The holiday was nearly over. The children had explored every inch of the farm. John, who lived on the farm, had run out of ideas. He thought hard for he wanted to make their last night something special to remember.
“Bet you've never seen a fairy,” he said at last. “They dance under the lone thorn at . That's the funny little tree in the field where the cows are. Wouldn't it be fun to slip out tonight when everyone's sleeping and see what we can see?”
“We won't see fairies,” Tom replied. “There are no such things. You don't really believe in them, John?”
“Not really,” John said ruefully.
“I do,” said Moira, “at least I think I do.”
“You're silly. Nobody believes in fairies nowadays. I like the idea of stealing out at , though. I say, John, let's go out and spot a UFO.”
“An unidentified flying object ...... a flying saucer, if you like. I really believe there are flying saucers. I saw a photograph of one.”
“It was a fake,” Moira said grumpily. “If you don't believe in fairies, then I don't know how you can believe in silly old flying saucers.”
“It doesn't matter who believes in what,” John said. “Let's go out tonight and see what is to be seen.”
Tom and Moira eyed each other. They were thrilled at the thought of a adventure and each hoped to prove the other wrong. The matter was settled. They would do as John had suggested. The three made a solemn promise not to breathe a word of their plan. Grown-ups knew far too much.
When John's mother came to tuck them in that night they were all as quiet as mice. She thought they were sleeping after their long day in the open air.
When John's father had made his last round of the farmyard, they heard him come upstairs. They held their breath till he had switched off his light. After that, they waited for what seemed ages. The house was quite still. They dressed by moonlight and stole out on the landing. The grandfather clock stood at a .
Though they had a few nervous moments, everything went according to plan. The stairs made only a few tiny creaks, the back door opened softly; Drummer, the dog, recognised them at once and never uttered a bark. They climbed over the five-barred gate at the end of the yard and ran up the grassy slope beyond. Once over the top, they were out of sight of the house. Only the sleepy cows stared at the running figures. They ran down the slope towards the lone thorn tree.
They stopped a few yards from the tree and sat down on a hummock of grass to wait and watch. Huddled together, they looked like a clump of gorse. All three sat very still, Moira with her eyes fixed on the bare patch under the thorn, the boys scanning the clear, starry sky. There was no sound except the occasional chirrup of a sleepy bird and the whisper of wind in the branches of the thorn tree.
Far away a church clock struck . The fairy hour! Moira sat tensed and very still. At any moment the fairies would come out from the roots of the thorn. She would hear their music, see them dancing. Then she would know for certain that fairy tales were true. The boys, intent on their own sky-watch, took no notice of her. The minutes passed slowly. No tiny figures appeared. There was not even the faintest tinkle of fairy music. She had not been as sure as she had pretended in the first place. Now she found it very hard to hold on to what little belief she had. She was tired of sitting so still. With a sigh that might have been a sob, she rose and moved away.
John yawned and stretched.
“I think we should go in,” he said. “I'm not sure that I believe in flying saucers.”
“UFO's!” Tom corrected him. “I'm not sure about them either.”
“Maybe people only imagine fairies too,” Moira murmured sleepily.
They set off at a gallop, splashing the dew as they went. Their footprints made a dark trail in the damp grass. Very soon, they were tucked up in their warm dry beds. The cows went on chewing their cud. A rabbit came out to nibble the grass.
The children were not entirely forgotten, however. They had been watched by the very beings in which they did not quite believe. Their words had roused alarm. As soon as they were out of sight, a troop of tiny figures emerged from the deep shade at the foot of the lone thorn tree. They studied the footprints in the grass with much head-shaking. Till cock-crow they took council together. Then they vanished, leaving no trace.
All through the following day, the Queen of the Fairies presided over a solemn council in the dark cavern under the roots of the thorn. Her face was grave. The report which her elves had brought from the Upper World disturbed her deeply. Now her wisest gnomes sat about her in a circle and she addressed them:
“My wise gnomes, I have called you together that we may talk over the grave news we have received from the Upper World. Our whole future depends on the decision you make now. We have always tried to keep contact with the Humans. We have tried to be friendly. They have often hurt us by their distrust. But, while they regarded us as capricious friends, or even as enemies, we, at least, knew that they believed in us. For a long time we have suspected that the grown-ups no longer believed. Now we have evidence that even children doubt our existence. They have turned their attention to fanciful things like flying saucers and space men. They scoff at the old-fashioned ideas.
It is very serious for us. When they stop believing in us we begin to dwindle away. Soon we shall be so weak that even the animals and birds will not believe in us. Then we shall perish from the earth. Consider what that will mean.”
A hush lay on the circle. The tiny wizened men looked very grave. The Queen spoke again:
“We have got to win back the Humans somehow. There may be a few who do not entirely doubt us. With these we must establish contact. They will spread the news. But how shall we attract their notice?”
There was a long silence. Now and then one or other of the company rose to his feet and offered a suggestion:
“Get the message through to the most obstinate ones. They are the leaders. The people listen to them. They take no notice of dreamers.”
“How?” asked the Queen.
“Put a spell on their food. Turn it to ashes in their mouths.”
“Turn the petrol in their tanks into water.”
“Turn their faces green.”
“Steal their babies and leave changelings in their stead.”
There was a great babble. The Queen rose and, grasping a harebell, rang for silence. Her voice was angry when she spoke!
“You naughty, naughty gnomes. I asked for wise advice and all you can offer are out-dated suggestions. We tried in the old times to conquer the stubborn by making them afraid of us. They believed in fairies then, but saw them as enemies. If they see us as enemies, they will resist us. We are too weak to fight now. We must win friends or renew friendship with the few who have not quite forgotten. They will tell their children.”
“Set up diplomatic relations?” murmured a very old gnome. “Perhaps we should send an ambassador to the Upper World.”
“An excellent suggestion, my wisest gnome,” exclaimed the Queen, “but whom shall we send as our ambassador?”
“I have thought about that,” answered the old gnome. “There is one amongst our people who understands Humans. Let us send him.”
“Of course,” said the Queen, “you mean Weevy-Weevy.”
“I do. Your Majesty recalls that he was a changeling. We brought him from the Upper World long, long ago when he was an infant. He is one of us now, but there must remain just a little of the Human in his bones. He will be able to live in the world of men ...... bear the heat of the sun ...... see clearly in the dazzling light.”
The Queen clapped her hands. Seizing her wand, she beckoned the old gnome to come forward. He knelt at her feet.
“Rise Sir Gnome-Knight,” the Queen commanded, tapping him lightly on the shoulder. “I shall make you my Prime Minister. Your advice will be very valuable to me”.
All the gnomes rose and cheered their new Prime Minister, and threw their pointed caps in the air, and danced about him and the Queen in great glee.
That night Weevy-Weevy was summoned and a great feast was prepared to bid him farewell and speed him on his way.
Weevy-Weevy set out on his mission to the Upper World. He carried two packages that the Fairy Queen had given him. They were wrapped in gossamer and he did not know what they contained. She had told him:
“These will be useful to you. The large packet contains something to help you on your way. You will find out how to use what you find inside. The small packet contains gifts for our friends in the Upper World. I can trust you to give them wisely. They will give great joy to those who receive them.”
He scrambled up the root stair and found himself alone in a silent, starlit world. The size and loneliness of it would have frightened him, but he had something else to think of. He squatted under the lone thorn and began to undo his precious packages.
Inside the first he found two pairs of the smallest, softest shoes that ever were. Unknown to him, the fairy shoemakers had taken his measure. The shoes fitted perfectly and he amused himself for some time, trying on first one pair and then the other. One pair was bright red, the other was green as grass.
He discovered something strange about the shoes. When he put on the red pair, he had no desire to move at all; when he tried the green, he felt he had wings to his heels and could move at great speed. “Green for GO. Red for STOP,” he murmured. “I must remember that.”
In the smaller packet he found five tiny precious stones. They shone and glittered in the starlight. Holding them in his palm, he danced round and round the tree. As he moved, the stones sparkled and glowed like tiny flames. One was red as fire, one blue as a wisp of smoke, one green as a cat's eye, one yellow as candle flame, one clear as a dewdrop. He held a whole rainbow in his hand.
Cock-crow interrupted his caper. It sent a chill up his spine. At the dread sound, he wanted to hurry down the root stair as the fairy people always did. He had to put on his red shoes and let them hold him still. It made him quite ill to be pulled one way and another. For a little while he felt that he was going to pass out. But not being quite a fairy, he was able to bear the first light of dawn. He pulled himself together, changed his shoes and prepared to start on his journey.
First he tucked the precious stones into his waistcoat pocket. Then he slung his red shoes by the laces over his shoulder. Picking up a stout little stick, he set out across the field. He was glad of his green shoes to speed him through the long, dewy grass.
At the end of the field, he found a tiny gap in the hedge. He squeezed through and came out on the open road. The first cars were carrying people to work. They seemed very large, noisy and frightening and, every time one came along he wanted to scramble back into the quiet field. But he had heard about these travelling monsters and knew that they would not hurt him if he took care. He kept close to the grass margin and soon lost his fear and could stride out boldly. He whistled a merry tune to cheer him on his way. From the hedgerows the morning sparrows twittered their replies.
The soles of Weevy-Weevy's shoes were thin from walking on the hard road. Though he made good speed, he tired of walking and began to wish for a faster and easier mode of travel. The Upper World seemed to go on for ever. At walking pace, he felt he would never see more than a tiny bit of it.
“If only I could fly,” he thought, “if only I had a Flying Saucer.”
The road led past an aerodrome. He saw the great shining birds drawn up on the runways. As he watched, one or two took off or came in to land. He had never seen an aeroplane before, but had heard talk of them in the Under World. Now, if there were only one baby plane amongst this lot, it might just fit him. Planes surely had babies. He entered the aerodrome through a gap in the mesh fence and hurried towards the great shining birds.
The planes which looked large at a distance, swelled to the size of monsters as he approached. They seemed to stare at him from great blank eyes. But they made no move. Perhaps they slept with their eyes open. He moved forward on tiptoe lest he disturb them.
Even when he laid his hand on the glossy fuselage of the first plane, it never made the slightest stir. He was filled with curiosity. Finding a foothold, he began to clamber up. The plane did not seem to mind. He worked his way to the cockpit and slid inside. To him it was like a huge room full of strange knobs and switches and mysterious codes. Not a knob or switch could he move, though he put all his strength to it. Everything was too big and powerful for him. He must find a baby.
The little bi-plane must be a baby, but when he approached it, it towered over him. In its cockpit, he found himself as much at a loss as he had been in that of the big plane. This was the smallest flying machine in sight. There was nothing here that suited him at all. He turned away sadly and headed for the road and the long walk.
It was about when he reached the outskirts of a small town. It was market day and the town was jam-packed with all the vehicles and people that had passed him on the road. It was quite a fearsome adventure to walk up the crowded main street with flashing wheels and booted feet moving in all directions about him. He had to tread very carefully amongst them.
He was scared and excited. But, above all, he was hungry. On all sides he caught glimpses of food displayed in shop-windows and on stalls. The more he saw, the more his mouth watered. He longed to sample some of the things Humans ate. But everything was just out of reach behind glass or perched high on an open stall.
A display of fruit outside a greengrocer's caught his eye. The great piles of glowing oranges, the rosy apples, the juicy plums and peaches were too tempting to pass. He darted forward and began to shin up the trestle. He reached the top in so great haste that he over-balanced and fell splosh in the middle of a ripe peach. The juice spurted out over his face. He licked his lips. The taste was delicious. He squatted on his haunches and set about making a meal.
By and by he was joined by a pair of wasps. They threw him a raspy “good day” and set to work on the peach. Presently they drew the attention of the greengrocer who came out to shoo them away and remove the damaged peach. The picnic was over, but Weevy-Weevy felt very well fed. He slid down the trestle and ambled off down the long street. No longer hungry and frightened, he enjoyed the bustle of the market and the endless array of goods on show in the windows. Every now and then he stopped to puzzle out the use of some new object that took his fancy.
Presently he came to a stall piled high with shining tins and pots and pans and kitchen gadgets of every kind. He walked round and round it, trying to figure out what each thing was and for what purpose it was used. Two women were looking the stall over and from their talk he learnt a good deal, though it was not always easy to understand what they said. This article was a saucepan, and that a teapot, and the odd fellow with the long nose was a kettle. None of them seemed to have much to do with a little fairy man.
“That's a good little frying pan,” one of the women said, “just big enough for one.”
“It would suit you nicely,” said the other.
“It would indeed. I will think about it. Maybe, if it's still here when I come back, I'll buy it. The price might come down later in the day.”
Weevy-Weevy stood on tip-toe to get a look at this interesting article. “A Flying-pan, just big enough for one!” now that was an idea. The woman replaced the pan so carelessly that it wobbled on the edge of the stall. She had not gone more than a few yards away when it tipped over and fell with a clatter on the pavement. There it lay still, the sun glancing off its polished surface. Quick as a flash, Weevy-Weevy hopped inside.
As soon as his green shoes touched the bottom, the pan began to move. It rose so suddenly that he was forced to sit down. The pan went on rising and moving away from the stall. It gathered speed as it rose. Soon it was high above the street. In a few moments the busy little town lay far below and the pan was leaving it behind as it moved out over the green country. Weevy-Weevy leant over and stared down at the houses and woods and farmsteads drifting far below.
So fast did the pan move that nobody could be quite sure they saw anything happen. Some saw a flash, others thought they saw a moving speck in the sky. They rubbed their eyes and looked again, and there was nothing.
It was lovely to drift along in the clear air with the land gliding away below and wispy clouds trailing above his head. Weevy-Weevy was so thrilled to be airborne that he did not care where he was going or when his flight ended. A butterfly fluttered lazily over his head for a few moments; then paused to ask in a small squeaky voice:
“Please, who are you, and what is that strange machine you sit in?”
“I am Weevy-Weevy,” he replied, “and this is my new Flying Pan.”
The butterfly flew off to tell her brothers and sisters. Soon Weevy-Weevy was joined in his flight by a cloud of bright, fluttering wings. They swirled about him, nudging each other as they passed and whispering: “That is Weevy-Weevy, and that is his new Flying Pan.”
Weevy-Weevy enjoyed the company at first. It made him feel important to be the centre of so much attention. But he tired of the whispers and giggles. He leant over the rim of the pan and shooed the butterflies away. He leant so far that he nearly upset the pan. He clutched at the red handle to steady his craft. The pan changed course and went into a steep dive. He let go of the handle and it righted itself. He had discovered how to steer the pan. What an idea! He spent quite a long time playing with the handle, finding out how to control his machine. Now he could go wherever he wanted, The Upper World was wide open to him.
Birds were not so easy to dismiss as were butterflies. They were very inquisitive. A cheeky sparrow lit on the handle of the pan and very nearly upset Weevy-Weevy. Without an apology, it fixed him with a bright eye and chirped a question: “Who are you, and what is this strange machine you fly?”
“I am Weevy-Weevy,” he replied rather crossly, “and this is my Flying Pan as you can see for yourself. You are sitting on the steering-handle.”
“Oh!” chirped the sparrow, and flew off to tell his friends. He came back with a host of them„ The air was loud with chirrups and questions which came so fast that Weevy-Weevy found it hard to keep up with the answers. The sparrows were nosy, but meant well. They liked Weevy-Weevy and said they would come and take him in tow if he got into difficulty. Though their chatter wearied him, he was sorry when they had to wheel round and return to base. Left alone again, he curled up in his Flying Pan and had a long nap.
He was aroused by a clumsy jolt. When he came to, he found that he had been drifting for a long time. The sun had set and it was quite dusk. High in the dark blue sky the stars twinkled down upon him. The air was chill. He felt very much alone and far from home. But what had jolted him awake? He leant over the rim of the pan and peered down.
In the gathering gloom he saw a strange dark winged creature circling about as though it had lost its way. It seemed as lonely as himself. He recognised the bat.
