Sunday, March 18, 2012

Fairies Afield, by Mary Louisa Molesworth - Full Text




155 Sloane Street, S.W.
May 8, 1911.

Pretty Ysenda.

"Ask the Robin"

Once upon a time—a fairly long ago time—there lived in a neat little cottage two young girls who were sisters. If you had gone to see them on a bright warm summer's day, I daresay you would have envied them and their life and their lot. For they were pretty and healthy and they loved each other dearly, and the cottage was charming to look at, in its dress of clustering roses and honeysuckle and traveller's joy, and other sweet and beautiful climbing, flowering plants. Furthermore, it stood in a little garden filled with treasures of different kinds, pansies, of which there was a great variety, and lilies and mignonette and all the flowers one loves to see in an old-fashioned garden of the kind. And the sisters kept it in perfect order, the beds were always raked, there was never a weed to be seen, the tiny plots of grass were like velvet.
In spring too it was very pretty, when first the snowdrops and then the crocuses and primroses and violets woke up after their long winter sleep, and in autumn also there was a show of beauties, dahlias and chrysanthemums and kitchen pokers and other pretty things of the season.
And indeed, even in winter, the place had its charm, of evergreen shrubs and bright berries and—till the snow came and made an end of all but the hardiest plants, the still remaining lovely variegated leaves of late autumn.
No care or skill was wanting to keep the whole as pretty as could possibly be, for the sisters' father was a gardener, and from him they had learnt both love of growing things and knowledge of all needed for their welfare. And not so very long before this story begins I doubt if Aria or Linde—these were the girls' names—cared what time of year it was, for all were happy days to them. Glowing summer, sparkling spring, rich mellow autumn, even winter, often cold and grey—all brought joy and gladness, till one sad night terrible sorrow fell upon them. Their father was drowned on his way home from market, in crossing a swollen stream, whose rushing waters broke down the little wooden bridge, over which in the darkness he was driving his small pony-cart. And as the poor girls' mother had died years before, they were now truly orphans.
The neighbours—such as there were, for there were but few—were sorry for them and kind, as far as they could be. But it was a lonely part of the world. The gardens where the drowned man had been one of the labourers belonged to a rich landowner who seldom visited his property, and all that the place produced was sent to the nearest town and there sold. Thus there was no one of importance to take much interest in Aria or Linde, except the steward of the castle, who advised them to look for situations as servants, and when they wept and said they could not bear to be parted, he got angry and called them fools and left them alone.
For a short time they got on pretty well. They were still very young—Aria barely seventeen and Linde only fourteen, but they were active and capable and ready-witted, and their father had managed to save a little, though, alas, but a little.
Aria made it last as long as she possibly could. It was summer, and they needed but small fires and cheaper clothing and even—so it seemed to them—simpler food than in the cold weather. Then they were able to earn a fair amount by odd work in the hay-fields and so on, when work was at its best. And once a week, at least, they trudged all the way to market laden with their loveliest flowers, tied up with great taste and care, and sometimes, as the season advanced, baskets full of the wild fruit that they gathered in the forest hard by. Have I told you that their home was on the edge of a forest? No? Ah well, never mind, we shall hear more of the forest by and by.
But summer, and even autumn, only stay for their appointed time. As they stood at the cottage door one morning late in October, Aria's face grew very grave. It was a chilly day, the sky overcast and steely, a sort of sighing in the air as if the spirits of the summer and the sunshine were bidding the world a reluctant farewell, frightened away by the fast-approaching winter.
It was Friday, the day before the market, to which so far they had never missed wending their way, even if the weather were wet or stormy, as it must be now and then at all times of the year.
"How dull and cold it is!" said Linde with a little shiver. "Aria, I wish we didn't need to go all the way to market to-morrow, if it's going to be like this."
Aria looked at her without speaking for a moment. Then she said very seriously:
"You are thoughtless, Linde, but then of course you are much younger than I, poor child. You say you wish we need not go to the town to-morrow? My dear, I am only afraid that your wish will come true! I don't see what we have to take to market—the fruit is all over and we have but very few flowers to tie up."
Linde's face fell. Then she brightened up a little.
"There are lots of lovely leaves," she said.
Aria glanced over the garden.
"Yes," she replied. "I think we may manage two or three good bunches for to-morrow, and possibly for another Saturday too. And—" she went on, "it has struck me that some of the townsfolk, who are always glad to buy our flowers, might care for our dried rose-leaves—we have quite a large jar-full, you know."
Linde clapped her hands.
"What a good idea!" she cried. "Oh I'm sure the leaves would sell. So few of the ladies in the town have proper gardens of their own."
"Or time to look after them, luckily for us," said Aria, "otherwise our flowers would not be in such request."
For though little Linde spoke of their customers as "ladies," the good housekeepers of the small but busy town were mostly of the working-class themselves—that is to say, wives or mothers of the men employed in the china manufactories on which the place depended, and in those days, long, long before railway lines, there were no such things as flower shops. The only chance of getting fresh garden produce was the market.
"Luckily for us too," Aria went on, "there are no great gardens near, except at the castle, and father often said it was hard work to keep the countess supplied with flowers enough, even though she sent express messengers for them twice a week."
"All the same," said Linde rather dolefully, "I wish father hadn't been a gardener. Flowers are so delicate and wither so soon. If we'd had a little dairy now—or even poultry, and could have sold butter and eggs, and chickens. They'd have gone on all the year round."
"Linde, dear, father never had money enough to buy cows or even poultry," said Aria with a sigh. "And it would have been difficult to get much to the market, so far off as it is, without a cart and pony, and how could we have bought these?"
For the pony which had perished with the poor man was the property of his master, though he was sometimes allowed to carry shrubs and bulbs of his own to market, with the castle vegetables, when he went to sell them at the town.
Linde did not answer. Her spirits were very apt to go up and down all in a minute, so Aria spoke again more cheerfully.
"Yes," she said, "I'm glad I thought of the rose-leaves. They are really most fragrant still. I lifted the lid yesterday for a moment. The powder that father gave me to throw among them was wonderfully good. I wish we had more of it."
"Is it quite done?" asked Linde.
"Very nearly. It was given to mother, you know, when she was a bride by an old woman who was her godmother. She declared it had fairy power and would never grow stale. And so it has proved. We may safely promise any who buy the leaves that they will scent their linen even better than lavender, and more lastingly. Come along, Linde, and let's see how we can best take a good parcel of them with us to-morrow," and Linde's interest revived again, as she followed her sister indoors.
The dried leaves—what are often called "pot pourri," though the simple sisters had never heard the name—were kept in a very large jar, of old-fashioned stoneware. It had a lid, and would nowadays be highly valued as rare and antique. But of this its owners knew nothing. They only loved it for their parents' sake, as it too had been a wedding gift from the godmother. And whence she had got it no one had ever known. She was herself a rather mysterious person. Folks used to say—so Aria remembered having heard when she was a little girl, helping her mother to gather rose-leaves to fill the jar—that there was something of fairy nature about her.
"And however that may have been," said Aria, as she repeated this to Linde, "certainly her gifts have proved lasting. The jar has been knocked over several times, you know, and never broken, and the powder is as fresh as a newly gathered rose."
"Yes," Linde agreed, after a good long sniff at the jar's contents. "It's delicious. It makes me think of all sorts of lovely summer things."

"It makes me think of all sorts of lovely summer things."

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