they set,
after some new mischief.
But I will not linger to enlarge on the amusing display of these
frolicsome creatures. Their manners and habits are now so well
known to the world, having been so often described by
eyewitnesses, that it would be only indulging self-conceit, to
add my account in full to the rest. I cannot help wishing,
however, that my readers could see them for themselves.
Especially do I desire that they should see the fairy of the
daisy; a little, chubby, round-eyed child, with such innocent
trust in his look! Even the most mischievous of the fairies
would not tease him, although he did not belong to their set at
all, but was quite a little country bumpkin. He wandered about
alone, and looked at everything, with his hands in his little
pockets, and a white night-cap on, the darling! He was not so
beautiful as many other wild flowers I saw afterwards, but so
dear and loving in his looks and little confident ways.