The woodcutter could not say a word, but just gazed and gazed at them, till one of them said to him: “Who are you, and what are you doing in the very depths of the forest where we have never before seen a man?”
“I am only a poor woodcutter,” he replied, “come to get some wood to sell, so as to give my wife and children something to eat and some clothes to wear.”
“That is a very stupid thing to do,” said one of the girls. “You can’t get much money that way. If you will only stop with us we will have your wife and children looked after for you much better than you can do it yourself.”
3. What would you have said if you had been the woodcutter?
4. Do you think the fairies really meant that they could do as they offered?
Subha Datta, though he certainly did love his wife and children, was so tempted at the idea of stopping in the forest with the beautiful girls that, after hesitating a little while, he said, “Yes, I will stop with you, if you are quite sure all will be well with my dear ones.”
“You need not be afraid about that,” said another of the girls. “We are fairies, you see, and we can do all sorts of wonderful things. It isn’t even necessary for us to go where your dear ones are. We shall just wish them everything they want, and they will get it. And the first thing to be done is to give you some food. You must work for us in return, of course.”
Subha Datta at once replied, “I will do anything you wish.”
“Well, begin by sweeping away all the dead leaves from the clearing, and then we will all sit down and eat together.”
Subha Datta was very glad that what he was asked to do was so easy. He began by cutting a branch from a tree, and with it he swept the floor of what was to be the dining-room. Then he looked about for the food, but he could see nothing but a great big pitcher standing in the shade of a tree, the branches of which hung over the clearing. So he said to one of the fairies, “Will you show me where the food is, and exactly where you would like me to set it out?”
At these questions all the fairies began to laugh, and the sound of their laughter was like the tinkling of a number of bells.
5. What was there to laugh at in the questions of Subha Datta?
6. What is your idea of a fairy?
When the fairies saw how astonished Subha Datta was at the way they laughed, it made them laugh still more, and they seized each other’s hands again and whirled round and round, laughing all the time.
Poor Subha Datta, who was very tired and hungry, began to get unhappy and to wish he had gone straight home after all. He stooped down to pick up his axe, and was just about to turn away with it, when the fairies stopped their mad whirl and cried to him to stop. So he waited, and one of them said: