IN a great forest, high up among the green boughs, lived Bird Brown-Breast, and his bright-eyed little mate. They were now very happy; their home was done, the four blue eggs lay in the soft nest, and the little wife sat still and patient on them, while the husband sang, and told her charming tales, and brought her sweet berries and little worms.
Things went smoothly on, till one day she found in the nest a little white egg, with a golden band about it.
"My friend," cried she, "come and see! Where can this fine egg have come from? My four are here, and this also; what think you of it?"
The husband shook his head gravely, and said, "Be not alarmed, my love; it is doubtless some good Fairy who has given us this, and we shall find some gift within; do not let us touch it, but do you sit carefully upon it, and we shall see in time what has been sent us."
So they said nothing about it, and soon their home had four little chirping children; and then the white egg opened, and, behold, a little maiden lay singing within. Then how amazed were they, and how they welcomed her, as she lay warm beneath the mother's wing, and how the young birds did love her.
Great joy was in the forest, and proud were the parents of their family, and still more of the little one who had come to them; while all the neighbors flocked in, to see Dame Brown-Breast's little child. And the tiny maiden talked to them, and sang so merrily, that they could have listened for ever. Soon she was the joy of the whole forest, dancing from tree to tree, making every nest her home, and none were ever so welcome as little Bud; and so they lived right merrily in the green old forest.
The father now had much to do to supply his family with food, and choice morsels did he bring little Bud. The wild fruits were her food, the fresh dew in the flower-cups her drink, while the green leaves served her for little robes; and thus she found garments in the flowers of the field, and a happy home with Mother Brown-Breast; and all in the wood, from the stately trees to the little mosses in the turf, were friends to the merry child.
And each day she taught the young birds sweet songs, and as their gay music rang through the old forest, the stern, dark pines ceased their solemn waving, that they might hear the soft sounds stealing through the dim wood-paths, and mortal children came to listen, saying softly, "Hear the flowers sing, and touch them not, for the Fairies are here."
Then came a band of sad little Elves to Bud, praying that they might hear the sweet music; and when she took them by the hand, and spoke gently to them, they wept and said sadly, when she asked them whence they came,—
"We dwelt once in Fairy-Land, and O how happy were we then! But alas! we were not worthy of so fair a home, and were sent forth into the cold world. Look at our robes, they are like the withered leaves; our wings are dim, our crowns are gone, and we lead sad, lonely lives in this dark forest. Let us stay with you; your gay music sounds like Fairy songs, and you have such a friendly way with you, and speak so gently to us. It is good to be near one so lovely and so kind; and you can tell us how we may again become fair and innocent. Say we may stay with you, kind little maiden."
And Bud said, "Yes," and they stayed; but her kind little heart was grieved that they wept so sadly, and all she could say could not make them happy; till at last she said,—
"Do not weep, and I will go to Queen Dew-Drop, and beseech her to let you come back. I will tell her that you are repentant, and will do anything to gain her love again; that you are sad, and long to be forgiven. This will I say, and more, and trust she will grant my prayer."
"She will not say no to you, dear Bud," said the poor little Fairies; "she will love you as we do, and if we can but come again to our lost home, we cannot give you thanks enough. Go, Bud, and if there be power in Fairy gifts, you shall be as happy as our hearts' best love can make you."
The tidings of Bud's departure flew through the forest, and all her friends came to say farewell, as with the morning sun she would go; and each brought some little gift, for the land of Fairies was far away, and she must journey long.
"Nay, you shall not go on your feet, my child," said Mother Brown-Breast; "your friend Golden-Wing shall carry you. Call him hither, that I may seat you rightly, for if you should fall off my heart would break."
Then up came Golden-Wing, and Bud was safely seated on the cushion of violet-leaves; and it was really charming to see her merry little face, peeping from under the broad brim of her cow-slip hat, as her butterfly steed stood waving his bright wings in the sunlight. Then came the bee with his yellow honey-bags, which he begged she would take, and the little brown spider that lived under the great leaves brought a veil for her hat, and besought her to wear it, lest the sun should shine too brightly; while the ant came bringing a tiny strawberry, lest she should miss her favorite fruit. The mother gave her good advice, and the papa stood with his head on one side, and his round eyes twinkling with delight, to think that his little Bud was going to Fairy-Land.
Then they all sang gayly together, till she passed out of sight over the hills, and they saw her no more.
And now Bud left the old forest far behind her. Golden-Wing bore her swiftly along, and she looked down on the green mountains, and the peasant's cottages, that stood among overshadowing trees; and the earth looked bright, with its broad, blue rivers winding through soft meadows, the singing birds, and flowers, who kept their bright eyes ever on the sky.
And she sang gayly as they floated in the clear air, while her friend kept time with his waving wings, and ever as they went along all grew fairer; and thus they came to Fairy-Land.
