But when she was gone, and the door was shut and locked—they heard the great key scrape—Eric turned joyfully to Ivra. She was staring intently at the closed door, her face very pale. Suddenly she buried her head in her arms and burst into sobs, hoarse, jerky sobs, the first and the last time Eric was ever to hear her cry. Eric and the Wind Children sat cross-legged and waited. Soon she stopped and wiped her face on her sleeve.
“She is locked in, but she will find a way home,” she said, almost laughing. “How glad and how surprised she was to see us! It was almost as though she had begun to believe all their talk about dreams, until she heard the Wind Creatures’ wings!”
The Wind Creatures took them back to the forest. Under the giant cedars they said good-by and left them. The children went straight to the Tree Man’s to tell him the news. He gave them deep bowls of warm milk to drink, and took off their sandals so that their toes might spread and warm in front of the fire.
Then the Tree Girl begged for a story, and Ivra told a World Story about the rivers,—how they go in search of their mother, the ocean, day and night, around mountains and through mountains, and across whole continents, and never stop until they find her,—and of the myriad presents they carry to her,—of the things they see and the things they do, as they flow searching.
It was a long story. And almost before the end the little story teller had fallen asleep with her head tipped back against the Tree Man’s chest.
They spent that night in the tree, and that was good, for a storm had risen outside, and it was bitter cold in the forest.
THE BEAUTIFUL WICKED WITCH
The next morning before Eric woke Ivra slipped away to play with the Forest Children.
“On such wild days as this they usually play indoors, for they’re little things and the Snow Witches love to tease them,” said the Tree Man.
“Perhaps she’ll be telling them World Stories,” thought Eric, and so he decided to go to the little moss village, too, for though Ivra had told him dozens of World Stories by now, he always wanted to hear more. So after breakfast with the Tree Man and his pretty, shy daughter, he ran out in search of Ivra.
It was indeed a cold morning, blustering and raw. Eric felt chilled almost as soon as he was out of doors. Very soon he lost his way, for he had not been in the forest long enough to grow familiar with landmarks. Just when he was beginning to be a bit hopeless and pinched with the cold he came to the big fir where the Beautiful Wicked Witch lived. It stood green and comforting among all the bare trees of winter.
Eric stopped to look, for now he remembered the Beautiful Wicked Witch and the bird she had caged in there. He saw a door in the tree trunk ajar, and swinging to and fro with tiny tinkling music. He peeped in, and between the swingings caught glimpses of little blue and yellow flowers arranged in tight bunches in hanging vases. He could smell their sweetness even out there in the cold air.