Rumpty Dudget by Julian Hawthorne

 

CHAPTER I.

THE PALACE AND THE TOWER.

In the days before the sun caught fire, before the moon froze up, and before you were born, a great queen had three children, whose names were Hilda, Harold, and Hector. Princess Hilda, who was the eldest, had blue eyes and golden hair; Prince Hector, who was the youngest, had black eyes and black hair; and Prince Harold, who was neither the youngest nor the eldest, had, of course, brown eyes and brown hair. There was nothing else specially remarkable about them, except that they were (at the time I write of) the best children in the world, as well as the prettiest and the cleverest for their age; that they lived in the most beautiful palace ever built, and that the garden they played in was the loveliest ever seen.

The palace stood on the borders of a mighty forest, on the further side of which lay Fairyland. But there was only one window in the palace that looked out upon this forest, and that was the round window of the room in which Hilda, Harold, and Hector slept. And since the round window was never open except at night, after the three children had been put to bed, they knew very little about how the forest looked, or what kind of flowers grew there, or what sort of birds sang in the dark branches of the lofty trees. Sometimes, however, as they lay with their three heads on their three pillows, and with all their eyes open, waiting for the Spirit of Forgetfulness to come and fasten down their eyelids, they would see stars, white, blue, and red, twinkling in the sky overhead; and below, amongst the gloomy shadows of the trees, other yellow stars which danced about and flitted to and fro. These flitting stars were supposed by grown-up people to be will-o'-the-wisp, jack-o'-lanterns, fire-flies, and glow-worms. But the three children knew them to be the torches borne by the elves as they capered hither and thither about their affairs. For although the Forest of Mystery (as it was named) was not, strictly speaking, in Fairyland, but formed the boundary between that and the rest of the world, yet many fairies held nightly revels there. The children wished that a few of these tiny people would come in through the round window some evening and pay them a visit. But if such a thing ever happened it was not until after the children had fallen asleep; and then, when they woke up in the morning, they had forgotten all about it.

The garden was on the side of the palace opposite to the Forest of Mystery; it was called the Garden of Delight. It was full of flowers, pink, white, and blue; and there were birds, and fountains, in the marble basins of which gold-fishes glowed and swam. In the centre of the garden was a round green lawn for the children to play on; but at the end of the garden was a tall thick hedge, on which no blossoms ever grew, and which was prickly with sharp-pointed leaves and thorns. This hedge also had a name, but the children did not know what it was. It was impossible either to get round the hedge, or to get over it, or to get through it—except in one place, where a small opening had been made. But through that opening no one might pass, for the land on the other side belonged to a dwarf, whose name was Rumpty-Dudget, and whose only pleasure lay in doing mischief. An ugly little dwarf he was, all grey from head to foot. He wore a broad-brimmed grey hat, a thick grey beard, and a grey cloak that was so much too long for him that it trailed on the ground like a grey tail as he walked. On his back was a grey hump, which made him look even shorter than he was—and he was not much over a foot high at his tallest. He lived in a large grey tower, whose battlements the three children could see rising above the hedge as they played on the round lawn; and over the tower there hung, even in the brightest weather, a dull grey cloud.

Inside the tower was a vast room with a hundred and one corners to it; and in each of the corners stood a little child, with its face to the wall and its hands behind its back. Who were the children, and how came they there? They were children, whom Rumpty-Dudget had caught trespassing on his grounds, and had therefore carried away with him to his tower. In this way he had filled up one corner after another, until only one corner was left unfilled; and that one, curiously enough, was the one-hundred-and-first. Now, it was a well-known fact that if Rumpty-Dudget could but catch a child to put it in that one empty corner he would become master of all the country round about. And since he loved nothing that was not of the same colour and temper as himself, the noble palace would in that case disappear, the garden would be changed into a desert covered with grey stones and brambles, and the dull grey cloud that now hung above the tower would sullenly spread itself over all the heavens. The mighty Forest of Mystery, too, would be cut down and sold for firewood; and the elves and fairies would fly westward in pursuit of the flying sun. You may be sure, therefore, that Rumpty-Dudget tried with all his might to get hold of a child to put into that hundred-and-first corner. But by this time the inhabitants of the country had begun to realise their danger; and all the mothers were so careful, and all the children were so obedient, that, for a long time, the hundred-and-first corner remained empty.


CHAPTER II.

THE AUNT, THE CAT, AND THE DWARF.

When Hilda, Harold, and Hector were still very young indeed the Queen, their mother, was obliged to make a long journey to a far-off country, and to leave her children behind her. But before going she took them in her arms and said, 'My darlings, though I must leave you, you will not be left alone, either by night or by day. While you are awake you will be protected by a beautiful white cat that I shall send to you, named Tom; and while you are asleep your fairy aunt will keep watch over you; you will not see her, but you will know that she is with you by your pleasant dreams. Only at one hour of the day will you be left unguarded, and that is the hour before sunset. At that hour Tom will have to be away, and your fairy aunt will not yet have arrived, so you must be very careful of yourselves. You will, I hope, try always to be good children; but in the hour before sunset you must try twenty-four times harder than ever. Nobody knows what may happen when a little child does wrong; but there is great danger that the sun might catch fire and the moon freeze up. So, once more, my darlings, be very careful; for every hour is as long as it is short, but the hour before sunset is the longest and the shortest of all.'

The children promised to remember; and their mother kissed them and went away. The same day Tom the Cat arrived. A beautiful big cat he was, with deep soft fur, round yellow eyes, and a tail as thick as a feather duster. He was also the sweetest-tempered cat in the world, so that the children lived with him several years without even so much as suspecting that he had such a thing as a claw about him. He could purr as comfortably as the hopper of a windmill; and he took care of the children better than a dozen nurses would have done. But an hour before sunset every day he always disappeared, and only came back again when the last bit of the sun had gone out of sight. Then he put the children to bed, and purred outside their window until they fell asleep; and as soon as that happened in floated the Fairy Aunt, to kiss their closed eyelids, and to hover beside their beds and whisper in their ears all manner of charming stories about Fairyland, and the wonderful things that were to be seen and done there. But early in the morning, just before they awoke, she would kiss their eyelids once more and flit away out of the round window; and the white cat, with his yellow eyes and his thick tail, would come purring comfortably in at the door.

One day, however (the unluckiest day in the whole year), Hilda, Harold, and Hector went out to play as usual on the round lawn in the centre of the garden. It was Rumpty-Dudget's birthday—the only day in the whole year on which he had power to creep through the hole in the hedge and prowl about the Queen's grounds. Nevertheless, all went well until the last hour before sunset, when Tom the Cat was forced to be away. Before he went he warned the children to look out for the grey rat; but before he had time to explain what he meant by the grey rat the hour struck, and he could not help vanishing. The children were left to themselves; but they were not at all frightened. They had never heard of Rumpty-Dudget; and this is not so strange as it might at first seem; for it often happens in the world that our worst enemies live so close to us that we are not aware of them until after we have fallen into their power. Hilda, Harold, and Hector, at all events, went on playing together very kindly; for up to this time they had never had a quarrel. The only thing that troubled them was, that Tom the Cat was not there to play with them; they all longed to see his yellow eyes and his thick tail, and to stroke his soft back, and hear his comfortable purr. But it was now very near sunset, and he must soon return. The sun, like a great red ball, hung a little way above the edge of the world; though he had not caught fire as yet, he was evidently very hot, and it was quite time for him to be at rest.