As Bud passed through the gates, she no longer wondered that the exiled Fairies wept and sorrowed for the lovely home they had lost. Bright clouds floated in the sunny sky, casting a rainbow light on the Fairy palaces below, where the Elves were dancing; while the low, sweet voices of the singing flowers sounded softly through the fragrant air, and mingled with the music of the rippling waves, as they flowed on beneath the blossoming vines that drooped above them.
All was bright and beautiful; but kind little Bud would not linger, for the forms of the weeping Fairies were before her; and though the blossoms nodded gayly on their stems to welcome her, and the soft winds kissed her cheek, she would not stay, but on to the Flower Palace she went, into a pleasant hall whose walls were formed of crimson roses, amid whose leaves sat little Elves, making sweet music on their harps. When they saw Bud, they gathered round her, and led her through the flower-wreathed arches to a group of the most beautiful Fairies, who were gathered about a stately lily, in whose fragrant cup sat one whose purple robe and glittering crown told she was their Queen.
Bud knelt before her, and, while tears streamed down her little face, she told her errand, and pleaded earnestly that the exiled Fairies might be forgiven, and not be left to pine far from their friends and kindred. And as she prayed, many wept with her; and when she ceased, and waited for her answer, many knelt beside her, praying forgiveness for the unhappy Elves.
With tearful eyes, Queen Dew-Drop replied,—
"Little maiden, your prayer has softened my heart. They shall not be left sorrowing and alone, nor shall you go back without a kindly word to cheer and comfort them. We will pardon their fault, and when they can bring hither a perfect Fairy crown, robe, and wand, they shall be again received as children of their loving Queen. The task is hard, for none but the best and purest can form the Fairy garments; yet with patience they may yet restore their robes to their former brightness. Farewell, good little maiden; come with them, for but for you they would have dwelt for ever without the walls of Fairy-Land."
"Good speed to you, and farewell," cried they all, as, with loving messages to their poor friends, they bore her to the gates.
Day after day toiled little Bud, cheering the Fairies, who, angry and disappointed, would not listen to her gentle words, but turned away and sat alone weeping. They grieved her kind heart with many cruel words; but patiently she bore with them, and when they told her they could never perform so hard a task, and must dwell for ever in the dark forest, she answered gently, that the snow-white lily must be planted, and watered with repentant tears, before the robe of innocence could be won; that the sun of love must shine in their hearts, before the light could return to their dim crowns, and deeds of kindness must be performed, ere the power would come again to their now useless wands.
Then they planted the lilies; but they soon drooped and died, and no light came to their crowns. They did no gentle deeds, but cared only for themselves; and when they found their labor was in vain, they tried no longer, but sat weeping. Bud, with ceaseless toil and patient care, tended the lilies, which bloomed brightly, the crowns grew bright, and in her hands the wands had power over birds and blossoms, for she was striving to give happiness to others, forgetful of herself. And the idle Fairies, with thankful words, took the garments from her, and then with Bud went forth to Fairy-Land, and stood with beating hearts before the gates; where crowds of Fairy friends came forth to welcome them.
But when Queen Dew-Drop touched them with her wand, as they passed in, the light faded from their crowns, their robes became like withered leaves, and their wands were powerless.
Amid the tears of all the Fairies, the Queen led them to the gates, and said,—
"Farewell! It is not in my power to aid you; innocence and love are not within your hearts, and were it not for this untiring little maiden, who has toiled while you have wept, you never would have entered your lost home. Go and strive again, for till all is once more fair and pure, I cannot call you mine."
"Farewell!" sang the weeping Fairies, as the gates closed on their outcast friends; who, humbled and broken-hearted, gathered around Bud; and she, with cheering words, guided them back to the forest.
Time passed on, and the Fairies had done nothing to gain their lovely home again. They wept no longer, but watched little Bud, as she daily tended the flowers, restoring their strength and beauty, or with gentle words flew from nest to nest, teaching the little birds to live happily together; and wherever she went blessings fell, and loving hearts were filled with gratitude.
Then, one by one, the Elves secretly did some little work of kindness, and found a quiet joy come back to repay them. Flowers looked lovingly up as they passed, birds sang to cheer them when sad thoughts made them weep. And soon little Bud found out their gentle deeds, and her friendly words gave them new strength. So day after day they followed her, and like a band of guardian spirits they flew far and wide, carrying with them joy and peace.
And not only birds and flowers blessed them, but human beings also; for with tender hands they guided little children from danger, and kept their young hearts free from evil thoughts; they whispered soothing words to the sick, and brought sweet odors and fair flowers to their lonely rooms. They sent lovely visions to the old and blind, to make their hearts young and bright with happy thoughts.
But most tenderly did they watch over the poor and sorrowing, and many a poor mother blessed the unseen hands that laid food before her hungry little ones, and folded warm garments round their naked limbs. Many a poor man wondered at the fair flowers that sprang up in his little garden-plot, cheering him with their bright forms, and making his dreary home fair with their loveliness, and looked at his once barren field, where now waved the golden corn, turning its broad leaves to the warm sun, and promising a store of golden ears to give him food; while the care-worn face grew bright, and the troubled heart filled with gratitude towards the invisible spirits who had brought him such joy.