“Come up here and talk to me,” he called.
The bat did not seem to hear him. On it went, zigzagging about, darting and turning in a maze, and muttering as it flew: “Right and along by the river, left and among the trees, right and left and then right again; left, right, right, left and roundabout wheel.” It was too busy rushing round in circles and getting nowhere to take any notice of the Flying Pan.
Weevy-Weevy decided to land. He steered the pan into a dive which brought him within inches of the ground. But he could not actually land. The pan kept taking off again. He let it rise and tried to think what he must do.
“I can think better when I am comfortable,” he muttered. “I'll take off my shoes and lie down for a while.”
As he was taking off his green shoes he remembered something. Of course, this was the moment to try out the red pair. He slipped them on. Immediately the pan began to lose height. It was coming down to land at a great pace. He was so excited at this new discovery that he forgot all about the steering handle. The pan dropped with a thud to wedge itself right in the mouth of a rabbit-burrow.
Under the ground he could hear the scurry of padded feet and the whimper of frightened rabbit voices. A gruff voice hailed him from the cavern.
“Who are you, and what is that monstrous machine you have parked in my doorway?”
“I am Weevy-Weevy,” the little man said nervously. “That monstrous machine is my new Flying Pan and I'm afraid I am not a very good pilot yet. I am very sorry to block your door.”
“A tall story that is,” said the rabbit. “Kindly move over and let me out so that I can see for myself. Be quick about it too.”
“I’ll be as quick as I can,” said Weevy-Weevy as he tugged at the handle, “but oh dear, I'm afraid I am completely wedged. Please, will you be kind enough to push from the inside.”
“I'll push,” said the rabbit, “but no nonsense. For all I know you are Fox up to his tricks again.”
“I'm not in the least a fox,” Weevy-Weevy panted. “I wish I were half as strong and clever. Please, push harder, kind rabbit. Then you can see for yourself that I am only a little fairy man.”
“A fairy man,” the rabbit exclaimed and began to push with all his might.
Mother rabbit came hurrying to help him. All the little rabbits lined up behind her and lent their help. Weevy-Weevy pulled at the handle. At last the pan shot free with a great plop. He rolled head-over-heels in the grass. Inside the burrow the rabbit family was sent sprawling in the dust.
When they had recovered the rabbit children clustered round Weevy-Weevy. They poked him with their paws and asked so many questions that he could hear not a single one of them. Mrs. Rabbit came to his rescue. She shooed the children back into the burrow and told them to get into bed again. Then she hurried away down the passage to make sure that they did what she had said. Weevy-Weevy was left alone with father Rabbit. He began to stammer an apology.
“Not at all, not at all,” the rabbit said kindly. “You did no damage worth talking of and it was a pleasure to help you out. You must be cold and hungry now. If you'd like to join us, we'd be pleased to share our supper with you. We're very snug down there even if the entrance doesn't look very grand. We have to keep it low and narrow. Foxes are very intruding animals.”
Weevy-Weevy followed the rabbit into the round, dark hole and along an earthy passage. At the end they came out into a cosy chamber. It smelt of earth and roots and was dim and snug like his own underground home. Weevy-Weevy felt very much at home. Soon he was tucking into an enormous supper of carrots and greens.
They talked far into the night. Weevy-Weevy told of his mission and his adventures. The rabbits gave him all the news of the countryside. At last he was so weary that he fell asleep in the middle of a sentence.
Early next morning the rabbit summoned him to a picnic breakfast of dandelion shoots. They were crisp and tasty and damp with morning dew. The family had great fun scampering about the field in search of them.
“I'd dearly love to stay with you, my kind friends,” Weevy-Weevy said. “But I must be about the Queen's business. I must find me a place to set up headquarters. I have no experience of house-hunting.”
“You should have no trouble finding a place,” said the rabbit. “I'm sure you would be welcome anywhere.”
Weevy-Weevy thanked the rabbits and took his leave. As he leant over to wave to them from his Flying Pan, there were tears in his eyes. The little group huddled about the mouth of the burrow looked quite forlorn.
When he could no longer see them, he set himself to scanning the countryside for a place in which to settle. A lone thorn tree loomed up. It was larger and leafier than his own familiar tree but, to Weevy-Weevy, it looked homely and inviting. He went into a dive and had almost touched earth when a new thought struck him.
“This will never do,” he said to himself. “I would be very happy in a fairy place, but it would not make a good home for an ambassador to the Humans. If I am to make friends with people then I must live where they will not be scared to come ..... in some ordinary place that has nothing to do with fairies.”
When the Silver Spinney rose to view, Weevy-Weevy's brown eyes twinkled with delight. This little plantation on the edge of rolling grassland looked trim and orderly. The trees must have been planted by some farmer. It was far enough from a main road to be out of range of the noise and fumes, yet it was near enough the haunts of men. He surveyed it with great satisfaction.
In the middle of the spinney a great oak tree spread its branches. It looked like a queen in crinoline holding her court. Around her stood slender beeches in shimmering silk. Poplars fluttered their dancing skirts. Tall fir trees stood erect as guardsmen. On the outskirts a bevy of silver birches shivered in the delicate breeze. Weevy-Weevy slipped on his red shoes and steered his Flying Pan carefully to land. His heart went pit-a-pat with excitement. This was the place. There was no doubt of that. The pan landed smoothly on the soft mossy grass. He hurled himself out and rolled over and over kicking his heels for joy.
At once there was a scurry of padded feet, a fluttering of wings among the branches. Weevy-Weevy sat up and set his cap straight. He could feel a great many watchful eyes upon him.
Then he saw little faces among the leaves and grasses and soon he was able to make out the shapes of many furred and feathered bodies, all still and tense, on guard against the intruder.
“Hello, my friends!” he called out. “What a charming place you live in. I do hope you will let me stay. Do not fear me. I come from your old friend, the Queen of the Fairies.”
The shy birds and animals came out of hiding and hurried to greet their guest. A babble of voices broke out. Rabbits, hares, field mice, little crawling creatures ventured out to welcome him. A mole stumbled into the light. A wary badger half emerged from the shade of the trees. The branches and twigs were weighed down with twittering birds. A bumble bee buzzed up. What a to-do they made in their eagerness to see the fairy visitor.
Weevy-Weevy was quite overwhelmed. He wanted to answer all the questions politely, but could hear none of them clearly. Then an old rook came to his rescue. With a loud squawk he hushed the chattering crowd. Then he fixed Weevy-Weevy with a steely eye and, in a hoarse voice, asked the question that they had all been trying to ask!
“Who are you and where do you come from?”
“I am Weevy-Weevy and I come from the land of the fairies.”
“Well Weevy-Weevy, I know a fairy man when I see one. What puzzles me is why you are abroad in daylight. You are not up to some mischief, I hope.”
“I am not up to mischief, I can assure you. I have come as the Fairy Queen's ambassador to the Humans. We want to make friends with them again.”
“So you have not come to visit us after all?”
“I have come to visit you, too. I know you are our friends. But you could forget us, couldn't you?”
“I must say that it is hard to remember everything in these busy times. Birds and animals and insects have so much to think about. There are so many new dangers: farm machines, deadly sprays, men with guns everywhere, aircraft. By the way what kind of a machine is that?”
His voice had risen to a squawk. He flapped a wing in the direction of the pan which lay shining in the moss.
“That is my Flying Pan,” Weevy-Weevy replied timidly. “I need it to get about quickly. I may have to make some very long journeys. You don't mind my having a Flying Pan, do you?”
“I don't mind a very small craft like that. I daresay we can all dodge it. Just be careful how you go. I think you'd be better off with a pair of wings.”
The old rook turned to the listening creatures and repeated: “I think he'd be better off with a pair of wings.”
The company took up the chant and reiterated!
“He'd be better off with a pair of wings ..... better off with a pair of wings.”
The chant rose to a monotonous refrain.
Weevy-Weevy hardly knew what to make of it. The creatures seemed friendly enough, but they would keep repeating what the rook had said. Maybe they did not like his Flying Pan. Or maybe they just liked the sound of the words. The old rook had risen to the top of a tall tree and sat swaying and muttering to himself. Weevy-Weevy saw that there was no use in appealing to him. The rook was not even looking at him any more.
Someone else was, however. In a hollow in the trunk of the great oak he saw a pair of eyes like dim lamps glaring down at him. A plump grey body emerged. He could see from the bristling feathers that Owl was angry. He had been roused from his day sleep. He opened his beak and gave a spine-chilling shriek.
“Be quiet! What is all this rumpus about? Haven't I warned you silly things to hush your noise and let me have my sleep. Don't you ever think that those on night-shift need rest?”
His fierce eyes swept the company. The little creatures began to steal quietly away. When they had thinned out he saw what had raised the stir. Weevy-Weevy trembled before his stern gaze. He dared not move or speak.
“Who have we here?” exclaimed Owl. “Who dares to disturb the peace?” Weevy-Weevy bowed low. His tall red cap fell on the ground, but he dared not pick it up.
“I am Weevy-Weevy,” he began, in a thin little voice. “I come at the command of the Queen of the Fairies. I must live in the Upper World for a time. I am looking for a home. Please, wise Owl, I should be very grateful for your advice. I am sure you can help me. I have heard your wisdom praised in the land of the little people.”
Owl was flattered. He smoothed down his feathers and put on a very dignified look. He hoped all the creatures in the Silver Spinney had heard what Weevy-Weevy said. He felt that they did not always show him the respect he knew to be his due. It was grand to know that the little people held him in so high regard. Let them consider that and mend their saucy ways. He stepped out on a branch and flapped his wings, making a sound like thunder that echoed all about the Silver Spinney. After that there was dead silence. He chuckled to himself.
“That has got rid of the mob for the time being. Now we can talk in peace. Do you think you could scramble up this tree-trunk, little man? I'd like fine to have a polite person to talk to ..... intelligent too, by the look of you. I think I could help you. Put on your cap and come on up. I'll be waiting.”
Weevy-Weevy soon discovered the knack of climbing trees. He shinned up the trunk, clinging by twigs and nodules till he was level with the owl's doorway. Owl had retired into the dark hollow. Only his great lamps of eyes showed where he was.
“Come in! Come in!” he said testily as Weevy-Weevy hesitated. Weevy-Weevy stepped inside.
“Very kind of you,” he panted. “The Queen will be very pleased to hear that you were prepared to help me.”
“Not at all ..... not at all,” said Owl, sounding very pleased with himself. “I'm honoured to be asked to help her Majesty. Charming lady. Charming lady. Used to know her very well, indeed. I moved in the very best circles in my time.”
For a minute or two he went on murmuring, “best circles, best circles. Charming lady, charming lady.”
He was very sleepy. At any moment he might drop off.
“Please Mr. Owl,” Weevy-Weevy said in alarm.
“Mr. Owl, indeed,” he snapped. “I am Doctor Owl, I would have you know. My title distinguishes me from less brainy birds.”
“Quite rightly, I am sure. Please, Doctor Owl .....”
Owl was nodding his head. He liked to be called “Doctor”. For the moment he could think of nothing else. None of the birds or animals called him so. It had been all in his own mind till now. He was very pleased with Weevy-Weevy. He really was a very bright little fellow.
“So that is why she chose you,” he murmured. “I might have known. I DID hear you say something about being sent as ambassador to the Humans?”
“You did, Doctor Owl,” Weevy-Weevy replied. “The Queen thinks it is very necessary that we renew our friendship ..... make them believe in us again.”
Owl threw back his head and hooted with laughter.
“I am sure that the Queen is a very wise woman, but don't you think she has sent you on a very foolish mission. Ambassador to the Humans, indeed! Why bother about those dense creatures. Their minds are quite bewitched with machines. Forget them, and stay here with us.”
“If you please, Doctor Owl, I cannot do that. The Queen trusts me to carry out her command.”
“Of course. Of course. You must obey the Queen. Charming woman. Charming woman. Must obey such a charming woman.”
“He's off again,” thought Weevy-Weevy.
Sure enough Owl's next remark was a loud snore. Weevy-Weevy wrung his hands. He wanted to escape from this confined space and from Owl's mumblings. But he dared not go for Owl might be angry. Then he would never help him find a place to live. He began to whistle a merry tune, very softly at first so as not to rouse Owl too suddenly. As the volume grew, Owl began to stir. Presently he opened his big glowing eyes.
“Ah yes,” he said drowsily, “charming tune. Used to hear it when I was out on my night hunt. Often saw the little folk dancing under the lone thorn tree. Beautiful they were ..... especially the Queen. That reminds me. You said you were looking for an ambassadorial residence.”
“I am,” Weevy-Weevy answered eagerly. “Please Doctor Owl, can you help me find a good place?”
“I think I can,” said Owl. “What do you think of the Silver Spinney? It wouldn't be too out-of-the-way, would it?”
“Not at all. It is quite near a village, and the main road, and I can travel very easily in my Flying Pan.”
“Yes. I found it in the market. Or perhaps it found me. It gets me about at a great rate. I am quite a good pilot now. I have no wings, you know, and walking is very slow and wearisome.”
Indeed, indeed. I must see this Flying Pan, some time. Is it anything like a Flying Saucer. I see them about sometimes.”
“It is quite like one, I am sure.”
“Very useful, no doubt. If you set up house here, you can always get back by bedtime. You'd be away all day, I take it.”
“I would, Doctor Owl.”
“Then you'd make just the neighbour I want. I cannot have people fussing about when I am trying to sleep. That squirrel used to wake me up far too often. He was forever scrabbling and scratching up and down the tree, I had to ask him to leave. The place has had no tenant since.”
Weevy-Weevy was jigging up and down with excitement. He was about to hear something and could not wait.
“Oh please, Doctor Owl,” he exclaimed excitedly, “do tell me where it is.”
“I don't know that I should,” said Owl. “Are you quite sure that you are going to be quiet. Show me that you can sit still.”
Weevy-Weevy sat very still for at least five minutes. He saw Owl's eyes narrow to slits, heard his breathing grow deeper. What was he to do? Owl was falling asleep and he dared not move or speak.
The old rook in the treetop gave one hoarse caw. Owl's eyes widened for a moment. Before they closed again, he muttered between yawns:
“Very good. You can be quiet when you set your mind to it. Let yourself out dear fellow. Come again ..... any time. Empty house just below. You may have it. Come again ..... any time ..... any time ..... when I’m not asleep.”
By the time the first loud snore reached his ears, Weevy-Weevy was already shinning down the tree-trunk. A few yards below Owl's hollow, he found another hole. It was dark and empty. But the squirrel had left it in good order. It smelt warm and snug.
Weevy-Weevy was delighted with his little home in the hollow of the oak. As soon as it was light he began setting it in order. He had a great deal to do, but remembered to work very quietly lest he wake Owl. He did not want to be evicted from this desirable dwelling. He found it easy enough to move quietly, but could hardly keep from bursting into song. He was so happy to be sweeping out his very own little house and setting it to rights.
He made a bed of the softest, driest moss he could find. He drove a peg into the wall to hang up his green shoes. He picked a few flowers and set them in damp moss. By the time he had everything to his liking he was very hungry.
There was plenty to eat in the spinney if you took time to search for it. He discovered some small round mushrooms in the nearby pasture and some nuts among the trees. Then he collected a pile of acorn shells and, with two pieces of flint, kindled a fire on the open ground near the tree. When it had burned down, he roasted the mushrooms in the embers.
The fire drew his neighbours about him. There was soon quite a party of birds, animals and insects clustered about the glow.
“I am glad I was greedy and picked too many mushrooms,” he said. “It seems I am having company for supper.”
He asked all his new friends to stay and share with him. They were very pleased. They brought more food and set about making a real picnic. The only thing that worried him was the noise they made. From time to time he glanced up to Owl's hollow expecting to see the fierce eyes fixed on him in rebuke. The grey squirrel sensed his anxiety.