All at once Princess Hilda, who had been gazing at the sun with her blue eyes wide open, heard a little croaking laugh, and looking down, she saw a strange little creature standing close beside her, all grey from head to foot. He wore a grey hat and beard, and a long grey cloak that dragged on the ground like a tail, and on his back was a grey hump that made him seem even shorter than he was, though at the most he was hardly over a foot high. Hilda was surprised, but not in the least frightened, for nobody had ever yet done her any harm; and besides, this odd little grey man, though he was as ugly as a rent in a new pinafore, grinned at her from one ear to the other, and seemed to be the most good-natured dwarf in the world. So Princess Hilda called to Prince Harold and Prince Hector, who, when they saw what had come to them, were no more frightened than Hilda, and a good deal more amused; and as the dwarf kept on grinning from one ear to the other the three children began to smile back at him. Meanwhile the great red ball of the sun was slowly dropping downwards; and now his lower rim was just resting on the edge of the world.

Since you have already heard about Rumpty-Dudget you will have guessed that this grey dwarf was none other than he, and that although he grinned so broadly from one ear to the other he wished in reality to do the three children harm; and even (if he could manage it) to carry one of them off to his tower, to stand in the hundred-and-first corner, with his face to the wall and his hands behind his back. But Rumpty-Dudget had no power to do this so long as the children stayed on their side of the prickly hedge; he must first tempt them to creep through the opening, and then, when they were upon his own grounds, he could do with them what he pleased. Now, the children had often been warned not to creep through the hedge, both by their Queen-mother, before she went away, and by their Fairy Aunt in dreams, and by Tom the Cat in the daytime; and as they had never had reason to suppose that there was anything prettier on the other side of the hedge than on their own, they had never thought of going thither. Rumpty-Dudget knew this; and as he was even more cunning than he was ugly he had made up his mind to profit by it.

'My dear young people,' he said, holding out his hands, 'I am very glad to meet you. It has grieved me to see you all playing here on this ugly lawn, when there is a garden so much more beautiful just on the other side of the hedge. I am very fond of children, and I make it my business to amuse them. If you will just give yourselves the trouble to step through that opening in the hedge you shall see something that you never saw before.'

The three children thought this sounded very pleasant; but, after a pause, Princess Hilda, who generally took the lead, said:

'We were told not to go on the other side of the hedge.'

'Who could have been so unkind as to tell you that?' cried Rumpty-Dudget, as if he was very much shocked. 'Besides, one side of the hedge is just the same as another; and if it is wrong to go on the other side, how much more wrong it must be to stay on this!'

Hilda thought awhile before answering, for what Rumpty-Dudget had said certainly sounded reasonable. 'But why,' she asked at last, 'should there be any hedge at all?'

'It is all on account of the hole through it,' the dwarf replied, with his most charming grin. 'There could have been no hole, you see, if there hadn't been a hedge; and that is why the hedge was planted.'

Princess Hilda could not deny that this was true; and, moreover, since she had begun to talk with the dwarf she had felt a strong desire to see whether the garden on the other side of the hedge was so very much prettier than their own, as he declared. 'What do you say, boys?' she asked, turning to the two little princes. 'Shall we take just one peep?'

'That is right! Come, my dears, at once!' put in Rumpty-Dudget eagerly, taking Hilda and Harold each by the hand, and letting little Hector trot on before. 'It is already late, and I want you to see my garden before the sun goes down.' So they all came to the opening in the hedge; and, if the truth must be told, the three children were almost as anxious to get through it as Rumpty-Dudget was to have them do so. And the great red ball of the sun kept going down further and further, and now all his lower half was out of sight beneath the edge of the world.

'Now, my dear,' said Rumpty-Dudget to Princess Hilda, 'will you step through first? Ladies always go first, you know.'

'Not through holes in the hedges,' replied Hilda, drawing back. 'It is always the men who go first then.'

All but the last quarter of the sun was now hidden behind the edge of the world, and there was no time to be lost, for (as Rumpty-Dudget well knew) as soon as the sun was quite gone Tom the Cat would appear. So he said, as amiably as he could, though in reality he felt very angry:

'Well, then, Prince Harold, my fine fellow, you are the next eldest; take my hand, and in we go.'

'No,' said Prince Harold, drawing back; 'I think I am too big to get through that little hole. Somebody else must go first.'

Rumpty-Dudget trembled with rage and fear; and there was only the smallest bit of the sun yet visible. However, he managed to say, in a tolerably smooth voice:

'Little Prince Hector, there, is my man after all! He will come through the hole, and see the pretty things, won't he?'

Now, Prince Hector was a sturdy little fellow, and afraid of nothing; so he put his hand in Rumpty-Dudget's and said boldly:

'Yes, I'll go; but if your garden isn't any prettier than you are I shan't want to stay long.'

'Let me lift you in, my little hero,' said Rumpty-Dudget, taking Hector round the waist with his little bony hands; 'and I'll warrant you won't come back in a hurry. Now, then—jump!'

But just at that moment the last scrap of the sun vanished beneath the edge of the world; and instantly, with a tremendous hissing and caterwauling, Tom the Cat came springing across the lawn like a white-hot snowball. His yellow eyes flashed, his back bristled, and every hair upon his tail stood out so straight that the tail looked as thick as an old-fashioned muff. He flew straight at Rumpty-Dudget and leaped upon his hump, and bit and scratched him soundly. Rumpty-Dudget yelled with pain, and dropping Prince Hector, he vanished through the hole in the hedge like a hot chestnut into a hungry boy.

But from the other side of the hedge he flung at the three children a handful of black mud; a bit of it hit Princess Hilda on the forehead, and another bit fell upon Prince Harold's nose, and another upon little Prince Hector's chin. And there those three black spots stayed; and all the washing and scrubbing in the world would not make them go away. It is always so with the mud that Rumpty-Dudget throws; it seems to grow down into you until it fastens a root in your heart. And this, probably, was the reason why Princess Hilda (who had until then been the best little girl in the world) began from that time to wish to rule things; and Prince Harold (who had until then been one of the two best little boys in the world) began from that time to wish to have things; and little Prince Hector (who had until then been the other of the two best little boys in the world) began from that time to wish to do things which he was told not to do.

Such was the effect of Rumpty-Dudget's three mud-spots.


CHAPTER III.

THE WAYS OF THE WIND.