Thus time passed on, and though the exiled Fairies longed often for their home, still, knowing they did not deserve it, they toiled on, hoping one day to see the friends they had lost; while the joy of their own hearts made their life full of happiness.
One day came little Bud to them, saying,—
"Listen, dear friends. I have a hard task to offer you. It is a great sacrifice for you light loving Fairies to dwell through the long winter in the dark, cold earth, watching over the flower roots, to keep them free from the little grubs and worms that seek to harm them. But in the sunny Spring when they bloom again, their love and gratitude will give you happy homes among their bright leaves.
"It is a wearisome task, and I can give you no reward for all your tender care, but the blessings of the gentle flowers you will have saved from death. Gladly would I aid you; but my winged friends are preparing for their journey to warmer lands, and I must help them teach their little ones to fly, and see them safely on their way. Then, through the winter, must I seek the dwellings of the poor and suffering, comfort the sick and lonely, and give hope and courage to those who in their poverty are led astray. These things must I do; but when the flowers bloom again I will be with you, to welcome back our friends from over the sea."
Then, with tears, the Fairies answered, "Ah, good little Bud, you have taken the hardest task yourself, and who will repay you for all your deeds of tenderness and mercy in the great world? Should evil befall you, our hearts would break. We will labor trustingly in the earth, and thoughts of you shall cheer us on; for without you we had been worthless beings, and never known the joy that kindly actions bring. Yes, dear Bud, we will gladly toil among the roots, that the fair flowers may wear their gayest robes to welcome you."
Then deep in the earth the Fairies dwelt, and no frost or snow could harm the blossoms they tended. Every little seed was laid in the soft earth, watered, and watched. Tender roots were folded in withered leaves, that no chilling drops might reach them; and safely dreamed the flowers, till summer winds should call them forth; while lighter grew each Fairy heart, as every gentle deed was tenderly performed.
At length the snow was gone, and they heard little voices calling them to come up; but patiently they worked, till seed and root were green and strong. Then, with eager feet, they hastened to the earth above, where, over hill and valley, bright flowers and budding trees smiled in the warm sunlight, blossoms bent lovingly before them, and rang their colored bells, till the fragrant air was full of music; while the stately trees waved their great arms above them, and scattered soft leaves at their feet.
Then came the merry birds, making the wood alive with their gay voices, calling to one another, as they flew among the vines, building their little homes. Long waited the Elves, and at last she came with Father Brown-Breast. Happy days passed; and summer flowers were in their fullest beauty, when Bud bade the Fairies come with her.
Mounted on bright-winged butterflies, they flew over forest and meadow, till with joyful eyes they saw the flower-crowned walls of Fairy-Land.
Before the gates they stood, and soon troops of loving Elves came forth to meet them. And on through the sunny gardens they went, into the Lily Hall, where, among the golden stamens of a graceful flower, sat the Queen; while on the broad, green leaves around it stood the brighteyed little maids of honor.
Then, amid the deep silence, little Bud, leading the Fairies to the throne, said,—
"Dear Queen, I here bring back your subjects, wiser for their sorrow, better for their hard trial; and now might any Queen be proud of them, and bow to learn from them that giving joy and peace to others brings it fourfold to us, bearing a double happiness in the blessings to those we help. Through the dreary months, when they might have dwelt among fair Southern flowers, beneath a smiling sky, they toiled in the dark and silent earth, filling the hearts of the gentle Flower Spirits with grateful love, seeking no reward but the knowledge of their own good deeds, and the joy they always bring. This they have done unmurmuringly and alone; and now, far and wide, flower blessings fall upon them, and the summer winds bear the glad tidings unto those who droop in sorrow, and new joy and strength it brings, as they look longingly for the friends whose gentle care hath brought such happiness to their fair kindred.
"Are they not worthy of your love, dear Queen? Have they not won their lovely home? Say they are pardoned, and you have gained the love of hearts pure as the snow-white robes now folded over them."
As Bud ceased, she touched the wondering Fairies with her wand, and the dark faded garments fell away; and beneath, the robes of lily-leaves glittered pure and spotless in the sun-light. Then, while happy tears fell, Queen Dew-Drop placed the bright crowns on the bowed heads of the kneeling Fairies, and laid before them the wands their own good deeds had rendered powerful.
They turned to thank little Bud for all her patient love, but she was gone; and high above, in the clear air, they saw the little form journeying back to the quiet forest.
She needed no reward but the joy she had given. The Fairy hearts were pure again, and her work was done; yet all Fairy-Land had learned a lesson from gentle little Bud.
"Now, little Sunbeam, what have you to tell us?" said the Queen, looking down on a bright-eyed Elf, who sat half hidden in the deep moss at her feet.
"I too, like Star-Twinkle, have nothing but a song to offer," replied the Fairy; and then, while the nightingale's sweet voice mingled with her own, she sang,—