“Hush!” he said. “Don't you dare wake Owl or my old home will be “To Let” again. Our good friend will have to go away and leave us. You don't want that to happen, do you?”
“We don't,” they whispered together. “We must behave ourselves.”
From then on they were as good as gold. Above their whispers, the sound of Owl's snore sounded clear and unbroken.
As the last light was fading the solemn little party was startled by a loud flap of wings in the branches above. A dark shape rose. The Spinney echoed with a ghostly hoot. Trembling, Weevy-Weevy clapped his hands over his ears.
“It's all right,” they comforted him. “He's gone out on his night hunt. We can make as much noise as we like now.”
By this time very few of the party were in the mood for making noise. They had grown sleepy. Some were dozing. Others had slipped away to their beds. Weevy-Weevy turned to a hare who was just off to his form in the grassy field.
“Why does he sleep during the day and work at night?” he asked. “Don't know,” the hare answered and hopped away.
“He's a professor,” chirped a sleepy sparrow. “He runs a night school for mice and rats over in the farmyard.”
“Nonsense,” said the hare, hopping back. “He has a wife and children in the barn. He visits them at night when the babies are asleep. He hates noise, you know.”
“I don't believe that,” put in a cheeky young stoat. “I have heard quite other things about Owl. Like myself, he is a hunting type. He hunts at night because of his sight.”
“I see better in the dark too,” said Weevy-Weevy. “It's what I'm used to. I found the daylight very trying at first. What does Owl hunt?”
A shudder ran round the small circle left crouching by the fire. Some small faces grew pale.
“Food,” said the stoat. “He has to eat like all the rest of us.”
“What does he .....?” Weevy-Weevy began, but there was no answer. The few friends who remained began to melt away.
Soon he was quite alone by the dying embers. It had been a good party, but why had it ended so suddenly?
“I must halve offended them. They did not even bid me good-night,” he said to himself with a sigh.
“I think you asked one question too many,” said the stoat from the shadow under the tree. They don't like to be reminded of Owl's night flights. Some of their relations live over in the farmyard; others live in the fields and woods about here. Owl never meddles with his own friends, but his friends do not include their relations. See what I mean?”
“I see,” said Weevy-Weevy gravely.
Far away the owl's hoots haunted the night. The sound was eerie. No wonder his little friends had been scared.
“Doctor Owl, indeed!” he said, and shook his head.
The following day Weevy-Weevy rose early and made ready to pay his first official visit to the Human world. He had no plan of campaign. His experience in the market had not been helpful. Though he had mingled freely with all sorts of people, none had seen him or showed any sign that they felt his presence. Indeed fairies and magic seemed to be the last thing on their minds. They were so busy looking for bargains they missed the free offer of fairy friendship. Of course he had not actually offered anything on that day. He had been too busy seeking his own bargains. Things might turn out differently today.
He would begin with country people. From the air he scanned the landscape in search of the sort of house a believer in fairies might live in. Of course when he thought about it, he had not the slightest idea what kind of house that would be. His first guess was a mistake as it turned out.
The pretty, white cottage with roses growing round the door drew his eye. Whoever lived there might not believe in fairies, but was sure to be nice. He touched down on the velvety strip of lawn before the door. All the sweetest scents of a country garden wafted to his nose; of roses and lavender and stocks and lilies and myrtle and honeysuckle. Never was such a scented place, he was quite dizzy. He sat on the grass and gulped down great mouthfuls of sweetness.
The cottage was even prettier than it had looked from a distance. There were windows with tiny panes and lovely lace curtains. The door was painted bright blue. A paved path zigzagged up to the door. The hedge was neatly clipped. Not a weed showed among the well-tended flowers. He appreciated the neatness, but felt that it was a little overdone. Still there were none of those pottery or plastic gnomes lurking behind the clipped shrubs. He had seen these in some gardens. He knew for sure that the people who put such strange figures in their gardens did not really believe in fairies. They just thought they were a cute idea. Fairies never stand still. They were light nimble little people and belonged to nobody. A fairy of any sort standing in a noonday-garden was a poor joke.
Weevy-Weevy was soon to feel like a poor joke himself. He clambered on the window sill to peer into the cottage. On the other side of the glass, stretched in the heat of the sun, a great fat tabby was staring at him with unfriendly eyes. He knew that she saw him, but she was queen of the cottage and wanted no rivals. Her look said quite plainly:
“Go away, you silly little man.”
He was staring her back, grinning in an effort to win her over, when the garden gate clicked. A small, neat man, with a bald shiny head walked smartly up the path. As he came, he cast his eyes about him. He seemed to be looking for faults. He saw a weed and stooped to pick it from the flowerbed. He removed some dead leaves. Then he spotted the pan lying in the middle of the lawn and swooped upon it, muttering:
“Those pesky children ..... always throwing things about. If it's not a ball it's a toffee paper. Now they mess up my lawn with their toys.”
He picked up the pan and threw it over the hedge. Then, without a glance at Weevy-Weevy, he unlocked his door and entered the cottage. Weevy-Weevy would have followed, but the tabby had jumped from her perch and come to meet her master. She stood in the doorway, her back arched. To the bald-headed man she seemed to be purring a welcome. Weevy-Weevy only heard a mumbled threat of “Don't you dare! Don't you dare! Don't you dare!”
Before the door closed on this unfriendly pair, he had time to catch a glimpse of the interior. It was as neat as pins in paper. The tiled floor shone. The cups and dishes on the dresser sparkled. The place reeked of fresh varnish. There was a place for everything and everything was in its place. There was no room at all for a little fairy man.
“Ah well,” he sighed, “I mustn't give up yet.”
A large pink rose leaned out from the cottage wall. He tipped it up and drank the honey-sweet dew from its heart. It was delicious, and very refreshing. A second rose offered its cup, then another, and another. He drained several and the roses shook themselves and smiled. Then he hopped down from the window-sill and hurried off to find his Flying Pan. At the gate he turned and stuck out his tongue at the cat which watched him from the window.
His next stop was at a funny little country store. There were not many of its kind left and he had not seen one till now. He thought it was an ordinary house, till the wares in the window drew his attention. It was one of those lovely old-fashioned shops that stocked everything for use and emergency. The window was choc-a-bloc with all sorts of things: coloured sweets in bottles, balls of string, buttons, biscuits, reels of thread and a great many boxes and packets whose contents he could only guess.
He pressed his nose to the window and peered in. As he stared he began to sing a little song he was composing:
“I wish I had a little shop,
With buttons and buns and thimbles and thread,
Sugar and tea and strawberry jam,
Tins of treacle and loaves of bread.”
He was about to start on a second verse when “ting-a-ling” went the shop door bell. A woman came out carrying a bag in one hand and a basket in the other. Before the door closed to behind her, Weevy-Weevy had time to dart through.
The shop was dim and full of all kinds of things. And all the things had smells of their own which mingled and made one strange, overpowering odour. It was a whiff of paraffin and cheese and coffee and bacon and soap and paint, tobacco and spice, paper and ink and string. Some of the smells were familiar, others quite strange to Weevy-Weevy. He set out to locate the source of each. It was the beginning of an adventure for him.
There was an opened box of peppermints on the shelf. He sampled one and spat out the fragment. The taste was even hotter than the smell. He nibbled a currant from a yeasty bun, and liked its sweet, juicy flavour. Then he tried a crumb of cheese.
Next he saw a large piece of ham. It looked rosy and tempting. A few thin slivers lay on the slicer. He started towards them. On his way he had to cross the scales. They began to bounce up and down. This was great fun. He danced a jig on the scales and they jogged up and down, bouncing him into the air.
The movement and noise drew the shopkeeper's attention. He came in from the store at the back. When he saw the scales jogging up and down for no reason at all, he was quite puzzled. He put on his spectacles and peered at the empty scales, and then all about him. He could not see Weevy-Weevy. He did see the nibbled cheese.
“It must be that mouse again,” he said, and seized the broom. He rushed about the shop in pursuit of the imaginary mouse. Weevy-Weevy had to move very swiftly to evade him. Every time he moved something else rustled or rattled or creaked or clattered and drew the shopkeeper after his “mouse”.
The chase came to an end when Weevy-Weevy slipped on a piece of bacon rind and fell, head-over-heels into a sack of chick mash. There, he sank till he was almost suffocated. The more he struggled the deeper he sank into the mealy mixture. At last, exhausted, he fell asleep in the mash.
He did not hear the farmer from Greenacres enter the shop. Nor did he hear the shopkeeper tell him:
“This is the last sack of mash I have left ..... there will be no more till the delivery lorry comes.”
The shopkeeper tied up the mouth of the sack. It was hoisted with other sacks of animal feed on the farm trailer. Still sleeping, Weevy-Weevy was borne away to Greenacres farm.
At Greenacres, the sacks were unloaded. When the chick mash was dumped on the floor, Weevy-Weevy woke with a start. It was very stuffy in the sack and he felt he could no longer bear to be half drowned in meal. He began to work his way to the top, clinging by the fibres of the sacking, finding footholds in any little wrinkle.
Just as he had reached the top and could poke his head out, the sack was jerked about and he had to hold on very firmly. The farmer's wife had been waiting to feed her chickens. She was undoing the sack. Weevy-Weevy ducked out of reach as she plunged in a scoop.
Try as he would, however, he was unable to avoid the scoop. At the third go he was lifted out and dumped into a pail. He wriggled, hoping to escape before anyone noticed him.
“I say, whatever is in the mash?” he heard a pleasant voice exclaim. “It is moving in the oddest way.”
“Nonsense!” said the farmer. “I can see nothing at all. Maybe it was a mouse.”
“It was not a mouse,” she said, “and it's still there. I can feel something magic ..... something like an electric shock but much pleasanter.”
“Maybe it is one of these fairies you talk about. If you look carefully, you may see it. You always wanted to see a fairy, didn't you?”
The farmer was laughing. Weevy-Weevy could hear him chuckle as he moved away. He could hear the woman murmuring to herself:
“I only wish it were a fairy. I'd like to see one ..... to be really sure. I was so sure when I was a little girl.”
Weevy-Weevy dared not appear too suddenly. He was so covered with mealy dust that he knew he would look like a ghost-fairy. It would never do to frighten this good lady who half believed in fairies and wanted to be sure. He allowed himself to be carried to the chicken run and there, when he felt the farmer's wife was not watching, he scrambled out of the pail.
He had barely time to catch a glimpse of his reflection in the drinking water when the chickens started such a to-do of cackling and flapping and peering and hopping about that he thought he had better take to his heels and come again another day. Even the chickens had not been sure of this dusty fairy. He could hear them arguing amongst themselves after he had escaped the pen.
Once out of the farmyard then he had a problem. Which way should he turn? He had left his Flying Pan near the country store, but he had no idea in which direction the store lay. He sat down by a milestone and had a long think. It was growing dark and he had not reached a conclusion. Oh dear, wherever was he to spend the night?
A far-away hoot rose in the cool air ..... then another ..... and another. The dim, dark form of Dr. Owl passed overhead. Weevy-Weevy sprang to his feet and waved and called. But Owl took not the slightest notice of him. It was just too bad. He was so sure that Owl would have seen, or heard him.
But of course he had. Owl could see very well in the gloom. But Owl did not believe in doing things for people which they were well able to do for themselves. Particularly, he liked people to do their own thinking and he knew that Weevy-Weevy was well able to do that.
“Of course,” thought Weevy-Weevy, “Owl came from the Silver Spinney. That is the way to the store at the crossroads which is between here and there. The night is fine and clear and I have my green shoes on to help me.”
After he had walked for quite a long time, he came to the crossroads where the shop stood. Its windows were lit up and he could see that several people had come in to shop and to chat with the shopkeeper. He did not venture in again. The light streaming from the windows enabled him to find his Flying Pan. It was under a box hedge, where he had shoved it. Soon he was airborne and heading in a straight line for his home in the oak tree.
The next morning, Weevy-Weevy dressed himself with great care. He washed his face in the dew, brushed the tangles out of his hair and the meal from his clothes. He polished his shoes till they shone. Then he stuck a little blue-grey pigeon's feather in his red hat. He was ready to pay a proper visit to the lady of Greenacres.
He touched down behind a chicken coop, then tiptoed softly across the farmyard till he reached the kitchen door. He peered inside the huge kitchen with its shining array of pots and pans and delph. It was a whole world in itself, and quite unlike any world he had seen before. There were so many strange and fascinating objects on shelves, on the wall in cupboards, hanging from hooks and standing in corners, that he felt it would take years for him to explore everything. He dared not let his eyes linger on anything for too long. His mission was to seek out friendly people ..... people like the farmer's wife. But she was not in the kitchen.
He climbed on window-sills, peered under doors, scanned the whole farmyard. Where could she be? At last he found her in the dairy skimming cream from a crock of milk. She was tipping the thick yellow cream into a little wooden churn. He sat cross-legged on the window-sill and watched her. A fat, black cat sat beside him.
“What is she doing?” he asked the cat.
“She's gathering cream for a churning,” the cat purred in reply. “It's good cream. She gives me some when it is fresh. That will be soured now. It has to be soured for churning. Then it is ready to turn into butter. I think it is a pity to waste it making butter. Still I must admit, I get my fair share.”
“I should say you do. What a fine fat cat you are. And how glossy your coat is!”
The cat purred louder. She was very pleased with herself. She was pleased with Weevy-Weevy too. She went on talking in purrs:
“I am lucky to live here. Most farms send the milk to the creamery. That's a sort of factory where they make butter. My good lady keeps enough to make butter for the house. She's an old-fashioned kind of lady. You should hear what those uppity cats from the big farms round here say about her quaint ways. In their hearts they envy me living on the cream of the land.” She squinted at Weevy-Weevy from big smoky blue eyes.
“I think you should get on fine with her. She is not like some folk who wouldn't believe in a fairy if he were plain as broad daylight. Watch this!”
She miaowed loudly and scratched at the window frame. The farmer's wife raised her head to see what was the matter. She could not see Weevy-Weevy, but she was puzzled by the cat's behaviour. Her face had a mystified look.
“If only I could get in,” said Weevy-Weevy, “I'd make myself visible to her.”
“Very well,” said the cat, “I'll do my best.”
She miaowed again, and began to prance up and down on the window-sill in a very strange manner. Soon her mistress left her work and came to open the door.
“Whatever is the matter, Smoky?” she asked. “You know I cannot have you in the dairy. And haven't I just a few minutes ago given you a saucer of cream?”
The cat grinned at her and turned away. Weevy-Weevy had darted inside. At this very moment he was bending over the empty pannikin. The cat's ears twitched as she heard the tinkle. Weevy-Weevy had dropped one of his gifts in the pan.
The farmer's wife also heard the tiny sound. She turned around and there, in the bottom of the pan, lay the blue stone, twinkling like the evening star. It was exactly the same shade as her own eyes. She picked it out, wiped it on her apron, and held it in the palm of her hand. The sunlight made it shimmer and wink. It was the loveliest stone she had ever seen. She could not take her eyes off it.
“Where on earth .....?” she said over and over again.
Weevy-Weevy made a scrabbling sound on the edge of the pannikin. She looked up. There he was sitting perched on the rim. His little brown face was puckered with laughter. He swept off his red cap to her.
“How do you do?” he said.
“Well I never!” she gasped, “so it was you all the time. You were in that sack of chicken feed.”
“You picked a funny way to travel.”
“It picked me, I fell in. Oh dear, it was very stuffy in there.”
“Why didn't you come out and talk to me?”
“I was in such a mess, I dared not let you see me. If you had, you might have been disappointed in fairies.”
“Where were my eyes anyway?”
“You were looking at me, but you could not see me.”
“You were playing hide-and-seek in the meal, like a little mouse. My husband thought you were a mouse.”
“Most people think things like that. You knew I wasn't a mouse. That is why I came back ..... why I gave you the Queen's gift.”
“This beautiful stone ..... a gift? You mean I am to keep it?”