But, although Hilda, Harold, and Hector were no longer quite the best children in the world, they were pretty good children as the world goes, and if it had not been for the north wind they would have got on together very well. But whenever that wind blew everything began to go wrong. Hilda wanted everything her own way; Harold wanted everything in his own pockets; and Hector wanted everything at cross-purposes. Then, too, the spots on Hilda's forehead, on Harold's nose, and on Hector's chin became blacker and blacker, and hotter and hotter, until the children were ready to cry from pain and vexation. But tears could do no more than soap and water to wash the spots away.

As soon as the wind began to blow from the south, however, the spots began to lose their blackness, and the pricking to lessen, until at last the children almost forgot their trouble. Yet it never altogether disappeared; and neither Tom the Cat nor the Fairy Aunt had the power to cure it. But Tom used to say that, unless Hilda and her two brothers would agree always to make the wind blow from the south, the hundred-and-first corner in Rumpty-Dudget's tower would sooner or later be filled.

'How can we make the wind blow one way or the other?' Hilda would ask.

'It all depends upon you, nevertheless,' Tom would reply. 'Winds do not move of themselves, but people pull them.'

'Well, I don't understand it,' Hilda would answer, after a little thinking; 'and if I don't, of course the boys don't either.'

At night, when the Fairy Aunt came in through the round window, and sat on their bedside to whisper stories about Fairyland into their ears, the children would sometimes ask her to take them all three up in her arms and carry them over the tops of the trees of the Forest of Mystery to her home far away on the other side. Then she would shake her head and say:

'While those spots are on your faces you cannot come with me.'

'Why not?' the children asked in their dream.

'Because they are a sign that a part of each of you belongs to Rumpty-Dudget; and he will not let go of that part, in spite of all that I can do.'

'Shall we never be able to go with you, then?' dreamed the children piteously.

'Not until the wind blows from the south every day in the week. When that happens the spots will vanish, and I will take you all three in my arms, and fly with you over the tops of the trees to Fairyland.'

'And what shall we see there?' the children asked.

'You will see the Queen, your mother.'

'And shall we see you too?'

'Yes, I shall be with you.'

'And Tom the Cat too?'

'What you have loved in Tom the Cat will be there too,' answered the fairy, smiling.

'But how shall we make the wind blow from the south every day in the week?'

At that the fairy smiled and shook her head, and touched each one of them on the heart; and no other answer would she give. So the children were no wiser on that point than before.

Thus time went on steadily, to-morrow always going before to-day, and yesterday invariably bringing up the rear, until a year was past; and what should come round again but Rumpty-Dudget's birthday, the most unlucky day of all the three hundred and sixty five! An hour and twenty seconds before sunset Tom the Cat said to the children:

'Now, you must be very careful, while I am away, to do as I tell you. Do not go out into the garden, do not touch the black ball that lies on the nursery table, and do not jump against the north wind; for if you do——'

But at this moment the hour struck, and Tom the Cat sprang into the air and disappeared like a soap bubble.

For a while the three children remembered what had been said to them; they played quietly in the palace, and did not touch the black ball on the nursery table. But towards sunset it so happened that they were all leaning against the table, with their elbows resting on it, and their heads between their hands. There lay the black ball mysterious and quiet. The longer the children looked at it the more mysterious it appeared. At last Hilda said:

'I wonder where it came from?'

'I wonder what it's made of?' said Harold.

'I wonder why we mustn't touch it?' said Hector.

Then all three looked at it steadily for another minute. Then Hilda exclaimed suddenly:

'I believe it moved!'

'So do I!' cried Harold.

'I don't!' said Hector. 'But I can make it move.' And with that he gave the table a tip, and the black ball rolled off, bounced on to the floor, and jumped out of the window into the garden.

'You have disobeyed Tom the Cat,' said Hilda, after a pause.

'How shall we ever get it back again?' cried Harold, running to the window and looking out. 'Oh, I can see it! there, in the middle of the lawn.'

'Yes, but we are not to go into the garden,' said Hilda.

'It is all Hector's fault,' said Harold.

'I am going into the garden to play with the ball,' said Hector boldly; and he walked off.

'What a naughty boy he is!' said Harold to Hilda.

'Yes; but the wind blows from the south,' she answered. 'You may stay here if you like; I think I shall go and play with Hector.' And she walked off.

'What naughty children they are!' said Harold to himself. 'But Hilda is older than I, and Hector is younger, so I think I will go out too.' So he ran after the others, and came up with them just as Hector had picked up the black ball and was tossing it to Hilda.

'Let us play in a triangle,' said Harold. So they stood at the three corners, and tossed the ball from one to another.

But, strange to say, the wind, which had been blowing all day from the south, had suddenly changed to the north; and the spots on the children's faces began to get blacker than ink and hotter than pepper. And, as they had to keep rubbing the spots first with one hand and then with another, they were continually missing the ball when it was thrown to them; and they did not notice that every time it fell to the ground it struck nearer and nearer to the tall hedge which divided Rumpty-Dudget's land from the Queen's. At last Harold got the ball to himself, and kept tossing it up and down without letting the others have their turn. Hereupon Hilda and Hector began to run after him to take the ball away from him; but just as they caught up with him he gave the ball a great throw, and it flew clear over the high hedge, and came down with a bounce in Rumpty-Dudget's garden. It wanted three minutes to sunset.

The three children were a good deal frightened at this, and looked at one another in dismay. But they did not yet know how much reason for fright there was.

'It is your fault!' said Hector to Harold.

'It is your fault!' said Harold to Hilda.

'It is your fault!' said Hilda to Hector.

'Let us look through the hole in the hedge,' said Hector, putting his finger on his chin, where the black spot was. Hilda put her finger upon the spot on her forehead and followed him; and Harold followed them both, with his finger on his nose. They came to the hole in the hedge, and looked through it.

'I can see it!' exclaimed Hilda.

'It is not far off,' said Harold. 'If the north wind did not blow so hard through this hole we might jump through and get it.'

'I don't mind jumping against the north wind,' said Hector boldly; and with that he jumped through the hole: and the sun set.

'It is too late!' said Tom the Cat, who appeared between Harold and Hilda at that moment. 'I cannot save him now. Look!'

Hector, after jumping through the hedge, had run up to the black ball and stooped to pick it up. But the ball moved and unfolded itself, and a little cackling laugh came out of it, and it stood up on its legs. It was no other than Rumpty-Dudget himself.

'Now, my young prince, you will come with me and stand in my hundred-and-first corner!' said he, with a malignant grin.

'No, I won't!' said Hector.

At that Rumpty-Dudget took a piece of black string from his pocket and held one end of it to the black spot on Hector's chin; and it stuck to it so fast that all the pulling in the world could not pull it off. Then Rumpty-Dudget put the string over his shoulder, and so dragged Hector into his tower, and put him in the hundred-and-first corner.

As soon as this was done the north wind increased to a hurricane; the beautiful palace was blown away, the Garden of Delight was destroyed, and nothing was left but a desert covered with grey stones and brambles. The dull grey cloud covered all the sky, and Rumpty-Dudget was master of the whole country.


CHAPTER IV.

NO TIME TO BE LOST.

