VIII. TOINETTE AND THE ELVES*
* Published by arrangement with Little, Brown & Co.
The winter’s sun was nearing the horizon’s edge. Each moment the tree shadows grew longer in the forest; each moment the crimson light on the upper boughs became more red and bright. It was Christmas Eve, or would be in half an hour, when the sun should be fairly set; but it did not feel like Christmas, for the afternoon was mild and sweet, and the wind in the leafless boughs sang, as it moved about, as though to imitate the vanished birds. Soft trills and whistles, odd little shakes and twitters—it was astonishing what pretty noises the wind made, for it was in good humor, as winds should be on the Blessed Night; all its storm-tones and bass-notes were for the moment laid aside, and gently as though hushing a baby to sleep, it cooed and rustled and brushed to and fro in the leafless woods.
Toinette stood, pitcher in hand, beside the well. “Wishing Well,” the people called it, for they believed that if any one standing there bowed to the East, repeated a certain rhyme and wished a wish, the wish would certainly come true. Unluckily, nobody knew exactly what the rhyme should be. Toinette did not; she was wishing that she did, as she stood with her eyes fixed on the bubbling water. How nice it would be! she thought. What beautiful things should be hers, if it were only to wish and to have. She would be beautiful, rich, good—oh, so good. The children should love her dearly, and never be disagreeable. Mother should not work so hard—they should all go back to France—which mother said was si belle. Oh, dear, how nice it would be. Meantime, the sun sank lower, and mother at home was waiting for the water, but Toinette forgot that.
Suddenly she started. A low sound of crying met her ear, and something like a tiny moan. It seemed close by but she saw nothing.
Hastily she filled her pitcher and turned to go. But again the sound came, an unmistakable sob, right under her feet. Toinette stopped short.
“What is the matter?” she called out bravely. “Is anybody there? and if there is, why don’t I see you?”
A third sob—and all at once, down on the ground beside her, a tiny figure became visible, so small that Toinette had to kneel and stoop her head to see it plainly. The figure was that of an odd little man. He wore a garb of green bright and glancing as the scales of a beetle. In his mite of a hand was a cap, out of which stuck a long pointed feather. Two specks of tears stood on his cheeks and he fixed on Toinette a glance so sharp and so sad that it made her feel sorry and frightened and confused all at once.
“Why how funny this is!” she said, speaking to herself out loud.
“Not at all,” replied the little man, in a voice as dry and crisp as the chirr of a grasshopper. “Anything but funny. I wish you wouldn’t use such words. It hurts my feelings, Toinette.”