“Of course. As long as you have it, you can see fairies when they are about. It is your reward for believing in us.”
“I am honoured. My granny used to tell me about the fairies who lived in the Silver Spinney. Many a day I went there, but never saw them. Is it true they live there?”
“One does now. I have just made a home in the big oak tree.”
“Do you dance there at ?”
“I dance when I feel in the mood. Shall I dance for you now?”
She nodded. Weevy-Weevy began to whistle a merry tune. As he whistled, he danced and leaped and capered about the floor. She tapped her foot in time to the music which grew louder and clearer every minute. Presently she was quite carried away by the rhythm and began to dance and caper making tippety-tappety sounds on the tiles of the dairy floor. The cat goggled through the window, then gave one great “Miaow” of amazement and turned her back on them. She had not see her mistress caper like that since the day a mouse got in the dairy
At last, rosy and out of breath, the farmer's wife stopped in her tracks.
“You're a fine dancer,” said Weevy-Weevy.
“I never knew I could dance like that,” she gasped. “It was the music. It put a spell on me.”
She smoothed her hair before a small looking-glass that hung on the wall. Her eyes shone, blue and clear as the stone Weevy-Weevy had given her. As she looked, she saw the little man sitting patiently waiting. She turned quickly.
“Oh dear me,” she said, “what a way to treat a fairy guest. I never thought to offer you something to eat. What would you like, Weevy-Weevy?”
“I'd like anything you have to offer.”
“Well there's plenty. I have home-made bread and milk and butter and honey from the bees, and blackberry jelly. And I have a sponge cake cooling on the tray in the kitchen. I made it this very morning.”
“I think I'd like to taste a bit of everything,” said Weevy-Weevy licking his lips.
She took down a little basket and let him hop inside. He snuggled down in a wisp of hay. No one would have guessed that there was anything in the basket but, as she crossed the yard, the sheepdog kept leaping up and sniffing and wuffing as though he spied strangers.
Weevy-Weevy sat among the blooms of a big pink geranium on the kitchen window and had the most wonderful picnic. Indeed he ate so much of all the goodies the farmer's wife offered him that he was ready to fall asleep He had to pull himself together. With an effort, he rose and dusted the crumbs off his green Jacket.
“I must go now,” he said. “May I come again another day?”
“That you may ..... as often as you like. But, before you go, tell me what gift you would like from me. An exchange of gifts is customary, isn't it?”
“If you please, I would like a little pot to cook in ..... a very little pot ..... like that one over there.”
“He was pointing towards her work-basket. For a moment she was puzzled. Then she caught the gleam of silver. The tiny thimble she had used as a little girl lay among the needles and threads.
“You may have it of course,” she said, picking the thimble out and handing it to him.
He took off his cap and placed the thimble on his head. It was a little too big and slipped over his eyes.
“Put this in it,” she said, “you can cook your mushrooms.”
She gave him a neat little pat of butter wrapped in a shred of lettuce. He slipped it into the thimble and set the thimble on his head. This time it did not fall over his eyes. He drew his red cap on over the thimble. It stretched to cover all.
“I'll have to keep my head cool till I get back to the Silver Spinney,” he said.
Then he was gone. The farmer's wife hardly saw him leap from the sill and barely felt the butterfly touch of the kiss he blew her. The leaves of the geranium went on trembling for a few moments. Out in the yard the collie wuffed softly at nothing at all.
Presently, as she watched from the doorway, she saw something round and shining flash across the sky. Not a flying saucer, but quite like one.
Weevy-Weevy sat swinging his legs astride an ash twig. He hummed a merry tune to himself. Above his head, a robin puffed out his throat and began to lilt. Through the Spinney, other birds in their trees, joined in one by one. The plantation was filled with music, the leaves fluttered and danced, and the trees began to sway gently to and fro.
Whoosh! A sudden rough gust swept through the Spinney. It nearly toppled Weevy-Weevy from his perch. All the birds stopped singing and clung to their twigs. The trees bent over; then stood stiff and erect, bracing themselves.
Whoosh! Another boisterous gust plucked at their branches. Birds and beasts and beetles scurried to shelter. The Spinney was filled with deep breathing.
Whoosh! Another gust tore through the trees and brought a shower of leaves tumbling to the ground. In the pasture the long grass was lashed flat. Weevy-Weevy's face paled as he clung to his perch. When all was still again, he shinned up the tree-trunk to his own safe hiding place.
He was in so great a hurry that he caught his toe in a rough piece of bark. He tumbled flat on the moss at the foot of the tree. The fall winded him and he had to lie still for a little while. With his ear close to the ground, he heard a strange rumbling. As another gust of wind passed over him, he heard its echo deep in the heart of the earth. It was like a great laugh ..... the jolliest laugh he had ever heard.
He had to join in the laugh. He rolled on the moss and kicked his heels and laughed. He laughed till his sides ached and tears rolled down his cheeks. He clung to wisps of grass and rocked and swayed with laughter, and the wind whirled and played about him.
It ruffled and tossed the branches above him, then rushed away over the land. It tossed corn stooks, whisked sheets from lines, hats from heads and turned umbrellas inside out. Pigs ran and snorted as though they could see the wind. Rooks were caught in mid-air and whirled round in circles. They cawed loudly in annoyance. Horses whinnied and threw up their heels. Ducks quacked among the reeds. Hens cackled excitedly.
Weevy-Weevy drew a handkerchief from his waistcoat and began wiping the tears from his eyes. When he could see clearly again, he found that a striped face was peering at him from the thicket.
“Oh Badger!” he called. “Please come out and tell me what ever is happening.”
Badger took a few paces forward and stood staring.
“What is happening?” he asked. “I'm afraid I did not notice anything. There was such a din underground that I could not hear. Was there anything to hear ..... except the big laugh?”
“You heard the laugh?”
“Why of course. It sounds much louder underground.”
“What is it? Who is laughing?”
“You don't know? Really, don't know? I thought you lived underground when you were at home.”
“I do. We used to hear a sound like this. We had a theory .....”
“The Jovial Giant is not a theory. Oh dear me, I should not have told you. He is a big secret ..... so big that only some of us know. Still I suppose it's all right for an Underworld person to know.”
“Of course it is,” Weevy-Weevy said, kindly. “We have heard about the Jovial Giant. But we did not know he could be heard in the Upper World nowadays ..... or that any creature recognised his voice. I am so pleased we have a secret to share, dear Badger.”
The badger came closer. He was very friendly now. He wanted very much to share his secret. It had weighed heavily on him for a long time. Weevy-Weevy encouraged him.
“Have you heard that he's the last giant left in the world?” he asked.
“I have,” said the badger. “He must be a great age. Indeed I had begun to think he had died, it's so long since I heard him. I know the difference between his voice and the sound of any old storm. You do too.”
“Most certainly. We never hear ordinary storms down where I live. We would hear an earthquake, of course, but there never are any hereabouts.”
“There used to be plenty when the giant still walked about. Every time he went out for a stroll the earth shook. My grandparents talked of it. The plaster fell off their walls.”
“He doesn't go walking any more?”
“No. He is too old, or too lazy. He sleeps most of the time. I can hear him snoring. It sounds like an underground sea.”
“Maybe he doesn't come out because nobody believes in him.”
“Perhaps. You Underground people are easily discouraged. Animals are braver. If I hid all the time, who would believe in me? Who would believe in Mole? You have to show yourself now and then even if it means taking a risk. Otherwise, you are treated as a joke or a fair .....”
“Fairy tale. You needn't be afraid to say it. I know how most Humans regard us. I am trying to improve things. Do you think the Jovial Giant would talk to me?”
“I don't know. It is not easy to get through to him. They say he's very deaf.”
“Perhaps I shall find out how deaf.”
“If you can find him at all. He lives far under the mountains.” The badger pointed his long snout in the direction of the horizon.
“Oh dear, how tired I am after all that rumpus. Lucky Owl who could sleep through it.”
With a great yawn, he turned tail and slunk into the undergrowth. Weevy-Weevy climbed to his home in the tree. He had work to do ..... plans to make. He must fit in a visit to the Jovial Giant.
He set out the very next morning.
“Maybe I'll meet somebody on the way,” he said to himself, “somebody who half believes in fairies. Then I will not be neglecting my duties as ambassador.”
He steered his Flying Pan away towards the misty mountains that Badger had pointed out. It was early in the morning and, as he rode high, he could see the first twists of smoke rising from the chimneys below him. Doors opened and people came out. They were off to work. In one village he saw the postman start up his red van. In another the milkman was hurrying from door to door with a great clatter of milk-bottles. The bus stops were lined with waiting passengers. Children whooped and skipped as they loitered to school.
There was a great morning scene to watch and Weevy-Weevy found it very interesting. But he grew weary of leaning over the rim of the pan. Anyway he was leaving the busy places. The sun was shining and the air was warm. He lay stretched across his Flying Pan, his legs dangling, and let himself drift under the blue sky. Great fleecy clouds rolled past him like immense sheep. He began to count them. Soon he was dozing off.
A shrill whistle made him start almost out of the pan. He sat up on his knees and looked down. The echo of the whistle died away. Now he heard a strange chuffety-chuffety sound. A puff of smoke, travelling through the green countryside, revealed the creature that whistled and chuffed so oddly. Then a shower of sparks shot from the creature's head.
“Surely it cannot be,” he said to himself. “I thought all dragons were banished long ago to live happily ever after in the great hot caverns at the heart of the earth. A good thing for them, and for everybody. They meant no harm but they were very scary. I wonder how this fellow got left behind.”
He steered his Flying Pan very carefully, bringing it down closer to the dragon. The dragon whizzed merrily on its way, taking no notice of the UFO hovering above. Weevy-Weevy could see that it ran on rails. Of course, it was one of those machines that the Humans took such pride in. Trains they were called. He had seen one or two, but this was the first that breathed smoke and flame and sparks like a dragon. Maybe it was a mongrel - half machine, half dragon.
The train came to a stop with a great loud hiss. Weevy-Weevy could feel its damp, hot breath. Though he was really quite scared of the creature, he seized this opportunity to land on its back. He just managed to touch down on the Guard's van when the train rumbled off again. For the moment he was happy to have landed safely. It was fine to ride high and dry without having to steer and with all the time to watch the world pass by.
The engine, with its swirling smoke and flame, fascinated him. He wanted to get nearer this dragon's head. But there was a huge gap between the guard's van and the last coach. If only he could jump it! But, even with the help of his green shoes, he dared not try.
He sat down to think. Of course, he could use his Flying Pan. It was quite easy that way. He took his time, jumping from coach to coach and resting between hops to see if the dragon had noticed. It did not seem to. It went on chugging merrily past fields and houses, woods and gardens, blowing out smoke and rumbling and muttering to itself.
A last hop landed Weevy-Weevy in the coal tender. He scrambled and slid over the shiny black lumps and choking dust till he reached the top of the pile. There he could sit and look right into the driver's cab. There were two men in it.
The fireman, who had been leaning against the side of the cab, now bent down and opened a small door. Weevy-Weevy could look right into the great furnace. It was like looking down a fiery dragon's throat. He could feel the intense heat. He was rather scared.
Then his mountain began to crumble under him. The fireman had opened a hatch and was shovelling coal into the furnace. As the shovelful was removed from below, the top layer sank. The coal mountain that had seemed so safe, was caving in. He took a flying leap and landed in the cab.
There was not much room for him on the floor and he quite dreaded being crushed by the two huge pairs of feet. By foot-holds and hand-hold he began to scramble out of the way. He had climbed to a safe perch by the driver's right hand. There he sat for a moment taking stock of the driver's face. A kind man, he thought. He would not hurt a fairy.
“I say, Bert,” said the driver, “the old engine's going a treat now. She fairly bounded when you put in that last shovelful. Was it special coal?”
“It was the same coal as before. It takes time to get the engine warmed up.”
“It warmed up so suddenly I'd swear there was some magic about.”
“Come off it, Bill, it's bad enough to have you raving about the good old days of the steam train. Don't start on magic spells and fairies now.”
“You know, Bert, I think they're worth talking about. And more, I believe there is magic about at this very moment.”
“Well I hope your magic will work when we take these good folk on their trip. They are so excited about it. Some of the children have never ridden on a steam train in their lives. They missed something, I must admit. I wouldn't like to disappoint them now.”
“We won't disappoint them. The old engine is as good as ever, even after all these years standing idle. The magic will work. It must. It really must.”
“It will,” thought Weevy-Weevy. “I'll make sure it does.”
He had been listening to the two men, taking in all they said with his sharp little ears. So this was not a dragon, but a kind of engine no longer in use. A steam engine. These two men were going to run an excursion for some good people and some children who had never had such a treat. They were trying it out. There was nobody aboard now except Bill and Bert. And Bill half believed in fairies.
Soon they came to a small station. The train slowed and came to a halt with a great hiss of steam.
“We can shunt the engine here,” said Bill.
“I think I'd better have a look at the points,” said Bert. “I can change them if you do the shunting.”
He got down from the cab and walked away along the platform; then crossed the line to the signal box. Weevy-Weevy hopped on the driver's shoulder and tickled his nose.
“Was that a spot of rain?” said Bill to himself. “Funny, there's hardly a cloud in the sky.”
He stuck out his hand, palm up. Not a single raindrop fell. Instead something quite solid and cold fell into his open hand. He started and twitched as though he had had a slight electric shock. When he looked down he saw a tiny stone glowing like fire in the heart of his hand.
“What on earth .....?” he exclaimed. “I can hardly believe my eyes. I'd say it was a spark but it is quite hard and cold.”
There was no burning. His palm tingled without hurting. He stared and stared at the stone but could make nothing of it. He shook his head, looking very puzzled.
A burst of merry laughter made him raise his eyes. There, on the ledge in front of him, sat the tiny figure. Weevy-Weevy's face was puckered up. His eyes shone as brightly as the jewel in Bill's hand.
“Well I never!” Bill exclaimed.
“Never till now,” said Weevy-Weevy. “Now you really do see a fairy.”
“I do indeed. How long have you been around?”
“I came in with that last shovel of coal ..... the magic that made the engine leap forward.”
“That was a while ago. Why didn't I see you?”
“You couldn't see me till you got the Queen's gift.”
“The Queen's gift?”
Weevy-Weevy told him the whole story. It was quite a long story, but they had plenty of time. As Bert shifted the points and Bill shunted the engine to and fro, Weevy-Weevy had a chance to tell the tale of his mission to the Upper World and of his adventures there. He had to tell it by fits and starts, for Bill had to keep his mind on what he was doing, and shout directions to Bert, and answer his questions.
“I'm not really an engine driver,” he explained, “nor is my friend, Bert, a fireman. It's our hobby. We belong to the Society for the Preservation of Steam Engines. Our branch has just bought this engine and the few coaches, and we are planning to run an outing on Saturday. We can use this length of railway track. It is in good repair. The signals are still there and the points, and all the things we need. All the members of the Society worked very hard to get things going. They are looking forward to Saturday.”
“I hope it goes well.”
“It will, now that we have got the magic. You said I could keep the stone.”
“Of course. If you ever get into difficulty, just hold it in your hand and call for me and I'll come. I don't know much about engines. I thought they were our enemies. But this one is different. It has a sort of magic too. I think it is really a dragon at heart ..... a friendly dragon.”
At last the engine was in position and coupled to the other end of the train. Now Bill and Bert were ready for the return journey. Bert was coming back to the cab. It was time for Weevy-Weevy to be going.
Bill saw him make a move.
“I say,” he said, “I must give you something before you go.”
He searched his pockets, but there was nothing suitable except a bar of chocolate.
“Do you like chocolate?” he asked.
“I have never tasted it,” said Weevy-Weevy, “though I have seen children eating it. They seemed to like it.”
“I'm sure you would too. Here you are.”