Princess Hilda and Prince Harold sat down on a heap of rubbish that happened to be near them, and cried heartily. Tom the Cat sat before them, moving the end of his tail first one way and then the other, and looking very sorrowful out of his yellow eyes. But presently he said:

'Crying will not get poor Hector back again.'

'Can we ever get him back?' sobbed Harold.

'I would do anything!' whimpered Hilda.

'If our Fairy Aunt were only here,' said Harold, 'perhaps she could tell us what we ought to do.'

'You will not see the Fairy Aunt again,' Tom replied, 'until you have got Hector out of the grey tower, where he is at this moment standing, with his face to the wall and his hands behind his back, in the one-hundred-and-first corner.'

'But what can we do?' cried Hilda, beginning to weep afresh. 'We are nothing but little children.'

'Perhaps you may be able to do more than if you were grown up,' Tom replied. 'It depends a good deal upon how much you love Hector.'

'Oh!' exclaimed both the children at once; and as they could not think of anything big enough to compare their love for Hector to, they said nothing more.

'Listen to me, then,' said Tom, 'and all may yet be well. But in the first place get on my back, so that I may take you out of this desert and into the great forest, where we can lay our plans without being interrupted.'

So saying Tom rose and curved his back: the two children jumped upon it; off they all went, and, in less time than it takes to tell it, they were in the midst of that great Forest of Mystery which they had so often seen from the window of their chamber, but which, until now, they had never entered. It was quite still, except a faint chopping noise that seemed to come from a long way off.

'What makes that noise?' Hilda asked.

'That is Rumpty-Dudget cutting down the trees,' Tom replied; 'and unless we can stop him he will cut down every one of them. However, he will hardly get so far as this to-night. Now, children, sit down and listen.'

The children accordingly seated themselves on a cushion of moss at the foot of one of the tallest pine-trees in the forest, and the cat sat down in front of them, with his thick tail curled round his toes.

'The first thing to be done,' said Tom, looking at the children with his yellow eyes, which burned as brightly as lamps in the gloom of the forest, 'the first thing to be done is, of course, to get the Golden Ivy-seed and the Diamond Waterdrop. After that the rest is easy.'

'And where are the Golden Ivy-seed and the Diamond Waterdrop to be found?' inquired the two children hopefully.

'The Golden Ivy-seed must be sought in the centre of the earth, where the King of the Gnomes reigns,' replied the cat; 'and the Diamond Waterdrop is to be asked for in the kingdom of the Air Spirits, above the clouds.'

'But how are we to get up to the Air Spirits and down to the Gnomes?' asked the children disconsolately.

'We will see about that,' replied the cat. 'But before starting we must build the enchanted bonfire.'

'What good will that do?' demanded the children.

'We could never get on without it,' replied Tom. 'For since Hector has been put into the one-hundred-and-first corner the sun has caught fire and the moon has frozen up, and this fire will be all we can have to warm and light us on our journey.'

'But what if it should go out while we are away?' said the children.

'In order to prevent that one of you must stay by it, while the other goes with me on the journey,' said Tom. 'Harold, you shall be the one to stay. Be sure and not let the fire go out whatever happens; for if it does, Rumpty-Dudget will take the blackened logs and rub Hector's face all over with them, and then we should never be able to get him out of the tower at all. Now do you two run about and pick up all the dried sticks you can find, and pile them together in a heap, while I get the touchwood ready.'

In a few minutes—so diligently did Hilda and Harold work—a heap of faggots had been gathered together as high as the top of Hilda's head. Meanwhile Tom the Cat had not been idle. He had drawn on the ground with the tip of his tail a large circle, in the centre of which was the heap of faggots. It had now become quite dark, and the children could not have seen their way about had it not been for Tom's yellow eyes, which burned as brightly as two carriage-lamps.

'Come inside the circle, children,' said he at length. 'I am now going to light the touchwood.'

In they came accordingly, and sat down again on the moss cushion at the foot of the tall pine-tree. The cat then put the touchwood on the ground and crouched down in front of it, with his nose resting against it; and he stared and stared at it with his flaming yellow eyes, and by and by it began to smoke and smoulder, and at last it caught fire and burned away famously.

'That will do nicely,' said the cat; 'now put on some sticks.'

Hilda and Harold heaped on the dry sticks in handfuls; and so the enchanted fire was fairly started, and it burned blue, red, and yellow.

'And now there is no time to be lost,' said Tom the Cat. 'Harold, you will stay beside this fire, and keep it burning until I come back with Hilda from the kingdoms of the Air Spirits and of the Gnomes. Remember, that if you let the fire go out it can never again be lighted, and all will be lost. Nevertheless, you must on no account go outside the circle to gather more faggots, if those which are already inside get used up before we return. You may, perhaps, be tempted to do so; but if you yield to the temptation all will go wrong. Your brother Hector will then be in greater danger than ever, and the only way you can save him will be to get into the fire yourself and burn!'

Prince Harold did not much like the idea of being left alone in the woods all night, with the sound of Rumpty-Dudget's axe coming ever nearer and nearer. Still, since it was for his little brother Hector's sake, he never dreamed of refusing. But he made up his mind to be particularly careful not to use up the faggots too fast, so that he would not be tempted to go outside the ring.

Hilda and Tom kissed him, and bade him farewell; then Hilda got on the cat's back, and nestled down amidst the warm white fur. Tom sprang on to the trunk of the tall pine-tree, and away! straight upwards they went, and were out of sight in the twinkling of an eye.


CHAPTER V.

THE QUEEN OF THE AIR.

After climbing upwards for a long time they came at last to the very tiptop of the pine-tree, which was just on a level with the upper surface of the clouds.

'We are now above the reach of the north wind,' remarked the cat; 'and this is the only tree in the forest tall enough for our purpose. All the clouds hereabouts, as you see, are blown by the south wind and by the west. If we rode on one blown by the north we should be driven straight into Rumpty-Dudget's power.'

'Are we going to ride on a cloud, then?' asked Hilda, feeling a little nervous; for it was a terrible distance if they should fall.

'Hold tight to me, and you will be safe,' replied Tom. 'Here comes the cloud we want—it will pass within two yards of us. As we make the jump do you look down to the foot of the tree and see whether Harold is in his place and the fire still burning.'

Hardly had Tom done speaking, when the cloud sailed by, passing, as he had said, within two yards of the top of the pine-tree to which they were clinging. The cat jumped, and alighted very cleverly on the cloud's edge, and a moment's scramble brought them to the top. Meanwhile, Hilda had looked downward to the foot of the tree as they took their leap; and she had caught a glimpse of Harold sitting within the ring, beside the enchanted fire, and seeming rather disconsolate. But the fire was burning brightly, yellow, red, and blue.

The cloud sailed away, and took them to a part of the sky which Hilda had never seen before. It was full of a strange white light, and no darkness ever came there. On went the cloud, moving slowly but steadily, like a great ship steering its way amidst the sky. The kingdom of the Air Spirits soon loomed in sight. Rainbow bridges spanned its shining rivers; its forests were like the tracery of the Northern Lights; and the houses and palaces in which the people lived were stars of different sizes, along whose rays was the only path to get to them.

