The Little Lady with the Voice

by John Strange Winter

A FAIRY TALE

Marjory Drummond was sitting on the bank of the river, and, if the whole truth must be owned, she was crying. She was not crying loudly or passionately, but as she rested her cheek on her hand, the sad salt tears slowly gathered in her eyes, and brimmed over one by one, falling each with a separate splash upon the blue cotton gown which she wore.

(image)

The sad salt tears slowly gathered in her eyes.

The sun was shining high in the blue heavens, the river danced and sang merrily as it went rippling by, and all the hedgerows were alive with flowers, and the air was full of the scent of the new-cut hay. Yet Marjory was very miserable, and for her the skies looked dark and dull, the river only gave her even sadder thoughts than she already had, and the new-cut hay seemed quite scentless and dead. And all because a man had failed her--a man had proved to be clay instead of gold. And so she sat there in the gay summer sunshine and wished that she had never been born, or that she were dead, or some such folly, and the butterflies fluttered about, and the bees hummed, and all nature, excepting herself, seemed to be radiant and joyous. An old water-vole came out of his hiding-place by the river and watched her with a wise air, and a dragon-fly whizzed past and hovered over the surface of the sunlit water, but Marjory's eyes were blind to each and all of these things, and still the tears welled up and overflowed their bounds, and she wept on.

"What is the matter?" said a voice just at her ear.

Marjory gave a jump, and dashed her tears away; it was one thing to indulge herself in her grief, but it was quite another to let any one else, and that a stranger, see her. "What is wrong with you, Marjory?" said the voice once more.

"Nothing!" answered Marjory shortly.

"I may, perhaps, be able to help you," the gentle little voice persisted.

"Nobody can help me," said Marjory, with a great sigh, "nobody can help me--nobody."

"Don't be so sure of that," said the voice. "Why do you keep this curl of hair? Why do you turn so persistently away from me? Why don't you look at me?"

Marjory turned her head, but she could see no one near. "Who are you? Why do you hide?" she asked in turn.

"You look too high," said the voice. "Look lower; yes--ah, how d'you do?"

Marjory almost jumped into the river in her fright, for there, standing under the shade of a big dandelion, was the smallest being she had ever seen in her life. Yet, as she sat staring at her, this tiny woman seemed to increase in size, and to assume a shape which was somehow familiar to her. "You know me now?" asked the little woman, smiling at her again.

"N--o," replied Marjory, stammering a little.

"Oh, yes, you do. You remember the old woman whose part you took a few weeks ago--down by the old church, when some boys were teasing her? Well, that was me--me--and now I'm going to do something for you. I am going to make you happy."

"Are you a witch?" asked Marjory, in a very awed voice.

"Hu--sh--sh! We never use such an uncomplimentary word in our world. But you poor mortals are often very rude, even without knowing it. I am not what is called a witch, young lady. I am a familiar."

Marjory's eyes opened wider than ever; she bent forward and asked an earnest question: "Are you my familiar?" she said.

"Perhaps, perhaps," answered the little woman, nodding her head wisely. "That all depends on yourself. If you are good, yes; if you are bad, no--most emphatically, no. I am much too important a person to be familiar to worthless people."

"I'm sure you are very kind," said Marjory meekly. "But what will you do to make me happy? You cannot give me back my Jack, because he has married some one else--the wretch!" she added under her breath, but the ejaculation was for the woman whom Jack had married, not for Jack himself.

"You will learn to live without your Jack, as you call him," said the little woman with the soft voice, sagely, "and to feel thankful that he chose elsewhere. You once did me a service, and that is a thing that a familiar never, never forgets. I have been watching you ever since that time, and now I will reward you. Marjory Drummond, from this time henceforth everything shall prosper with you; everything you touch shall turn to gold, everything you wish shall come to pass; what you strive after you shall have; your greatest desires shall be realised; and you shall have power to draw tears from all eyes whenever you choose. This last I give you in compensation for the tears that you have shed this day. Farewell!"

"Stay!" cried Marjory. "Won't you even tell me your name? May I not thank you?"

"No. The thanks are mine," said the little lady. "When we meet again I will tell you my name--not before."

In a moment she was gone, and so quickly and mysteriously did she go that Marjory did not see her disappear. She rubbed her eyes and looked round. "I must have been asleep!" she exclaimed. "I must have dreamt it."

*      *      *      *      *

Several years had gone by. With Marjory Drummond everything had prospered, and she was on the high road to success, and fame, and fortune. Whenever her name was spoken, people nodded their heads wisely, and said: "A wonderful girl, nothing she cannot do"; and they mostly said it as if each one of them had had a hand in making her the clever girl that she was.

As an artist she was extremely gifted, being well hung in the Academy of the year; as an actress, though only playing with that form of art, she was hard to beat; and she had written stories and tales which were so infinitely above the average that editors were one and all delighted at any time to have the chance of a story signed with the initials "M.D.," initials which the world thought and declared were those of one of the most fashionable doctors of the day.

And at last the world of letters woke up and rubbed its eyes very much as Marjory had rubbed her eyes that day on the river's bank, and the world said, "We have a great and gifted man among us." "'M.D.' is the writer of the time." And slowly, little by little, the secret crept out, and Marjory was fêted and flattered, and made the star of the season. Her name was in every one's mouth, and her work was sought after eagerly and read by all. And among those who worshipped at her shrine was the "Jack" who had flouted her in the old days, yet not quite the same, but a "Jack" very much altered and world-worn, so that Marjory could no longer regret or wish that the lines of her life had fallen otherwise than they had done.

And often and often, as the years rolled by, and she was still the darling star of the people who love to live in the realms of fiction, did Marjory ponder over that vivid dream by the riverside, and try to satisfy herself that it really was no more than a dream, and that the old lady with the sweet clear voice had had no being except in her excited brain. "I wish," she said aloud one day, when she was sitting by the fire after finishing the most important work that had ever yet come from her pen, "I wish that she would come back and satisfy me about it. It seemed so real, so vivid, so distinct, and yet it is so impossible----"

"Not impossible at all," said a familiar voice at her elbow.

Marjory looked round with a start. "Oh! is it you?" she cried. "Then it was all true! I have never been able to make up my mind whether it was true or only a dream. Now I know that it was quite real, and everything that you promised me has come about. I am the happiest woman in all the world to-day, and, dear friend, if ever I did a service to you, you have amply repaid me."

"We never stint thanks in our world," said the little old lady, smiling. "Then there is nothing more that you want?"

"Yes, kind friend, just one thing," said Marjory. "You promised me that when we met again you would tell me your name."

The little woman melted away instantly, but somewhere out of the shadows came a small sweet sighing voice, which said softly, "My name is--Genius!"