Bill drew the paper from the corner of the chocolate bar and broke off a scrap. Weevy-Weevy tasted it. It was good. The driver wrapped a larger piece in a scrap of silver paper. Weevy-Weevy had just time to stuff it in his pocket and make his escape before Bert climbed into the cab.
Back in the coal tender, Weevy-Weevy found his Flying Pan. He hopped on the roof of a coach. There he rested for a bit and nibbled on his chocolate. Bill played a tune on the engine whistle, a funny tune all shrieks and snorts and ghostly whoops and sudden bursts of laughter. No wonder Bert looked confused. He did not know that Bill had an audience. Weevy-Weevy was highly amused by the medley of sounds.
When at last he took flight, he hovered over the cab, dipping and turning like a flashing speck. Then, as he flew away, he saw Bill lean from the cab to wave to him. In his waistcoat pocket he had tucked the glowing red stone. Under his hands the engine raced along as merrily as the youngest dragon that ever was.
Rain clouds crowded in over the meadows. Miles away, by the shore, seagulls spread their strong wings and headed for inland. Over the quiet fields they swept in white drifts. The ploughman looked up to see the clouds and the circling gulls above him. He knew that a storm was coming. He would finish the next few furrows if there was time. Behind him the gulls shrieked and skimmed over the plum-cake-brown earth as it rolled back from the ploughshare.
Weevy-Weevy had slept well into the afternoon. He was roused by the twittering of sparrows and the caw of rooks. All the birds of the Spinney seemed to be talking at once ..... in angry tones. They were grumbling at the seagulls who were having the first pick of the furrows. But some sensed the coming storm and were gathering their nestlings about them.
The darkening sky, the mournful sound of the wind in the trees, the to-do among the birds and animals puzzled Weevy-Weevy. This was not at all like the day of the Jovial Giant's laugh. Everyone was very serious. There was a real storm on the wind.
His eyes were dazzled by a flash of white wings. A swirling cloud of strange birds passed over the spinney and skimmed to rest in the meadow. The half-ploughed field was full of swooping wings and screaming voices. What birds were these? He asked his Spinney neighbours, but they were all in a hurry and had no time to listen to his question. Indeed they rushed about so fast that he was in danger of being knocked down and trodden upon. In desperation, he climbed the tree and put his head in Owl's door. Owl blinked a sleepy eye at him.
“It's you,” he said grumpily. “You must want something very badly when you come disturbing me at this hour. What is it?”
“Please, Dr. Owl, can you tell me if we are being invaded?”
“Then what strange birds are these that surround us on every side. They have already taken over the meadows. They have landed and stand in companies close together. Everybody in the spinney is in a state of alarm as though they feared attack.”
Owl poked his head out of the hole and squinted about.
“There's a storm blowing up,” he said gruffly. “Any fool would know that when seagulls fly so far inland it is a sign of storm.”
“So they are seagulls. We needn't fear them. They are afraid of the storm themselves.”
“That's right. Why couldn’t you have figured that out before waking me. Now go away and leave me in peace.”
“Seagulls,” Weevy-Weevy muttered as he slid down the tree-trunk. “Pirates maybe. Oh dear, wouldn't I like to meet a seafaring bird that might be a pirate. I'm sure he would have some interesting tales to tell - tales the Queen has never heard.”
He steered his Flying Pan through the sheltered aisles of the plantation and out along the meadows to the plough land where the gulls were having their noisy picnic. They looked large and strong. Their eyes were grey and fierce. They did not seem in the least friendly. And what strong, cruel beaks they had. When he alighted from his Flying Pan he dragged it with him so that he could take off in a hurry.
The few seagulls who noticed him, eyed him coldly as he approached. They held their heads erect and stiff and stared through him and past him. Then he saw what they were staring at. The last of the flight swung in to land. It was an old grey gull, who seemed to be in command of the whole operation. All the gulls stood stiffly to attention when he touched down.
“The Admiral, presumably,” thought Weevy-Weevy. “Admiral of the fleet. Or flight? I don't know.”
He had not time to think it out. The tip of the AFdmiral's wing caught him in the back and sent him sprawling face down in the long grass. It had been an accident and, the old gull did not see what he had done. Weevy-Weevy lay panting in terror.
Some of the gulls began to amble towards him. He raised his head and saw them advance. A seagull in flight is a graceful dancer. A seagull walking is a clown. Weevy-Weevy burst out laughing. Should they gobble him up with their great beaks, he could not stop. His laughter drew the Admiral's attention. He turned and saw the little man sprawled in the grass. So that was what his wing had struck as he wheeled in.
“I say,” he said, “I'm glad to see that you are nothing the worse for your mishap. Sorry I bowled you over. I'm not used to terra firma. The sea's my element. Sure you're all right?”
“I'm quite sure,” replied Weevy-Weevy, “and I'm glad it happened, otherwise I might not have had a chance to speak to a fine sea-faring bird like yourself.”
The old gull looked him up and down. He was a sorry sight with mud on his face and damp smears on his clothing. He had been buffeted by the wind. His hat was askew and his hair straggled from under the brim all over eyes and ears.
“Do you think it's wise for a little man like you to be out in this stormy weather?” the Admiral asked, “and you without a feather to cover you from the rain and wind? I doubt if there's time now for you to make it back to your house. Hear that gale blowing up?”
Weevy-Weevy edged closer and smiled up at the old gull.
“I don't think it's wise for me to be out; but I know I'm safe when I am under your protection.”
He was moving into the shelter of the gull's body.
“Come here,” said the gull. “Come right up under my wing. No laughing, now. It's too tickly. If you laugh then I shall have to laugh. Then you'll fall and the wind will blow you away.”
Weevy-Weevy promised to be very good. The Admiral raised his wing and folded it over him. He was clasped securely in its feathery warmth. As the gull rocked and swayed on his legs before the high wind, the little man neither saw, heard nor felt anything except this gentle rocking. It lulled him to sleep. When he woke the storm had passed. The sky was clear and bright.
The Admiral raised his wing and let Weevy-Weevy slide to the ground.
“Well,” he said kindly, “safe and dry. Let me look at you. It's not often I see a land fairy these days. There are plenty of water-sprites in our parts, but they are feckless creatures, always on the move, always changing. Tell me, what brought you from your cosy home to face the storms and strifes of the Upper World?”
“The Queen sent me as her ambassador to the Humans ..... to people.”
“People!” whooped the gull. “You're wasting your time on such lubbers.”
“You don't like people, then?”
“Oh, I like them well enough. They're useful. They build fine ships that come in handy to rest on when we are far out to sea. We follow them for food. No end of it, there is sometimes. People are very wasteful. We don't mind. The more they throw out the better we eat. We appreciate the good things of life. Why don't you come and be an ambassador to us ..... to the sea-birds and other creatures?”
“There is no need. I think all birds and animals are friends of the little folk.”
“I suppose you are right about that. Still, we'd appreciate it if you would pay us a visit. We are a little cut off down by the big sea shore.”
“I'd love to pay you a visit. When shall I come?”
“Right now, with us, as soon as I get my fleet mustered.”
With a shriek, the Admiral summoned the gulls from their pecking and picking. They began to form in companies one after the other. Drift after drift they rose and disappeared into the pale evening sunlight. At last there was only a small company left ..... the Admiral's own. He summoned a young gull. Weevy-Weevy heard him give instructions. He could make out a few words of Gull talk.
“Silverwings was to carry a passenger ..... a V.I.P. This V.I.P. was honouring a colony by his visit. Silverwings must take great care of the honourable stranger.”
“Aye, aye sir,” Silverwings answered, dipping a respectful beak.
Weevy-Weevy pushed his Flying Pan under a shrub. He was ready to go when Silverwings approached him. The gull stood very still to allow him to mount. It was easy enough to climb up, but quite hard to sit on the gull's back. The feathers were very smooth and slippery. He kept sliding off. When he was seated at last, Silverwings circled at a low altitude till he was quite sure he could hold on. He clung by the strong neck feathers and dug his heels into the gull's downy sides.
“Right Ho!” he said.
Silverwings rose in the evening air. Soon they were speeding towards the sunset.
Weevy-Weevy enjoyed every mile of his flight. When the sea came into view, the sun was sinking below the skyline. Its light lay like a shimmering ribbon on the waters.
When the gulls sighted the shore they set up a chorus of shrieks and mews. Glad to be within sight of home, they accelerated towards the steep cliffs. On the shelves of these high cliffs they had made their village.
Swirling, screaming, laughing, they circled in to land on their ledges. Each seemed to know his own nesting place, though all looked alike to the stranger. Some had barely landed when they took off again to scour the shore. The storm tide had washed many tasty morsels on to the beach.
Silverwings circled the cliffs several times to let his passenger have a good view of the seagull colony. The setting was rather grim but very impressive. The colony itself was decidedly higgledy-piggledy. The shelves of rock being above shore and well down the face of the cliffs were safe from marauders. Their security depended on their position. Otherwise all was open to view.
On every cliff ledge there was a disarray of old nests and new nests, eggs-shells, new-laid eggs, fishbones, feathers, sticks, grass, hair and wool. And there were the droppings of many generations of gulls. It was plain that spring-cleaning was never allowed to disrupt the gullish way of life.
Silverwings touched down on the broadest ledge. The view was magnificent. Weevy-Weevy could see the whole sweep of the bay. Far out on the horizon a lighthouse flashed its long beams over the darkening waters. He was so taken with it that he scarcely saw Silverwings take off again. Left to himself, he squatted on a pile of down and, with his arms about his knees, stared out towards the lighthouse. The sights and sounds and smells were all new and exciting. Though he was alone on the ledge, there were many gulls flying around him.
He sat on his lofty perch, till the stars had all come out in the dark blue sky and the air had grown chill. He longed for a tasty supper and a warm bed. For a moment it seemed that the gulls had all forgotten him.
But this was not so. His host had no intention of neglecting him. He had had a great deal to attend to. The storm had done much damage. Some hasty repairs had to be made. It took time to get everything organised and all safely settled for the night. As soon as ever he could, he came to see Weevy-Weevy.
“Here is an appetiser,” he said, pushing a cockle-shell, already opened towards him. I have ordered your supper. It will be along any moment. We are a rough and ready lot as you see, but if you are happy to take us as you find us you will enjoy your stay. We always have food in plenty, and comfortable beds for our guests.”
Weevy-Weevy was nibbling the cockle. He had never tasted the like before. The salty tang prepared him for the dishes that were to follow. Two gull waiters landed. One carrying a chunk of lobster and the other a morsel of white bread soaked in brine. When he had sampled these delicacies, two more waiter gulls appeared bearing a crab's claw and a wedge of cheese. More and more gulls arrived with their tasty offerings. Before long there was a great banquet spread before him.
“Eat up, my lad,” urged the Admiral. “Nothing like the salt air for giving a chap an appetite.”
Weevy-Weevy could manage to sample only a very few of all the tasty morsels. He felt sad to see so much good food go to waste. But he need not have worried. The Admiral fell to with a will and he and Silverwings cleared the deck.
“Now,” said the Admiral, “you'll feel like a spot of shut-eye. I'll be turning in shortly myself. A hard, land-lubberly day we had.”
Weevy-Weevy followed him along the face of the cliff till they came to a tiny cave in the rock-wall. Unlike the seagull quarters, it was neat clean and very snug. The inside was lined with the softest breast down. It was as white as newly fallen snow.
A stone outcrop slanted across the cave's entrance and this acted as a natural windbreak.
“This is our small guest room,” said the Admiral. “It's ship-shape and should be comfortable.”
“Very cosy it looks.”
“Aye, not a bad hammock, for a small sleeper.”
As he bade Weevy-Weevy “good-night” he said:
“Any strange noises you hear in the night will be the changing of the watches. We never sleep unguarded.”
“I'm used to that. The rooks always have a sentry on watch.”
“Indeed, that's interesting. Do they have a password?”
“I have never heard any but ‘Caw-Caw’.”
“We have a different pass-word every night. What do you suppose it is tonight?”
Weevy-Weevy shook his head.
“It's Weevy-Weevy,” said the Admiral.
“My name! How did you know?”
“A little bird told me,” said the old gull as he rose and flapped away into the darkness.
The seagull colony was astir early. Roused by the shrill cries, Weevy-Weevy left his downy bed. He washed his face in a little pool of fresh rainwater. Then he admired himself in another pool which was still and clear as a mirror. He was making faces at his reflection when two gulls arrived with his breakfast. It was a fresh mussel and ship's biscuit. He ate heartily. The sea air had sharpened his appetite and he had grown used to the salty food. He was just finishing his biscuit when the Admiral swept in.
“Good morning!” he croaked. “Glad to see you are not a lie-abed. Lubbers are often lie-abeds. Seafaring folk rise with the sun.”
“A good idea, I'm sure. You finish work early and have lots of time to play.”
“Work! I'm glad you mentioned that word, Weevy-Weevy. I need your help.”
“I'll be happy to help if I can. Whatever can I do?”
The Admiral explained:
“It's like this,” he said gravely, “we're in trouble ..... serious trouble. We need a very special kind of help. We think you may be able to give us that help.”
“It sounds very mysterious. Do tell me.”
The Admiral glanced round, taking in the whole scene very carefully.
“You notice,” he said, “that our colony is sited well above the shore and well below the cliff walk. There is no need to explain why. It saved us any bother, you know. Now and then a daring lad would drop by rope from the cliff top and make off with an egg or two. We made a great fuss but that was to scare him more than anything. He never could do much damage. But lately .....”
“But lately, what?”
“A craftier raider has been invading our nests. She's a WITCH. They say that she's THE VERY LAST WITCH IN THE WORLD. She has a broomstick. She can fly in on it and out again before you could say ‘feathers’. She swoops up whole clutches of eggs and carries them off in her apron.”
“How awful! Can't you scare her away?”
“We yell and scream like mad, but she takes no notice. When we fly in her face she dodges. If we get too near she flaps her magic cloak and blows us back. It takes magic to counter magic. That is why we thought you could help.”
“Oh dear, I wish I could.”
“You must try. This witch is going to be the death of us. The damage she does is terrible. She upsets nests, breaks eggs, makes the most awful havoc. She gets bolder and more careless all the time. We live in dread of the next nesting season. It is tragic to see nests destroyed, eggs broken, chicks left homeless and exposed to the spring cold.”
There were tears in Weevy-Weevy's eyes.
“I don't know how I can help. But I'll try. I promise. Have you any idea where I can find the witch?”
“Alas, that I can't,” said the Admiral sadly. “The only person who might know is the Jovial Giant. They used to be on visiting terms. But he never goes out now. I believe he sleeps nearly all the time, I don't know if he has any visitors.”
“He is going to have one soon,” said Weevy-Weevy. “I'll find him out, if he is to be found at all.”
“I am sure you will,” said the Admiral, “and how grateful we shall be.”
He could see that the little man meant business. He did not attempt to delay him any longer but summoned Silverwings immediately.
Before he took his leave of the Admiral, Weevy-Weevy explained that he had to finish his mission to the Humans.
“Then I shall have all the time to search out the Jovial Giant. You will be patient won't you?”
The Admiral nodded. “Of course, of course,” he said gruffly.
When Weevy-Weevy reached home he had a great deal of thinking to do. He had promised to help the seagulls. But first, he must finish the Queen's business. There were people to seek out and gifts to present.
The thought struck him that he had not yet visited a large town or city. Nor did he know whether towns people differed from country people. It was possible that, even in large towns, there were people who half believed in fairies. He decided to go and find out.
On the following morning he rose early, shined up his Flying Pan, made himself as neat and clean as a new pin and packed some food for the journey. He was not sure which way to go in search of a city. Then he remembered that trains always ran between large towns and, if you followed a working train, you were bound to come to a metropolis sooner or later. It was only retired steam trains like the one he had ridden a few days earlier that chuffed about the meadows and woods by winding branch-lines.