At length the cloud entered the harbour, and, letting down an anchor of raindrops, its motion ceased.

'You must go the rest of the way alone, Hilda,' said the cat. 'I shall wait for you, and you will find me here on your return.'

'But which way am I to go, and what am I to do?' asked Hilda in a tremulous tone; for being so high above the earth almost took her breath away.

'You must ask the first Air Spirit you meet to show you the star where the Queen lives, and then you must get there the best way you can,' Tom replied. 'When you have found her you must ask her for the Diamond Waterdrop. But be very careful not to sit down, however much you may be tempted to do so; for if you do, your little brother Hector never can be saved.'

Hilda did not much like the idea of making so perilous a journey as this promised to be, without even the cat to go with her; but since it was for Hector's sake she never dreamed of refusing: only she made up her mind on no account to sit down, no matter what happened. She bade Tom farewell, therefore, and walked off.

She had not gone far when she met an Air Spirit, carrying its nose in the air—as, of course, all Air Spirits do.

'Can you tell me which star the Queen sits in?' Hilda asked.

'What do you want of the Queen?' inquired the Air Spirit superciliously.

'I want to ask her where the Diamond Waterdrop is,' answered Hilda.

'You will never get on in this country unless you carry your nose more in the air than you do,' observed the Air Spirit. 'As for her Majesty, she sits in the large star up yonder with the white ray. Mind you don't break your neck. Ta-ta!'

Hilda went onward very disconsolately. As to carrying her nose in the air she had never in her life felt less inclined to do such a thing. By and by she came to the spot where the white ray of light from the Queen's star touched the solid air. A number of Air Spirits were walking up and down it like so many tight-rope dancers.

'Look at that absurd child!' they said to one another. 'See how she hangs her head! Why doesn't she put on airs? She will never come to anything.'

Hilda began to climb up the long white ray; and though at first she was very much frightened, by degrees she gained courage, and at last she was able to walk along tolerably fast. But it was a long distance to the top, and by the time she got there she was almost ready to drop with fatigue.

The star, when she entered it, was a glorious place indeed; and the Queen of the Air Spirits was dazzlingly beautiful, though Hilda fancied that she looked upon her rather haughtily. She was seated upon a throne of fretted sunshine; and as soon as Hilda was within hearing she said:

'I have been expecting you. You have come a long way, and you look very tired. Come here and sit down.'

'No, your Majesty,' replied Hilda faintly, 'I have no time to sit down or to stay. I have come to ask you for the Diamond Waterdrop.'

'For the Diamond Waterdrop indeed!' exclaimed the Queen, laughing. 'And pray what made you suppose that you would find the Diamond Waterdrop here? However, sit down here beside me, and let us talk about it. Such a question as you ask cannot be answered in a moment.'

But Hilda shook her head.

'Listen to me, my dear Princess,' said the Queen again, more courteously than she had yet spoken. 'I know that you like to have everything your own way; and, as you are perhaps aware, there is no one who can have things so entirely her own way as can the Queen of the Air Spirits. Now, Princess Hilda, if you will sit down here on my throne I will let you be Queen of the Air Spirits instead of me. You shall have everything your own way, and you shall put on as many airs as you please. Come!'

When Hilda heard this she certainly felt for a moment very much tempted to do as the Queen asked her. But the next moment the thought came to her of her poor little brother Hector, standing in the hundred-and-first corner of Rumpty-Dudget's tower, with his face to the wall and his hands behind his back. So she answered, with tears in her eyes:

'Oh, Queen of the Air Spirits, I am so sorry for my little brother that I do not any longer care to have everything my own way, or to put on airs, or to do anything except find the Diamond Waterdrop, so that Hector may be saved. Can you tell me where it is?'

But the Queen shook her beautiful head and frowned.

'I have no Diamond Waterdrop,' said she. 'Ask yourself where it is.'

Then poor Hilda felt as if her heart would break, and she sobbed out:

'Oh, what shall I do to save my poor little brother?'

There was no answer, and Hilda turned away. But, as she did so, the Queen suddenly said:

'I see the Diamond Waterdrop now, Hilda!'

'Oh, where?' cried Hilda, turning again eagerly.

The Queen was smiling upon her now with a very kind expression.

'It is on your own cheek!' said she.

Hilda was so bewildered that, at first, she could only gaze at the Queen without moving or speaking.

'Yes,' the Queen continued, in a gentle tone, 'you might have searched through all the kingdoms of the earth and air, and yet never have found that precious Diamond, had you not loved your brother Hector more than you loved to be Queen. That tear upon your cheek, Hilda, which you shed for love of him, is the Diamond Waterdrop that you have sought. Keep it in this crystal phial; be prudent, patient, and resolute, and sooner or later Hector will be free.'

As the Queen spoke she held out a small crystal phial, and the tear from Hilda's cheek fell into it. Then the Queen hung the phial about Hilda's neck by a chain of moon-sparkles, and kissed her tenderly and bade her farewell. And away went Hilda, light of foot, for the weariness had left her. But as she went she kept fancying that she had somewhere heard a voice like this Queen's before; but where or when she could not tell.

She now reached the solid air again, and hastening her steps, she presently arrived at the harbour in which the cloud was anchored; and there she found Tom the Cat awaiting her. He got up and stretched himself as she approached; and when he saw the crystal phial hanging at her neck by its chain of moon-sparkles he said:

'So far all has gone well. But the hardest part is yet to come: we have to find the Golden Ivy-seed. There is no time to be lost, so jump on my back, and let us be off!'

With that he curved his back, Hilda put her arms round his neck and nestled down in the soft white fur, and Tom gave a great leap off the edge of the cloud, and away! down they went through the empty air like a live snowball, and it seemed to Hilda that they never would have done falling. At length, however, they alighted safely on the top of a haystack, and the next moment they were standing in the hayfield.


CHAPTER VI.

THE KING OF THE GNOMES.

Just beside the haystack was a field-mouse's hole, or what looked like one; and something that looked like a little brown mouse, but which might have been something else for all Hilda could tell, was sitting at the entrance of it. But when it saw the cat it rose up on its little hind legs, turned a complete somersault, and then darted away down the hole; and Hilda noticed that it had no tail.

'What a curious mouse!' she said to Tom.

'It was a Gnome,' he replied: 'they are often mistaken for mice when they appear on the surface of the ground.'

'Where has he gone to?' inquired Hilda.

'Down to the centre of the earth, to be sure,' said Tom, 'to tell the others that we are coming.'

'But we can never get into such a little hole as that,' Hilda said.

'Get on my back, and hold fast!' was all Tom's answer; and when Hilda had nestled down in his soft white fur and clasped her arms round his neck he began scratching at the hole with both his fore-paws, and throwing up the dirt in a mighty heap behind; till in a wonderfully short time a large passage was made, opening towards the centre of the earth.

'Hold fast!' said Tom again, and into the passage they went.

