There was not much comfort in that thought, but nevertheless I could not get rid of it. I glanced up to the big round face of the moon, which had a large ring of mist about its neck; and looking more closely I thought I saw a huge floundering body, of which the moon was the head, crawling heavily across the sky, and stretching a long misty arm after me. I hurried on, not caring to look right or left; and I suppose I must have taken the wrong turn, for as I lifted my eyes, I found myself standing under the willow-tree at the creek where Mabel and I had been sitting in the afternoon. The locusts, with their shrill metallic voices, kept whirring away in the grass, and I heard their strange hissing sh-h-h-h-h, now growing stronger, then weakening again, and at last stopping abruptly, as if to say: “Didn’t I do well?” But the blue-eyed violets shook their heads, and that means in their language: “No, I don’t think so at all.” The water, which descended in three successive falls into the wide, dome-shaped gorge, seemed to me, as I stood gazing at it, to be going the wrong way, crawling, with eager, foamy hands, up the ledges of the rock to where I was standing.
“I must certainly be mad,” thought I, “or I am getting to be a poet.”
In order to rid myself of the painful illusion, which was every moment getting more vivid, I turned my eyes away and hurried up along the bank, while the beseeching murmur of the waters rang in my ears.
As I had ascended the clumsy wooden stairs which lead up to the second fall, I suddenly saw two little blue lights hovering over the ground directly in front of me.
“Will-o’-the-wisps,” said I to myself. “The ground is probably marshy.”
I pounded with my cane on the ground, but, as I might have known, it was solid rock. It was certainly very strange. I flung myself down behind the trunk of a large hemlock. The two blue lights came hovering directly toward me. I lifted my cane,—with a swift blow it cut the air, and,—who can imagine my astonishment? Right in front of me I saw a tiny man, not much bigger than a good-sized kitten, and at his side lay a small red cap; the cap, of course, I immediately snatched up and put it in a separate apartment in my pocket-book to make sure that I should not lose it. One of the lights hastened away to the rocks and vanished before I could overtake it.
There was something so very funny in the idea of finding a gnome in the State of New York, that the strange fear which had possessed me departed and I felt very much inclined to laugh. My blow had quite stunned the poor little creature; he was still lying half on his back, as if trying to raise himself on his elbows, and his large black eyes had a terrified stare in them, and seemed to be ready to spring out of their sockets.
“Give—give me back my cap,” he gasped at last, in a strange metallic voice, which sounded to me like the clinking of silver coins.