A busy line passed through the market town where he had found his Flying Pan. He flew to the station and waited. At last he heard the sound of a diesel engine and the rattle of coaches. When the train drew in he decided on the spur of the moment to ride to the city in style. He hopped into the luggage van and hid his Flying Pan. Then he found himself a window ledge in the dining car and settled to enjoy the journey.
Miles and miles of track disappeared under the train's wheels. Acres and acres of fields and woods flashed past. They crossed rivers and crawled through hills. They whizzed past towns and villages. Sometimes they stopped. Once or twice Weevy-Weevy thought of alighting, but however big and important a town looked, he knew that at the end of the line there was an even bigger and grander town. At last they were chugging through the suburbs of a great city.
What a size! It sprawled so that it seemed to blot out all green country for ever after. It was full of sound and life. There were people everywhere ..... thousands of people. There must be some among them who half-believed in fairies.
When he had recovered his Flying Pan, he flew over the city. At first he could see nothing but rows of solemn houses with scarcely a patch of green to make a safe landing place. The lawns and gardens looked very small. They were overlooked by many windows and, it seemed, were policed by cats or dogs who might make a fuss.
A large patch of green came into view. It had a great many trees and shrubs and bright flower-beds. In the centre there was a pond with ducks swimming and splashing about. There were seats by the pond and many people had gathered to watch the ducks.
To Weevy-Weevy the park seemed very neat and tidy after the raggle-taggle of the countryside. The grass was as smooth as velvet; the shrubs were clipped to shape; the flowers were set out in patterns. Even the trees stood stiffly as guardsmen. But the ducks looked jolly. They made everybody laugh when they dived upside-down after crumbs. Weevy-Weevy stood by the edge of the lake. But these city ducks took not the slightest notice of him. They were too busy doing head-stands for the crowd and squabbling over the bread thrown to them. It was very sad to be ignored by the ducks.
Children's voices drew his attention. They were coming from a well scuffed playground. There were children swinging on swings, sliding down shutes, climbing frames, riding the roundabout. Some tiny children were digging in the sand-pit. A few were chasing each other in a noisy game of tag. Not one took any notice of Weevy-Weevy. Not one seemed to sense his presence.
A terrier came bounding through the bushes. He stopped dead in front of Weevy-Weevy and began sniffing the ground. He followed the scent, head down, till he bumped into the little man. When he saw him he barked and wagged his tail.
“Hello,” he wuffed. “Race you!”
He started off at a great pace, then stopped suddenly. A woman's voice was calling out, “
Weevy-Weevy looked after him sadly. Then his face brightened. He had found one friend in the city. There must be other friendly animals and birds. Perhaps there were friendly people. It was up to him to find them.
He decided to walk. He hid his Flying Pan an under a clump of azaleas and sauntered through the park gate. He found himself in a quiet street. On one side ran the park railings. On the other, tall dignified houses stood overlooking the park. There were brass plates on their doors. He ran across the street to look. There were names on the brass plates. He scratched his head.
“Of course,” he said to himself. “This is just like Owl and me. X. Brown lives on the ground, Y. Black lives above, Z Green lives at the top. I suppose they put their names here to remind themselves who they are and where they live. It must be quite easy to lose yourself, or your house, in a big city like this.”
Most of the tall houses were let out in flats, or offices, or consulting rooms. Behind the curtains of some windows he saw people moving about. Sometimes he had to stand aside to let someone pass. In and out he went, up and down steps, making his own survey of the street and its inhabitants. Many of them looked very nice people indeed. He would have liked to make their acquaintance. But they gave no hint that they sensed his magic. What a pity such lovely people did not believe in fairies.
At the end of the street he came to a house with only one nameplate on the door. He thought the house had a homely look. One family must live here, for all the curtains matched. He began to clamber up the steps. He hauled himself up inch by inch only to find that his way was blocked. A boy was sitting on the top step. His fair hair fell about his face. He was bending over a sketching pad. Weevy-Weevy stared straight up into his blue eyes. They were large and dreamy and the lashes were long and fine as silk. The boy's mouth was slightly open and his tongue stuck out at the corner. He was very intent on what he was doing.
Weevy-Weevy was curious about this pale, lonely boy. He was also very curious to see the drawing. There was a tall stone urn full of flowers by the boy's elbow. He shinned up the pedestal, then sought out footholds in the carving. Using these, he worked his way round the urn till he could swing into the crook of the handle. Astride the handle, he had a clear view over the boy's shoulder.
The boy had made a fine pencil sketch of a fairy palace. It stood on a hill and had many turrets and towers and crenellated parapets. A long winding stair led up to its main door. There were many tall, pointed windows. Above the door there was one window shaped like a rose.
Weevy-Weevy was so interested in taking in all the details of the sketch that he leant over too far. He almost lost his balance. To save himself he clutched at the boy's shoulder.
The boy gave a slight shiver. He looked up suddenly, his face flushed with excitement.
“I've had a brain-wave,” he said. “Inspiration!”
He bent to his drawing with new interest. His hand moved over the pad as though by magic. The lines fell into place. The smudges disappeared. He finished the picture and held it at arm's length.
“It's good,” he said, “better than anything I ever drew. I felt the inspiration ..... the magic in my arm. Just that little touch on my shoulder, and then it was all so easy. I suppose I shall never know what touched me.”
He was signing his name on the drawing when something like a drop of dew fell on his wrist and rolled down his thin fingers. It fell exactly in the centre of the rose window above the palace door. It did not smudge and spread like a dewdrop. Instead it lay quite still. It was like a tiny piece of amber-coloured glass. Caught in a gleam of sun, it blazed with light.
The light from the stone filled the whole window. It spread and spread till all the windows lit up. Presently the whole palace was bathed in golden sunshine. The boy gasped with astonishment.
But Weevy-Weevy had not finished. He leapt onto the drawing, landing just at the feet of the stone stair. He began climbing. The boy could scarcely believe his eyes as he saw the little figure mounting his stairway. Weevy-Weevy reached the door of the palace. A light touch of his finger-tips and it swung open. For a few moments all the colour and sparkle of its treasure was revealed. The boy gasped as he stared into the jewelled and glowing interior. Then, softly and slowly, the door swung to again. Weevy-Weevy turned with a grin.
“I like your palace,” he said. “I couldn't resist having a peep inside.”
“I must be dreaming,” the boy murmured.
“Perhaps,” said Weevy-Weevy. “You are a dreamer, but until now you saw only the outlines of things. Now you have the Queen's gift, you can look inside.”
“The Queen's gift! You mean the coloured stone. Is it really a gift ..... for keeps?”
“Yes, a gift ..... for keeps ..... from the Fairy Queen.”
“Why did she choose me?”
“Because you have already got a gift of seeing things. Let me sit by you and explain.”
Weevy-Weevy sat on the palace steps and looked up into the boy's face. He told of his mission and adventures. And the boy told him how he had lost his mother in car accident, and how he had been nearly killed himself.
“I was ill for a long time. I am not quite better yet. My father worries about me ..... and our housekeeper. She is very kind, but she does fuss. Oh dear, I believe I hear her coming.”
“Put the stone in your pocket,” said Weevy-Weevy. “Keep it very carefully. It will help you to see things as they are. One day you will be a great artist. I shall follow your career with interest.”
The boy did as Weevy-Weevy had told him. As he tucked the stone away he felt a package rustle in his pocket. He had been saving this treasure.
“I say, Weevy-Weevy,” he said holding it out to the little man. “Here's a small gift for yourself. Turkish Delight. It's a bit squashed, but I hope you will enjoy it.”
“I'm sure I shall,” said Weevy-Weevy as he skipped away, “I'm starving.”
They could hear the housekeeper's footsteps coming along the hallway.
“John! John!” she was calling. “Isn't it time you came in. You have been sitting quite long enough on that doorstep. Can't imagine why. There's nothing to see.”
John smiled to himself as he gathered up his pad and pencils.
It was too late for Weevy-Weevy to return to the Silver Spinney. Besides he wanted to see more of the city. The winking lights and the colourful shop-window displays fascinated him. The traffic was quite terrifying, but he found that he could see enough on one side of the street.
He did not attempt to cross till he came to an open square with a stretch of green in the centre. It looked very peaceful and inviting. Beside the many flower-beds, there were seats for people to rest. Though it was getting late, there were quite a number of people sitting there taking their ease.
Weevy-Weevy felt he must get to this garden of rest. It meant crossing a very busy road. But, sooner or later, he must get used to crossing busy roads. He darted out two or three times, but each time was forced to draw back as great wheels bore down upon him. He wished that he had brought his Flying Pan.
“You in trouble, mate?” a voice spoke beside him. “Got yourself lost in the big city, by the look of you.”
He turned to see a pair of bright, beady eyes looking straight into his own. The sparrow, though his coat was rather sooty, stood at his ease on the edge of the kerb. He was a real bird-about-town, Weevy-Weevy could see. But he seemed friendly and helpful.
“You're right, more or less,” he said. “I'm not exactly lost, because I have nowhere to be lost from.”
“You mean you have no lodgings for the night.”
“Left it a bit late, didn't you?”
“Well I was thinking I could camp for the night in that green garden ..... if I could get over the road.”
“That's easy,” said the sparrow perkily, “just hop on my back and I'll ferry you over.”
Weevy-Weevy climbed on the sparrow's back.
“Hold on tight!” said the sparrow, and took off.
They skimmed over the heads of the people, over the cars and lorries and buses. On the far side, the sparrow was just swinging in to land when a thought struck him.
“Say mate,” he said, “why don't you come home with me. My missus would be right mad if she thought I left a distinguished guest like yourself to camp out in a noisy square, and us having a spare room and all.”
Weevy-Weevy accepted the invitation with pleasure. He had visions of a good supper and a warm bed ..... and somebody his own size to talk to.
“Ups-a-daisy,” said the sparrow, and rose into the dusky air.
He was quite a heavy burden for the little sparrow. The journey had to be made in stages. The first hop brought them to a town garden.
“Watch out for cats,” said the sparrow.
A great many flowers bloomed in this small area. Their blooms were heavy with the evening dew. Weevy-Weevy tipped up a snapdragon and drank the sweet liquid. The sparrow had not seen that trick before.
“Hm!” he said, “you do yourself proud, don't you. Me, I just drink from rain puddles.”
“Try this,” said Weevy-Weevy helping him to a cupful.
The sparrow let the sweet scented liquid trickle down his throat. He nodded in approval.
“Now that's something like a drink for a hard-working sparrow,” he said.
Together they made the round of various flowers, sampling the different flavours. They quiet forgot time till the clock on a church tower struck nine.
“I say,” said the sparrow, “we'd better be getting along. Missus will be in a proper mood. Still she can't say much in front of a stranger.”
By quick spurts and abrupt stops, they made their journey through and over the maze of streets. The sparrow skimmed roofs and wove among chimneys till a tall tower rose to view. It was a feature of an ancient church that stood brooding in a dingy run-down street.
“This is where I hang out,” he said. “I'm quite proud of it. You could say it's my ancestral mansion.”
The sparrow and his mate had built their nest by the water-spout in mouth of a grinning gargoyle which peered out from a flying buttress. The entrance to the sparrow's home was by the gargoyle's stone lips. It looked very grand to Weevy-Weevy. As the sparrow landed on the lower lip a tiny figure came fluttering to meet him.
“A fine time of night, this is to be gallivanting about the city?” she twittered shrilly. “In bad company, I suppose ..... oh dear, who's that on your back?”
“I beg your pardon, ma'am,” said Weevy-Weevy, as he dismounted and swept her a bow, “I delayed your husband. But, only for him I'd have lost myself, altogether. I'm a stranger in this town.”
“Well I never did!” she exclaimed. “If you aren't a fairy man. Did I ever think I'd have the honour of entertaining one of the magical gentry. You will come in and have a bite of supper with us, now that you're here?”
“Delighted, I'm sure,” Weevy-Weevy replied with gusto.
She led him into the gargoyle's mouth. On hands and knees he followed up the slippery piping to her cosy nest which was wedged high in the stone cheek. She held out a wing for him to grasp as he heaved himself into the nest.
“It's a bit cramped,” she chirped, “but we're lucky in these days of housing shortages to have a laughing gargoyle's cheek to build in. The cross ones suck their cheeks in so there's not room to flip a feather. Comfortable bed, isn't it? Used nothing but the best materials.”
Indeed the nest was very cosy. He could have curled up in its downy depths and fallen asleep. But he was hungry. His rescuer had disappeared.
“He's gone down to the fish-and-chipper,” his wife explained. “Don't you drop off till he comes now.”
The sparrow was back in a jiffy.
“Grub's up,” he called cheerfully. “Come and get it.”
“I say, you did well tonight,” his wife said as she pecked open the package.
“I did that ..... found half a supper by the bus stop ..... still in the
bag ..... still warm. Somebody rushing to catch the bus.”
The three gathered about the warm supper. The best morsels were pressed on Weevy-Weevy. He had not tasted such food before and found it much to his liking.
The three ate heartily. Then they swopped stories till it was time for sleep. The sparrows perched on the rim of the nest while Weevy-Weevy curled up inside.
“We don't sleep there anyway,” they assured him. “That is the nursery you know, but we have no children at the moment.”
He slept till the sun was high in the sky. It was strange to wake to the rumble of the city far below.
After breakfast, the sparrow offered to taxi Weevy-Weevy where he wished. He described the park where he had met the terrier. They flew there and checked that the Flying Pan was safe. Then they returned to the spot where they had met on the evening before.
“I want to cross that road all by myself,” said Weevy-Weevy, “I was glad of your help last night, but I could not go back and tell the Queen that I was too scared to cross a road in the modern Upper World.”
“Right Ho!” said the sparrow. “I get your point. I don't like to be beaten myself. Good luck to you.”
Weevy-Weevy did not feel so scared of the traffic in broad daylight. He studied how the people crossed the road. They waited at a place where there were stripes painted on the road. When the lights changed from red to green, they crossed in safety while the motor traffic waited. Having found out how to use a zebra crossing, he amused himself for some time by crossing and recrossing with the hurrying people.
When he began to tire of this game, he caught sight of a jeweller's window. The sunlight glanced off its shining display. The gold and silver shimmered. The gems flashed and glittered. They reminded him that he had yet two stones left in his waistcoat pocket. He could not spend the whole day playing games with the zebra crossing, or staring in shop-windows. He turned from the window and walked smartly along the busy street.
There were many things to draw his attention. A pet shop made him halt in his tracks. There were young puppies in the window. They looked very sad. They seemed to be begging the passersby to come in and buy them out of their prison. There were cages with brightly coloured birds. They looked as though they would like to spread their wings and fly. There was a slow tortoise and nimble white mice. There were hamsters on a climbing-wheel and goldfish swimming round and round in bowls.
Weevy-Weevy had never seen birds and animals in captivity. He was very sorry for them but could not see any way of setting them free. He could try to make them happier, he thought. He made faces at the puppies and they stared in surprise. He turned a somersault on the window sill and they wagged their tails. He danced up and down and the birds began to sing.
As he tried one antic after another, the watchers in the window grew more and more excited. There were such bursts of song, wuffs of delight, tail-waggings, scamperings and scratchings, that the shopkeeper came to see what was causing it. He saw nothing except the excited birds and animals. As he stood, scratching his head in wonder, Weevy-Weevy slipped away.
He turned down a quiet side-street. A few blocks along he came to a very large building that did not seem to have any windows. The walls were covered in posters which seemed miles high. They had pictures of beautiful young girls and handsome men in strange, brightly coloured dress. Some stood on tip-toe, some knelt, some seemed to fly through the air. One face appeared in several pictures. She was very beautiful. Weevy-Weevy stared at a picture in which a young man held her high in the air. She looked as light as a feather. Indeed she reminded him of his Queen.
He slipped in by a side door and found himself in a dimly lit passage. At the far end he could just see a flight of stairs leading upwards. He scurried along the passage and began to clamber up the stairs. The risers were very high. He had to drag himself up from step to step. It took him a long time to scale the height.