If it had not been for the cat's eyes, which shone like two yellow carriage-lamps, they might more than once have missed their way, for it was as dark as pitch during the first part of the journey. Hilda, as she clung close to the cat's back, could see that they were passing rapidly through what seemed to be a series of caves, one opening into another, and growing always higher and broader as they went on. At first the air felt damp and cold; but as they sped onwards it grew warmer and drier; and now the wall of the caverns began to throw back gleams of many-coloured light, as if from gigantic jewels sticking there; and presently the light increased, without seeming to come from anywhere in particular; and the great vault overhead seemed to soar aloft, until only a misty brightness was visible, like the sky at sunset-time, when it is feathered with gorgeous clouds. It was a new and marvellous country, with gold and silver filagree instead of foliage, and fields of emerald, and rivers of sapphires, and distant mountains of amethyst. By and by the cat came to two lofty pillars of plain white alabaster, and there he stopped.

'Now, Hilda,' he said, 'you must go the rest of the way alone. Pass between those pillars, and then you will be in the kingdom of the Gnomes. Ask the first Gnome you meet to show you the place where the King ploughs; and when you have found him, ask him where the Golden Ivy-seed is. But be very careful to do everything that he bids you, no matter how strange or disagreeable it may be; for, if you disobey him, your brother Hector cannot be saved.'

Though Hilda did not much like the idea of going on through this strange land all by herself, still, since it was for Hector's sake, she never dreamed of refusing; only she made up her mind to do everything the King bade her, whatever happened. So off she started, and after passing between the alabaster pillars she came to a road on which the gold-dust lay an inch thick; for it seldom rains in the centre of the earth. Pretty soon she met a little brown Gnome, running along on all-fours, and turning somersaults, as all Gnomes do.

'Will you show me the place where the King ploughs?' asked Hilda.

'What do you want of him?' asked the Gnome.

'I want to ask him to tell me where the Golden Ivy-seed is,' Hilda replied.

'He ploughs in the emerald field on the other side of the mountain of amethyst,' said the Gnome; 'but, unless you can go on all-fours and turn somersaults better than you seem able to do, you will never get on in this country.'

But Hilda had never walked on all-fours, much less turned somersaults, since she was a baby a year old; so she trudged along the dusty golden road just as she was, and all the Gnomes who met her threw somersaults and said:

'See how upright she walks! She will never come to anything!'

The road was very long, the amethyst mountain was very far away, and Hilda was very tired by the time she arrived at the emerald field. But there was the field at last, and there was the King of the Gnomes on all-fours in the midst of it. He was a strange little being, with piercing black eyes, immensely broad shoulders, and a beard of white asbestos woven together like a woman's braid. As soon as he caught sight of Hilda he shouted out to her:

'Get down on all-fours this instant! How dare you come into my kingdom walking upright?'

Hilda was a good deal frightened at the way the King spoke; but she answered resolutely, 'Your Majesty, I walked upright because there was no time to lose, and I have come to ask you for the Golden Ivy-seed.'

'The Golden Ivy-seed, forsooth!' exclaimed the King, with a deep laugh. 'What made you suppose, I should like to know, that there was any Golden Ivy-seed to be got here? The Golden Ivy-seed is not given to people with stiff necks, I can assure you; so get down on all-fours at once, or else go about your business.'

Then Hilda remembered what Tom the Cat had told her, and down she dropped on all-fours without a word.

'Now, listen to me,' said the King sternly. 'I shall harness you to that plough in the place of my horses, and you must drag it up and down over this field until the whole of it is ploughed, while I follow behind with the whip. Hitch yourself to the shaft immediately. Come!'

When Hilda heard this command it seemed to her at first as if it was impossible that she could obey it. For she was weary with her long journey along the golden road and over the mountain of amethyst, and the King's plough looked very heavy, and his whip very long; and, besides, she thought it was much beneath the dignity of a princess such as she was to be driven on all-fours through a ploughed field. But the next moment the thought came to her of her poor little brother Hector, standing in the hundred-and-first corner of Rumpty-Dudget's tower, with his face to the wall and his hands behind his back. So she said humbly:

'Oh, King of the Gnomes! I am so sorry for my brother Hector that for his sake I will do as you bid me, in the hope that afterwards you will tell me where the Golden Ivy-seed is to be found, so that Hector may be saved from Rumpty-Dudget's tower.'

The King made no reply whatever, but he harnessed Hilda to the plough, and she dragged it back and forth across the emerald field until the whole of it was ploughed, while the King followed behind with the whip. At last he unharnessed her.

'Now begone about your business!' he said roughly.

'But you have not told me where the Golden Ivy-seed is,' said Hilda, with a piteous throb in her heart.

'I have no Golden Ivy-seed!' returned the King, with his deep laugh. 'Why don't you ask yourself where it is?'

At this poor Hilda's heart felt as if it were broken, and she sank down on the ground and sobbed out:

'Oh! what shall I do to save my little brother?'

But hereupon the King of the Gnomes smiled upon her, and he said, in a gentler voice than he had yet used:

'Put your hand to your heart, Hilda, and see what you find there.'

Hilda did not understand what he meant; but she had by this time got so used to obeying him that she put her hand to her heart, and felt something fall into the palm of her hand; and when in astonishment she looked at it, behold, it was a tiny golden seed!

'Yes,' said the King kindly, 'you might have searched through all the kingdoms of the earth and air, and yet never have found that precious seed, had not your heart been broken like this field for love of your brother Hector. Keep the Golden Ivy-seed in this hollow pearl; be humble, patient, and gentle, and sooner or later Hector will be free.'

As he said these words he fastened the pearl to her girdle with a jewelled clasp, and kissed her on the forehead and bade her farewell. And as Hilda trudged back along the golden road and over the mountain of amethyst she kept thinking that somewhere she had heard a voice like this King's before; but where or when she could not tell.

In course of time she arrived at the alabaster pillars, and, passing out between them, she found Tom the Cat awaiting her. He got up and stretched himself as she approached; and when he saw the hollow pearl at her girdle he said:

'So far all has gone well. But now we must see whether or not Harold has kept the enchanted fire going. There is no time to be lost; so jump on my back and hold fast, and let us be off.'

With that he curved his back; Hilda clasped her arms round his neck as before, and away they went, through the gleaming caverns, and up the sombre passages, and through the cold damp tunnels, until at last out they popped beside the haystack in the field; and after they had come out the little brown creature which had been sitting waiting at the entrance threw a somersault into the great pit and disappeared. And immediately the whole heap of earth which Tom had dug up fell back into its place, and nothing was left but a small round crevice in the ground, like a field-mouse's hole.


CHAPTER VII.

THE ENCHANTED FIRE.

