Eric was very silent, for he had never seen such beautiful people. The little boy had had a face like a star, and great shining eyes. The young girl had been clear like the day, and without smiling her face had been brimmed with happiness.
But now he felt Ivra trembling. She whispered again, “You know, Eric, it is wonderful for us to see them like this. Some day, mother says, we may get to be like them!”
“And speak without words?” Eric asked wondering.
“Yes, and more than that. We may be as alive as they. Now we’re only Forest people, and not all that even—almost dreams. They are real!”
Then she took his hand and drew him away. “I cannot look any more,” she said; “can you? They are too beautiful!”
Eric put his fingers to his eyes as he walked. “Yes, it’s hard to see the ground now. My eyes ache a little.”
But how the children wished their mother were waiting for them in the little house to hear the tale!
One afternoon Eric and Ivra started out for the Forest Children’s moss village to play with them. But when they got there they found all the little houses deserted: not a Forest Child was to be found. They must have gone into some other part of the forest to play. So Ivra and Eric wandered on and on, a little lonely, a little tired of just each other for comrades, till at last they came to the very edge of the forest,—and there was Nora’s farm, a rambling red brick house, with a barn twice its size behind it. Down in the pasture by the house half a dozen Snow Witches were dancing in a circle, now near, now far, all over the pasture, and sometimes right up to the farm-house windows.
Ivra clapped her hands and bounded forward. Eric did not follow. He stood to watch. When the Snow Witches saw Ivra running to them they rushed to meet her. For a minute she was lost in a cloud of blown snow, and then there she was dancing in their circle back and forth across the pasture, and then away, away, away! But before she frolicked quite out of sight she turned to look for her playfellow, and beckoned to him.
“Come on,” she called. “We’re going to slide on the brook below the cornfield.”
But Eric did not follow. He did not like the Snow Witches. And just as Ivra and the Witches drifted out of sight, he thought he heard the Forest Children laughing. The sound came from the barn. So Eric ran to the door. It was a big sliding door, and now stood open on a crack just large enough for a child to slip through. Eric went in.
The barn was tremendously big, a great dusty place full of the smell of hay. Ahead of him were two stalls, with a horse in one. But Eric was most interested in the empty stall, for it was from there the laughter seemed to come. He stood looking and listening, and then right down through the ceiling of the stall shot a child, and landed laughing and squealing in the hay in the manger. She sat up, saw Eric and stared. She was a little girl about his own age, freckle-faced, snub-nosed and red-haired. She had the jolliest, the nicest face in the world.