He found himself in a dim and draughty area. It was full of shadows and strange billowy shapes. It was so silent that the shadows seemed to hold their breaths. Waiting. Then the music began.
Where the music came from, he did not know. It was music for dancing. It made his toes itch. He began stepping in time to the lively beat. As he danced, he moved nearer to the music, but he could not see the orchestra, for a heavy curtain blocked his view.
The music stopped suddenly. There was a shuffle of feet, and voices talked together. He could heat a lady's voice, very clear and just beyond the curtain. She seemed to be giving instructions. Other voices spoke from farther away in what sounded like a big hall. Then the music started again. The same passage was repeated, not once, but several times. He could hear the faint thud and shuffle of slippered feet on an empty stage.
Weevy-Weevy danced too. He whirled round and round till he came to a gap in the curtain. Out on the stage he spun. On the bare boards, under strong lights, a group of dancers were rehearsing. The lady whose voice he had heard appeared to be their teacher. A little knot of people watched from the stalls. Tonight was to be the big opening of the season, Weevy-Weevy gathered. The chorus of the ballet was being put through its paces.
Except that they were so much taller, the dancers were not so different from Weevy-Weevy. Their tights were like his own green hose. They were neat and swift and graceful in their movements. He mingled amongst them, weaving in and out of the dance pattern as though it were the most natural thing. Not a soul detected his presence.
When the particular passage had been well rehearsed, there was a short rest. Then the chorus began from the beginning, this time with no interruption. They reached a frenzy of skipping and leaping and whirling at great speed. Then the music began to die. As it grew lower and softer the chorus moved to a graceful conclusion. Like rose petals they drifted to rest in a semicircle on the bare stage. Their heads drooped like sleeping flowers.
The music was a mere whisper. Out of the whisper a single wild note rose like the call of a blackbird. It soared and swelled. Other instruments took it up. The orchestra added one after the other of its many voices till there was a great crescendo of exciting music. The dancers on the floor quivered like leaves in a rising storm.
Like a whirlwind, she passed his ear. He hardly knew what had happened till he saw her there on the centre stage. She moved into the first steps of her solo. Weevy-Weevy forgot to dance. He stood, enraptured watching. She floated like thistledown. Her face was flushed, her eyes bright. He had never seen anyone so lovely and graceful in all his life ..... not even the Fairy Queen.
Yet her face was familiar. Where had he seen it? Of course, she was the beautiful dancer on the posters. She was far more beautiful than the posters showed.
He had danced with the Fairy Queen. He would dance with the Queen of the Ballet. Unseen, he took his place opposite her. He moved as she moved, rose on his toes, twirled, glided, soared and drooped. They moved in perfect harmony. And as they danced he watched her face. It was the face of someone in a dream ..... a beautiful dream. He knew that she was in his magic spell. Never had she danced like this.
When she finally sank to the floor there was a spontaneous burst of applause from the group in the stalls, and from the chorus on the stage. They had seen what Weevy-Weevy had seen. They had appreciated the magic.
Weevy-Weevy followed the ballerina from the stage and along the corridor. He just managed to dart into her dressing room before she closed the door. When she took the stool before her dressing-table, he sank panting, at her feet. He saw her lean over to look in her own bright eyes, heard her murmur:
“It was magic ..... sheer magic. If only the same magic would work tonight.”
“It will,” Weevy-Weevy said.
He had hopped on the toe of her slipper. She could feel the slight weight but she could not see him yet.
“Where are you?” she asked. “What did you say?”
“I said the magic would work tonight. It will work even better. I will be at the ballet and you will know I am there. You will dance as you have never done ..... as few people have ever done.”
“Oh my dear, kind, encouraging sprite, please let me see you,” she pleaded.
“Pick up the Queen's gift and you will see me. It's here, at your toe.”
The ballerina looked down. There lay the tiny stone at her feet. It shone green and bright as a clear stream. It was the colour of her own sparkling eyes. She bent down and picked it up.
“Aren't you going to lift me up too?” asked the tiny voice.
Then she saw Weevy-Weevy perched on her slipper. She held out her hand to him. Soon he was sitting astride the handle of her hair-brush on the dressing table and making faces at himself in the tall mirror.
The dancer allowed him to amuse himself for a few minutes. Then he noticed that she was waiting and turned away from his own reflection. They had a long conversation, but it was, at last, interrupted by a knock on the door. A messenger had come to remind the dancer that she must have some lunch and a long rest.
“I think I need some lunch and a long rest too,” said Weevy-Weevy, laughing.
“Of course you do,” the dancer laughed back, “and you shall have both. You will drive with me to my hotel this very minute.”
Weevy-Weevy had never ridden in a car before. He perched on the back of her seat as the dancer drove through the busy streets. If only the sparrow could see him now ..... or his friends in the Silver Spinney. What ever would Dr. Owl say?
The ballerina ordered lunch in her room. Weevy-Weevy squatted under a centrepiece of flowers and watched the waiter arrange the table. The food was dainty and smelt delicious. His new friend picked out some of the tastiest morsels for him. She allowed him to use his fingers and to eat from the side of her plate.
“When I get back to my underground home I am going to ask the silver-smith to make a set of cutlery just for me. Do let me watch how you use a knife and fork. I really must learn before I am any older.”
He was fascinated by the golden liquid in her glass. It made him feel thirsty.
“Is that nectar?” he asked.
“Not exactly,” she told him. “It is wine. It is made from grape juice. Would you like a little?”
He nodded. She let him have a few sips. He liked the taste very much. Then she let him taste her black coffee, but he did not care for that. He had a tiny bite of a crisp red apple. Then he felt so drowsy that he could hardly keep his eyes open.
The green stone lay on the white tablecloth by the dancer's plate. She had been glancing at it from time to time all through the meal.
“I would like to give your Queen a gift,” she said. “Can you suggest something?”
“I would suggest one of your slippers, but I fear I could not get it in my pocket.”
“Never mind,” she said, “you have given me an idea.”
She disappeared for a few minutes. Then she came back with a silver box in her hands. It was full of bits and pieces of jewellery. It looked most interesting. Weevy-Weevy leaned over to look in. He leant too far and toppled in among the bangles and beads. The dancer lent him her finger as a gangplank. They both laughed so much over that that he fell in again. This time they were very solemn till he had climbed out and seated himself on a velvet pincushion.
The dancer hunted among her treasures till she found her charm
bracelet. She ran her fingers over the various charms till she came to the tiny silver shoe. This she removed and handed to Weevy-Weevy.
“Do you think your Queen would like it?” she asked.
“I'm quite sure she would love it. What a perfect little shoe!”
“It was made as a gift for me many years ago. My friend was an old silversmith with a brown wrinkled laughing face like yours, Weevy-Weevy. He said it would bring me luck. It always has.”
“Then I cannot take it from you, my dear, I cannot take your gift.”
“You have given me another in its stead. Take it for your Queen.”
Weevy-Weevy took the tiny slipper and tucked it away in his pocket. “Before you go,” said the dancer, “is there anything you would like for yourself?”
“After that wonderful meal, there is nothing,” he said, “except to watch you dancing.”
“That you will see. Now let us have a good rest.”
They rested all the afternoon, the ballerina on her bed, Weevy-Weevy in one of her slippers. At length the tinkle of china woke them. A dainty tray had been placed on the table by her bed. Weevy-Weevy tasted tea for the first time. He found it very refreshing. After that he got himself washed and brushed up in readiness for the ballet.
They travelled to the theatre in a taxi this time. Weevy-Weevy followed the dancer up the stairs to her dressing room. Not one saw or sensed him as they passed.
“I must bid you good-bye,” he said sadly. “I shall not stay after your solo, for I have a long journey before me. Good luck, my dear ..... very good luck!”
He took up his stand in the wings and waited for her to appear. The time did not seem long for now he had all the costumes and scenery to admire. Now and then he skipped a few steps of a dance, but he did not venture on the stage any more.
At last his beautiful friend had the centre of the stage to herself. Even as she danced the audience could hardly restrain their applause. Weevy-Weevy felt the excitement grow in the auditorium. He could see the chorus posed on the stage. Their eyes were spell-bound. When she finally sank to the stage, the whole audience rose to clap and cheer. Tomorrow the press critics would give her rave notices. Weevy-Weevy threw his red hat in the air and whooped for joy. Then, blowing her a farewell kiss, he sped away down the shadowy stairs.
He ran all the way to the park, never noticing the distance. It no longer seemed difficult to avoid passing feet or to cross roads. He hurried to the azaleas where he had hidden his Flying Pan. There it was, safe and sound. But it had an occupant .... a sleeping hedgehog. He looked too prickly to poke. Weevy-Weevy put his fingers to his lips and blew a shrill whistle. The hedgehog stirred and muttered:
“What's the matter? What's the matter? Why can't you let a hard-working chap have his sleep?”
“You're welcome to sleep as much as you like, but not in my Flying Pan. I need it to get back to my own bed. And that's a long way away.”
The hedgehog opened his eyes and stared at Weevy-Weevy.
“So it's one of you folk,” he said, “sorry I was short with you, I'm sure.”
“Never mind that,” said Weevy-Weevy. “Just let me get my Flying Pan out.”
“Your Flying Pan?” So that's what it is. An excellent Flying Pan no doubt, but a very uncomfortable bed.”
“In which case you won't mind if I take it.”
“Not at all, my dear fellow. Not at all. Take it, by all means.”
The hedgehog rolled right out of the pan and curled up in a round prickly ball under the shrubs. Even the most inquisitive terrier could hardly find him.
Weevy-Weevy took off into a sky brilliant with stars. His journey back to the Silver Spinney took all night and part of the next day. He was very tired when the trees of his home village rose into view.
It was late afternoon when Weevy-Weevy reached his home in the hollow oak. He was tired and lay down on his mossy couch. Soon he was fast asleep. For hours no sound came from the oak tree except a great snore from Owl and a tiny snore from Weevy-Weevy.
Owl woke first. It was his hoot that roused Weevy-Weevy. He jumped up, stretched and yawned, and found that he was well rested and ready for another adventure. The Spinney was quiet except for an occasional chirrup or rustle. All the birds and animals had gone to rest.
It was a new thing for Weevy-Weevy to be out by himself in the Spinney. He climbed the mound under which Badger lived. There he sat thinking over all the things that had happened. A picture of the engine came into his mind, all smoke and steam and sparks and flame. So clear was it in his mind that he was not at all surprised when a red glow started up at the edge of the plantation. He waited for the huffing and puffing sound but none came. Then he saw that the glow came from a fire which had just been kindled. He crept very quietly through the grass.
It took him a long time to weave through the long grass and bracken and fern. As he drew near the fire he heard voices and the sounds of people moving quietly about. A grinding noise made him jump. Just a few feet from him a piebald pony was cropping the grass.
A small camp had been set up. By the light of the wood fire, Weevy-Weevy could see a gaily painted caravan drawn up under a tree. A woman bent over the fire. She was throwing herbs into a pot. The pot bubbled and boiled and sent out a savoury smell that made him feel hungry.
A young woman was seated on a log holding a baby in her arms. As she rocked the baby to and fro she sang in a low sweet voice. The baby whimpered now and then, each time more faintly, as it drowsed off. He could hear other children darting among the trees. They were gathering wood for the fire. They brought armful after armful to keep the blaze going. The old woman smiled and told them what good children they were, and that their supper would soon be ready.
He could hear men's voices. There were two of them and they were putting up a tent. One was a young man; the other quite old for he had a white beard. Presently they came forward into the light of the fire and rolled logs forward to sit on. Weevy-Weevy squatted beside them. He had a mind to get a share of their savoury supper, even if it was only a fallen scrap. His mouth watered.
He must have fallen into a doze by the heat of the fire. In no time at all, it seemed, the stew was ready, and the old woman was calling the children to come and bring their plates. She ladled some of the stew on to every plate and handed out great hunks of freshly cut bread. Weevy-Weevy admired her fine brown hands as she ladled, and handed the plates and cut up the bread. He admired her handsome face, her dark eyes and the big gold rings that dangled from her ears.
He studied the group by the fire as they ate. He had a warm feeling of kinship with these gypsy people. He liked to listen to their strange speech and watch the firelight glancing off their dark hair and shining earrings. He liked their brightly coloured clothes and their jingling bracelets. He would have liked some of their supper, too. He waited patiently.
The old man was the last to finish. He mopped up every drop of the rich gravy with his bread. His wife handed him a mug of tea.
“My dear wife,” he said, licking his lips, “that was the most delicious stew I ever tasted. Another of your grandmother's secret recipes, eh?”
“No secret,” she said, “the same recipe I have used these thirty years.”
“Then there must have been a magic ingredient in it.”
“Magic indeed! It was your hunger made it taste so well. You haven't had bite or cup since .”
“They say hunger's good sauce. It is too. It has put a flavour on many a meal. But not like the flavour of this meal. I tell you, there is some magic about. I feel it in my bones.”
Weevy-Weevy edged nearer the old man. Soon he was almost touching. The old man fidgeted a little, but went on staring into the fire. The others took no notice. They went on with their conversation. Weevy-Weevy made a point of staring straight at the old woman. She read fortunes. She could see the future, in a crystal ball. But she could not see the fairy by the fireside. She showed no sign that she sensed anything strange. She counted the money in her leather bag and noticed nothing. He had no faith in her fortune telling.
A shower of sparks made him scurry away from the edge of the fire. In his haste he kicked up a cloud of ash.
“What was that?” the young man asked.
“What do you mean?” asked his wife, sleepily.
“I don't know. Something ran through the ashes, just this minute.”
“A field mouse, maybe.”
“Ask your father,” the old woman said, “more than likely he'll tell you it was a fairy.”
“And why wouldn't it be a fairy,” the old man said. “I wouldn't be at all surprised ..... not this night, anyway. There's something strange about I tell you.”
“Hsh, before the children start asking questions. We don't want them up half the night.”
The young woman called the children together and began to prepare them for bed. Her husband checked the tent ropes. The old woman moved away towards the caravan. Soon all had disappeared. The old gypsy man sat alone by the glowing embers. The wind in the trees sang a lullaby. Soon the old man's head began to droop. He was almost asleep. Than he felt something cold fall on his hand. He opened his eyes to see a tiny drop of dew twinkling in the starlight. But he knew it was not dew. It was too clear and bright.
As he stared he saw, as if in a crystal ball, the flames and the stars and the moving shadows of trees. Strange pictures and colour-patterns began to appear. They kept changing. A story began to take shape. It was the story of his own life. He saw the gypsy boy roving the country with his parents, making camp by the wayside, visiting the fairs, putting the good wish and the bad wish on the people he met. There were happy times and sad times; moments of adventure and moments of great danger. He saw the first pony he had ridden and the tree that had been struck by lightening. He saw the lights of the fairground and the dark night of the floods. He saw the gypsy girl with whom he had fallen in love. Their wedding feast rose clearly before him. He could hear the music of gypsy violins.
“You can see the future in it too,” a tiny voice told him. There, by his knee, stood Weevy-Weevy. The gypsy looked into his laughing brown eyes. In the crystal the same eyes laughed up at him.
“I am seeing the future, I think,” he said. “I always hoped to see a fairy some day. It was in the future. Now the future is here and I have got my wish. I can hardly believe it.”
“You must believe what you see, Gypsy man. If you don't you will upset my mission to the Humans. The Queen will be very upset.”
“I wouldn't want to upset your Queen ..... nor any of you little folk. You have always been friends to the travelling people.”
“I think it is you who had the second sight,” said Weevy-Weevy. “If you let me climb on your hand and hold the crystal, I think you will see the thoughts in my head at this minute.”
The gypsy did as Weevy-Weevy suggested. At once he could see clearly what thought was uppermost in the little man's head.
“You're hungry,” he said. “You want a bit of stew.”