Now, Harold—after he had seen Hilda and the cat vanish up the trunk of the tall pine-tree—had sat himself down rather disconsolately beside the fire, which was blazing away famously, yellow, red, and blue. He rested his back against the trunk of the tree, and fixed his eyes upon the fire; it made a slight rustling and crackling noise as it burned. There was also another noise, but that did not come from the fire; it was a chopping noise, sounding far away in the forest, and Harold knew that it was Rumpty-Dudget cutting down the trees. Each time he heard this sound it seemed to be a little nearer. Then he would wonder to himself what he should do if Rumpty-Dudget were suddenly to appear. He must not, at all events, let the fire go out; and every once in a while he took a faggot from the pile that he and Hilda had heaped up and put it in the leaping flame; but he was very careful to avoid stepping outside the circle which Tom the Cat had drawn with the tip of his tail.

In this manner a very long time passed away, and Harold, who had never sat up so late before in his life, began to get uncommonly sleepy. But still Hilda and Tom did not return; and Harold knew that, if he were to lie down and take a nap, the enchanted fire might go out before he waked up again; and, as Tom had warned him, once out it could never be rekindled. Moreover, Rumpty-Dudget would then be able to steal the fire-blackened logs and blacken poor Hector's face all over with them, so that he never could be saved. Therefore Harold kept himself awake, partly by sitting on a pine-needle which he had found stuck in the moss cushion, and partly by putting fresh faggots into the flame, which went on burning blue, yellow, and red.

But another very long time passed away, and the sound of Rumpty-Dudget's axe sounded nearer, and the forest was dark and full of mystery, and there was no sign yet of Hilda and the cat. 'I never knew before,' said Harold to himself, 'that a night was so much longer than a day. I always thought they were a great deal shorter, But then I have no Fairy Aunt now to come and whisper pleasant stories into my ear. Heigho! well, I suppose I must put on another faggot.' And he got up to fetch one.

Much to his consternation, however, he found that there was now only a single faggot left of all those that he and Hilda had gathered together.

He was really frightened at this, and knew not what to do; for this last faggot would soon be burnt up, and then what was to be done to keep the enchanted fire going? He made a careful search inside the ring, and satisfied himself that there was not so much as another chip to be found there; and Tom had told him that if he went outside the ring all would be lost.

However, the last faggot was not gone yet, and in order to make it last as long as possible Harold took it apart and put only one stick at a time on the fire; but it was alarming to see how quickly the flame ate up one after another, and seemed hungrier than ever. After a while all but the last stick was gone. A little while more and that had to be put in too. And then Prince Harold sat down quite in despair and cried with all his might. He was at the end of everything, and at his wit's end too.

At that moment he heard a voice calling to him; and looking up he saw an odd little man standing just outside the circle, carrying a great bundle of faggots on his shoulder. Harold's eyes were so full of tears that he did not see that this odd little man was Rumpty-Dudget himself; or else (what is quite as likely) the dwarf had some spell by means of which he could make himself appear different from what he was.

'What are you crying for, my poor dear little boy?' asked Rumpty-Dudget of Prince Harold in his most coaxing voice.

'Because I have used up all my faggots,' he answered.

'Used them all up! But surely there are plenty more in the forest where those came from?' the dwarf answered in pretended surprise. 'Besides, what harm if the fire does go out? It isn't a cold night, and the moon will be up presently.'

'But if the fire goes out,' said Harold, 'my poor little brother Hector cannot be saved.'

'Oh, that is the trouble, is it?' exclaimed the dwarf. 'Well, now, it is lucky I happened to come along this way; you could not have met with a better adviser than I am. For I know all about this Rumpty-Dudget, with whom your brother Hector is staying; and I saw Hector myself not an hour ago.'

'Oh! did you?' cried Harold in great excitement.

'To be sure I did; and very well he looked, I can tell you. He has done nothing but eat sugar-candy and blow on a tin whistle ever since he went there; and he says he wants nothing better than to stay with Rumpty-Dudget all his life. And, by the way, he asked me to tell you if I saw you that he hoped you and your sister would come and join; for that Rumpty-Dudget is the pleasantest fellow in the world, and not at all like what you had been made to believe him.'

'Oh-h!' exclaimed Harold, staring at Rumpty-Dudget with wide-open eyes. 'I don't see how that can be true. Who are you?'

'A friend,' replied Rumpty-Dudget. 'And to prove it I have brought over this bundle of faggots; and when these are used up I will get you some more.'

'Oh, thank you very much!' exclaimed Harold, jumping for joy, and going as near to the inside edge of the circle as he could. 'Give them to me quick, for there is no time to be lost; the fire is just going out.'

'I can't bring them inside the circle,' said the dwarf, suddenly putting the bundle on the ground, and pretending to be very much exhausted. 'I have carried them already all the way from the further side of the forest, and that is far enough. Surely you can come the rest of the way for them yourself.'

'But I must not come outside the circle, you know,' said Harold, dancing up and down with impatience.

'Why not?'

'Because Tom the Cat said that if I did all would go wrong.'

'Pshaw! what should a cat know about a thing like this?' demanded the dwarf very scornfully. 'At all events, your fire will burn less than a minute longer; and you know what will happen when it goes out.'

At that Harold became almost beside himself with anxiety and bewilderment, and what to do he could not tell. But at last he thought that anything would be better than to let the fire go out; so he put one foot outside the circle and stretched forth his hand for the faggots.

'Just the least bit further,' said the dwarf coaxingly. 'I would save you the trouble if I could; but I am really too tired to stir.'

Harold saw that by stretching about six inches further he could reach a faggot. But in order to stretch six inches he would be obliged to put the other foot outside the circle. 'After all, what can it matter?' he thought. And the next moment there he was, outside!

Immediately, with aloud laugh, the dwarf flung away the faggots far into the depths of the forest; and rushing into the circle, he began to stamp out with his feet what was left of the enchanted fire.

Then Harold recognised Rumpty-Dudget for the first time, for the spell was off him. And Harold remembered what Tom the Cat had said, and he leaped back into the circle, and as the last bit of flame flickered at the end of the stick he laid himself down upon it. Whereupon Rumpty-Dudget gave a hoarse cry and vanished; and the enchanted fire blazed up famously, red, blue, and yellow, with poor Harold in the midst of it.


CHAPTER VIII.

THE GOLDEN IVY.

Now, or never, it was the time for Hilda and the cat to come back. And, sure enough, at this very instant there was a sound like the whistling of a blast of wind through the forest, and a hurrying and a skurrying, and behold! there was Tom the Cat, with Hilda on his back.

Tom said nothing, but he sprang into the circle, and without losing an instant he dug a little hole in the ground with his fore paws, throwing up the dirt in a heap behind him. When it was finished he said:

'Open the hollow pearl, Hilda, and put the Golden Ivy-seed in this hole; and make haste, for Harold is burning for Hector's sake!'

So Hilda made haste to open the hollow pearl and to put the Golden Ivy-seed in the hole; and the cat spread the earth over it, and then said:

'Now take the crystal phial, Hilda, and pour half the Diamond Waterdrop upon the place where the seed is planted, and the other half upon the enchanted fire; and make haste, for Harold is burning for Hector's sake!'

So Hilda made haste and did what the cat had told her to do.

When the half of the Diamond Waterdrop fell upon the fire in which Harold had all this while been burning the fire was immediately put out. And there lay Harold, alive and well, amidst the embers; but the black spot upon his nose was all burned away, and his hair and eyes, which had until then been brown, were now quite black.

So up he jumped, and he and Hilda kissed each other heartily, for they felt as if they had been separated for a long time.

'What has become of the black spot on your forehead, Hilda?' asked Harold. 'It is not there any more.'

'Ah!' said Tom, 'that disappeared when the King of the Gnomes kissed her. But now make yourselves ready, children, for we are going to take a ride to Rumpty-Dudget's tower.'

On hearing this the young prince and princess were greatly surprised, and looked about for the horses on which they were to ride.

But behold! the Golden Ivy-seed, watered with the Diamond Waterdrop, was already growing and sprouting with marvellous vigour and rapidity. A strong stem, with leaves of glistening gold, had pushed itself out of the earth, and was creeping along the ground towards Rumpty-Dudget's tower: hardly creeping, either, for it moved faster than a man could run. The cat helped Hilda and Harold to a seat on two of the largest leaves, while he himself clung to the stem; and so away they went through the forest merrily. As they advanced the heavy grey cloud which had overcast all the heavens since Rumpty-Dudget's rule began was rolled back like a mighty scroll; and the pure sky, lit up with the fresh sunshine of the early dawn, smiled above the mysterious forest. Then the forest too awoke to life and joyousness; the birds sang in the branches, and fragrant flowers, sparkling with dew, glowed in the happy glades with mingled tints of white, blue, and red. So on they went, carrying with them the freshness and perfume of the morning and of spring; and in a wonderfully short time the Golden Ivy had brought them to the gates of Rumpty-Dudget's tower.

'Jump down now,' said Tom, 'and leave the Golden Ivy to do the rest.'

Down they all jumped accordingly, and stood at one side, near the castle gates. But the Golden Ivy kept on, and threw itself across, the moat, and clambered over the portcullis, and forced its way into the courtyard, and writhed along the passages and up the staircases, until (in less time than it takes to write about it) the Ivy had reached the room with the hundred-and-one corners. In the midst of this room stood Rumpty-Dudget, having fled to it for safety; for it was defended by enchantments which only the Golden Ivy could have overcome. There he stood, trembling in his shoes, as well he might; and in all the corners round about, with their faces to the wall and their hands behind their backs, stood the poor little children that Rumpty-Dudget had caught.

But they were not to stand there much longer, for Rumpty-Dudget's hour had come! He tried to run away, but the terrible Golden Ivy ran after him and caught him, and bound down his arms, and tied together his legs, and clutched him around the throat, and squeezed him round the body, and fastened its coils upon him tighter and tighter, until all the mischief was squeezed out of him. But, since Rumpty-Dudget was entirely made of mischief, when all the mischief was squeezed out of him of course there was no Rumpty-Dudget left—no, not so much as one of his shoe-buckles!

And when Rumpty-Dudget had ceased to exist of course all the children who had been made prisoners by his spells became free; and they came racing and shouting out of the grey tower, with little Prince Hector at their head. But when Hector saw his brother and sister, and they saw him, they all three set up a cry of joy, and ran together and hugged and kissed each other heartily; for they felt as if they had been parted for a very long time.

At last Hilda said, 'Why, Hector, what has become of the black spot that used to be on your chin? It is not there any more.'

'It got rubbed off against the wall of the room with the hundred-and-one corners,' replied Hector demurely.

At that they all three laughed; but Hilda at least had tears in her eyes.

'And look at his hair and eyes!' exclaimed Harold; 'they are brown now, instead of black, as they used to be. What is the reason of that?'

'It is the touch of the Golden Ivy,' said a voice behind them, which Hilda fancied she had heard somewhere before.

The three children looked round, and saw a lady standing beside them, dazzlingly beautiful, with a crown on her head and a smile in her eyes. They all knew her at once, though they had never seen her before except in their dreams. It was their Fairy Aunt.

'But you look very much like the Queen our mother,' said Hilda.

'And do I look like anyone besides her?' asked the lady, with a smile.

'Yes, you are like the Queen of the Air Spirits!' exclaimed Hilda; 'though you don't look so haughty as she did at first.'

'Anyone else?' asked the lady again, speaking in a very gruff tone, and drawing her eyebrows together.

'Dear me! that is the way the King of the Gnomes talked,' said Hilda, clasping her hands. 'Surely you couldn't have been him?'

'Yes, my darlings,' said the lady, sitting down and drawing the three children to her lap, 'I am the Queen, your mother; though, by Rumpty-Dudget's spells, I was obliged to leave you, and to be seen by you only in your dreams at night. And I was what seemed to you the Queen of the Air Spirits, Hilda, and the King of the Gnomes as well; because love shows itself in many forms, and works for you above and beneath, and both while you wake and while you sleep; but it is always the same love in the end, and if you love one another you will find it out at last.'

'After all,' said Hilda thoughtfully, 'I love you best as our own mamma. And you will always be our mamma, and be with us now, won't you?'

'Yes, my darlings,' answered the Queen, giving them all a hug and a kiss; 'there will be no more changes or partings, for Rumpty-Dudget and his tower are gone, and we are free.'

'But where is Tom the Cat?' cried Hector all of a sudden, looking this way and that. 'We can never be happy anywhere without him.'

'Oh, Tom has done his work, and we shall not see him any more,' said the Queen, shaking her head mysteriously.

But at this all the children looked ready to cry.

'Well, then, you shall have one more look at him,' said the Queen. She wore on her shoulders a long hooded mantle of the finest white fur. By a sudden movement she drew this mantle round her, and pulled the hood over her head and face; and behold! there sat Tom the Cat, looking as natural as possible, only that between the folds of the fur the children could see their mother's eyes laughing.

'I have often looked out at you so before now,' she said, as she threw back the hood and mantle; 'and you would have seen me as plainly as you do now, but that the spell prevented you. So, you see, we shall take what was really Tom the Cat along with us, after all.'

'Where are we going?' Harold asked.

'To our home in Fairyland,' answered the Queen.

'And are we never coming back here any more?' asked Hilda, glad to go, and yet with almost a sigh.

'No, we shall never see this land again,' the Queen replied. 'It was beautiful, but all its beauty lives again in the land whither we go. And there are no Rumpty-Dudgets in that land, and no grey towers full of corners, and no prickly hedges, nor winds from the north. And all the stars of the air and jewels of the earth are in that land, only more glorious and splendid than those that Hilda saw. But why should I tell you about it, when you are going to see it all for yourselves this very day? Are you ready?'

'Yes!' said all the children together.

Then she folded her arms about them, and they clung to her neck, and so they seemed to rise aloft in the warm air, and float towards the south. Far beneath them lay the tops of the tallest trees; but the children felt no fear. For they were going to their home in Fairyland; and they are all three living there, with the Queen their mother, to this very day.

But Hilda's hair is golden still, and her eyes are blue.