Weevy-Weevy nodded till his tall hat nearly fell off.
“It's a good thing my wife never scrapes the pot. She always leaves a bit for the fairies. She doesn't say that's why she does it. Lots of people leave bits in their pots and on their plates and they couldn't say why they do it. They don't want to seem greedy, they tell you. What they leave is not the difference between greed and non-greed. It's just a meal for a fairy. Why down deep they have the old belief in the wee folk still.”
Weevy-Weevy was very interested in this suggestion. Maybe the belief in fairies and magic had life in its roots yet. The thought cheered him. He jigged about as he waited for the gypsy to ladle out his supper. There was enough stew left for him. The gypsy spread it on a sorrel leaf. Weevy-Weevy gobbled it up, sorrel plate and all.
“Yum, that was good,” he said rubbing his stomach.
The two settled down for a long night's talking. The gypsy put a big log on the fire that would last through the night. They had a great deal to say to each other.
When dawn broke through the trees it was time to say good-bye. There were tears in both their eyes. Weevy-Weevy smiled through his tears and held out his little brown hand.
“Do not cry, Gypsy man,” he said gently. “This is not good-bye, really. You have got the Queen's gift and I will tell you how to make a special use of it. If you want to speak to me, just hold the stone in you palm and wish, and there I will be right before your eyes.”
The old gypsy stared into the crystal. In its depths he saw Weevy-Weevy wave farewell. When he looked up, he was alone. He remembered that he had given Weevy-Weevy no gift. But it was not too late. He held the crystal and wished and Weevy-Weevy stood before him.
“I have a gift that you must bear to your Queen,” he said. “It belonged to the Queen of the Gypsies. It is a gift from one Queen to another, you could say.”
He took a tiny snip of scarlet ribbon from a pocket in the lining of his jacket and held it out to Weevy-Weevy.
“I have carried this about with me for many years. I met the Queen of the Gypsies when I was a lad. She took a fancy to me and snipped the end from her hair-ribbon and gave it to me as a souvenir.”
Weevy-Weevy shook his head.
“I couldn't take anything as precious as that,” he said.
“You must,” insisted the gypsy. “I kept that as my most precious possession for many a year. Now I have a greater treasure ..... your Queen's gift. In it I can see the living face of a friend. A living face is better than a dying memory.”
Weevy-Weevy nodded gravely. He tucked the snippet of scarlet silk in his waistcoat pocket where the precious stones had been. It was the second gift that he could carry back to the land of fairy.
Weevy-Weevy sat in a silver birch tree and watched the gypsies striking camp. As the bright caravan turned out onto the main road, the old gypsy turned and waved to him and he waved back.
When they had gone out of sight he felt very lonely. He also, for the moment, felt at a loose end. He had made contact with several people, had presented the Queen's gifts. He had satisfied himself that the birds, beasts and insects still recognised fairies. His mission to the Upper World was completed in good time. He must prepare to depart.
But a new thought struck him. There was another kind of world he had not explored, another kind of being with whom he had not made contact. He had met neither the Jovial Giant nor the Very Last Witch in the World. Indeed, until the animals and birds had told him of these two, he had believed that giants and witches were things of the past.
Perhaps they were doomed to disappear forever if nobody believed in them, which was what the Queen had said about the fairies. The giant and the witch were in a worse case, for not even the fairies really believed in them. It was very serious for them. They were old enemies of course, but it was not the fairy way to exterminate old enemies. He was sure the Queen would wish to prove or disprove them. He began to rock to and fro on his branch. A thrush eyed him curiously as he burst into a funny little song:
“I'm going to visit the Jovial Giant,
I'm going to see the giant today,
He sleeps afar in the misty mountain,
And I must be up and on my way.”
He boarded his Flying Pan and soon he was rising high in the bright morning air. As he floated merrily along he sang:
“I'm going to visit the Jovial Giant,
I'm going to see the giant today,
The jolly old, laughing old, Jovial Giant,
Beyond the mountain so far away.”
By and by he caught up with a flock of swallows, who were soaring and diving in a most energetic manner. They explained that they were exercising their wings to strengthen them for their long flight south. Within a few days they would be starting on their trek. The chilly autumn days were very near. Weevy-Weevy agreed. He had noticed a nip in the air that very morning.
He had a question for the swallows, but it was some time till he could get a word in amongst their chittering.
“Hi swallows!” he yelled at the top of his voice, “do you know where the Jovial Giant lives?”
They shook their heads and went on soaring and diving and twittering excitedly. If they had ever known anything about the Jovial Giant, they had forgotten. Their minds were totally taken up with their forthcoming trip to the sun. Amongst their twitter he picked up an absent-minded reply:
“Never heard of the Jovial Giant ..... never heard ..... don't know ..... we must fly ..... fly ..... get ready to fly ..... to fly away ..... away ..... away to the south ..... to the sunny south ..... the sunny south ..... the sunny, sunny, sunny ..... fly away south.”
Weevy-Weevy shrugged his shoulders. There was no use in repeating his question to the swallows. They could think of nothing but the sunny south. Maybe, like himself, they were homesick.
He steered from them towards the distant hills. They were a long journey off but he flew on doggedly, asking no further questions of the birds he met in mid-air. He would land in the mountains and ask an animal. Animals lived closer to the ground. They must hear occasional rumours.
At last the mountains came into full view. There were green fields and cultivated patches on the lower slopes. Higher up the grass grew coarser and thinner. Outcrops of rock appeared. Gorse grew wild among the stone. Beyond the gorse the rock was stripped bare to the top of the mountain, but in places, between the bald rocks, there were patches of rich grass. He spotted one quite large grassy shelf high up on the mountain side. He swung in to land on this ledge.
His sudden touch-down startled a flock of black-faced mountain sheep. They scurried out of his way. Then, curious to have a look at the intruder, they edged towards him. Weevy-Weevy sat very still and waited for them to come within speaking distance. When they had gathered in a circle about him, he saw that they were still very nervous and likely to bolt if he addressed them. He fixed his eyes on an old ram who had come one pace forward and was glaring at him from alert hazel eyes.
“Do not fear me,” he said gently. “I am only a little fairy man. I would not hurt any of your flock. I only want to ask you a question.”
“Baa!” said the ram rather stupidly.
Did he mean “yes” or “no”, Weevy-Weevy wondered. He went on anyway:
“Could you tell me where the Jovial Giant lives? I think it is in these parts.”
The ram stared and shook his head and said “baa” again and again. And all the sheep mimicked everything he said and did, till Weevy-Weevy became impatient and started to fidget. The ram did not want him to leave them so soon, so he started talking:
“Never heard of the Jovial Giant. Never knew any giant in these parts ..... lived here all my life, lamb and ram ..... travelled up the mountain and down the mountain, and round the mountain ..... know every blade of grass ..... no Jovial Giant hereabouts ..... neither up the mountain, nor down the mountain, nor round the mountain ..... nor .....”
The sheep shook their heads and bleated in chorus:
“Up the mountain, down the mountain, round the mountain ..... baa ..... baa ..... baa.”
Weevy-Weevy could stand no more of it. He hopped into his Flying Pan and took off. As he rose he could hear the sheep bleating away:
“Up the mountain, and down the mountain, and .....”
He flew right over the mountain top and skimmed down the far side till he found another grassy shelf.
High on a jutting ledge a splendid old billy goat stood staring at the object that had just dropped from the sky. He looked very wise and knowing.
“Bet he could tell a few secrets,” thought Weevy-Weevy.
The goat did not stir as the Flying Pan came to rest a few feet from him. He fixed his fierce yellow eyes on Weevy-Weevy. Weevy-Weevy felt quite nervous as he approached this king of the mountain-top. His horns looked very strong and sharp.
“If you please, your Highness,” he began timidly, “can you tell me where the Jovial Giant lives?”
The goat tossed his magnificent head and stared away over the plains. Was he deaf, or just too proud to speak to so small a person? Weevy-Weevy raised his voice!
“I'm sorry to trouble your Royal Highness ..... er, Your Majesty ..... but could you please tell this humble person where the Jovial Giant lives?” The goat seemed to like the titles. He lowered his head a little.
“You needn't shout, my little man,” he said grandly, “I can hear very well. Why do you ask me this question?”
“Because I think he might be one of your Majesty's friends.”
“Why do you think that, little man?”
“Because I believe he is a very wise person. I cannot imagine your Majesty having silly friends ..... I mean, like the sheep over there.”
“I haven't. But what makes you think the Jovial Giant is a wise person?”
“He laughs so heartily. Only a very wise person would find life so amusing. I bet you find it amusing too.”
“At times, yes. I find you rather amusing. In fact I am quite taken with you. If I let you into the secret of the Jovial Giant's hide-out, you won't go spreading it around. You won't breathe it to them over there. Once they get hold of anything they bleat it out all over the mountain.”
Weevy-Weevy grinned knowingly.
“I rather thought so,” he said, “I wouldn't dream of telling them. They don't need to know. They seem very happy as they are.”
The goat gave a raucous laugh.
“I can see,” he said, hoarsely, “that you are a very discerning small person. You fairy folk always were. Used to know quite a few of you. Only know one now. Glad to meet another. Come closer and let me tell you.”
Weevy-Weevy was no longer afraid. He drew quite near to the goat, so near that the great beard tickled his face.
“Closer still,” said the goat. “Not even the wind must hear what I have to say. Catch hold of my beard and climb right up. I can bear your weight.”
Hand over hand he climbed right up to the goat's chin. The goat's breath, smelling of mountain herbs, blew hot in his face. The goat's eyes were like two great yellow lamps above his head. But the expression on the goat's face was friendly. He twisted himself a sling-sea in the wispy beard and settled to listen.
It was quite plain that his new friend was glad of his company. No doubt there were few to listen or talk to in that lonely place. He took a long time to whisper his story. Every now and then he paused to chew his cud. Then his beard waggled and Weevy-Weevy had to cling tightly. The goat did not seem to mind having his beard tugged. It was a small price to pay for a good listener.
“To tell you the honest truth,” he said slowly, “I never actually saw the Jovial Giant. He was before my time, you could say. He used to move about quite freely in the olden days. My father saw him once or twice. My grandfather knew him quite well. But things have changed. The modern world is not a comfortable place for any of the older creatures. A giant would find it very hard to move about. With aeroplanes buzzing about his head and trip-wires of electric cable everywhere, it would be too dangerous. There are so many tall buildings to stumble over, and dams to fall in. And always there are eyes watching, unfamiliar eyes, cameras and radar and such. There is not much fun. Modern people are far too serious, too busy getting on or getting rich, or just making out, always watching clocks and counting their money. They even pay to be made laugh. There is no place for a Jovial Giant in such a world. He prefers to sleep and dream amusing dreams.”
“I know,” Weevy-Weevy nodded, “he laughs when he dreams. I heard him. That is how I came to know he was still in the land of the living. They said he slept under this mountain.”
“My neighbours in the Silver Spinney. They were very vague. It was Badger who actually pointed out this mountain.”
“Wise fellow, Badger. He would know, being an underground animal. He was right, of course. The giant lives here. His ancestral home is right under this mountain. My grandfather used to visit him. He said there was the biggest kitchen that you ever saw. And there were great winding passages ..... and the most enormous dining hall in the world. The giant used to give parties. Those were the days.”
“Do you think they will ever come again?”
“They might. In a long time. Most of the underground people have retired for the time being. It is said they will come out when the world gets back its senses.”
The goat chewed the cud over that, till Weevy-Weevy thought he would say no more. He felt very drowsy, wrapped up as he was, in the warm beard. Indeed he must have dozed off, for he lost his grip and toppled to the ground. The goat bent down to dangle him a strand of beard.
“Are you all right?” he asked, anxiously.
“Oh quite,” said Weevy-Weevy, “very careless of me to drop off.”
“Have you heard all you want to know about the Jovial Giant?”
“I still haven't found out how to reach him. Do you know?”
“Of course I do. I know most things worth knowing about this mountain.”
“Splendid! How do you do it?”
“Just keep my eyes and ears open ..... and .....”
“Make good friends. I have one very good friend. Very good indeed. You might know her when I come to think of it.”
“Yes, know her. She's from your country. I believe she was banished long ago.”
Weevy-Weevy was jigging up and down in his beard hammock.
“I say,” said the goat, “do sit still. You can't think how you are tugging my beard. I'm sure you know her. Try three guesses. I shall have to tell you before you pull my whiskers off.”
“I think I need only one guess. Her name is Mizzinog .... the Freckled Fairy.”
“Right first time. She's the Jovial Giant's personal messenger. She comes to see me regularly. I give her all the gossip. It amuses the Giant.”
“Will she come today?”
“She’ll come any time I call her.”
“Now how do you do that?”
“Get out of my beard and I'll show you.”
With a great bound the goat leaped onto a flat ledge of rock. It looked like a trap-door and there was just room for him to stand on it. He began to tap out a rhythm with his hooves. The rock drummed like a sounding board. When Weevy-Weevy put his ear to the ground he could hear the rhythm echoing through the winding underground tunnels till it echoed all through the mountain like subterranean thunder.
“Tumpty, tumpty, tump,
Tumpety, tumpety, tumpety,
Tump, tumpty, tumpty, tump,
Tumpety.tump, tump, tump.”
Three times the goat tapped out the rhythm. Weevy-Weevy pressed his ear to the ground and listened till the last rumble died away. He waited for an answer, but none came. The goat wandered away to graze, as though he had forgotten all about him. It was very still and silent. Then a gentle voice spoke in his ear:
“Hello Weevy-Weevy! So you have found me. It is a long time since we played hide-and-seek.”
He turned and saw a tiny girl standing close beside him. She had curly hair and a tip-tilted nose. Her face was covered in freckles.
“Why, it's good old Mizzinog!” he exclaimed, holding out his hands to her. “Wherever did you disappear? I have missed you very much.”
“I missed you too,” she said, wistfully, “and all the dear friends.”
“Why didn't you come back to us?”
“I couldn't. You know the Queen banished me because I disobeyed her. You remember how curious I was to see the Upper World by daylight. I stayed out after sunrise. I thought she would not find out. But she saw my freckles. She was very angry. She told me I had better go back to the Upper World. You heard her drive me out, didn't you, Weevy-Weevy? Oh, it was very cruel.”
“I remember. The Queen was angry. But she is not cruel. You heard her tell you to go. But she did not intend you to stay away.”
“But she said .....”
“You did not wait to hear all that she said. She said you were not to come back ..... for a whole day. She was very upset when you did not appear at the dancing under the lone thorn. She watched for you every night for ages. We all watched. We were all very sad.”
“Why didn't she send a message?”
“She sent many messages begging you to return. Didn't the night moth ever find you? Or did they forget their message?”
“So that was it. That was what the moth came to say. One did find his way into the Giant's cave. He was very excited and kept fluttering around me and squeaking. I couldn't get him to settle down. He would keep staring at the Giant's candle. He kept rushing towards it till he singed his wings. Then he lay very still and squeaked no more. I carried him outside and left him to recover in the fresh air. In the morning he had gone. Many a time I wondered where he went, and why he came, and if he was really trying to tell me something.”
“He was, poor thing. I remember how he came back after a long time, with his poor wings damaged. He had quite lost his memory and could not say where he had been. He has quite recovered now, but recalls nothing. Perhaps all will come back to him when he sees you.”
“Sees me! Then I may return?”
“Of course. You shall come with me. How welcome you will be, my dear Missinog!”
Mizzinog was overjoyed. Then she became thoughtful.
“You will come back with me?” Weevy-Weevy said.
“Of course,” she answered, “but I shall be sorry to leave the poor old Jovial Giant. He has been very kind to me. And I cannot think what he will do without me.”
“Weren't you frightened of him?”
“At first, yes. When I wandered into his cave seeking somewhere to hide myself, I found him sitting by the ashes of a dead fire. He was fast asleep and snoring like thunder. What a noise he made. I turned to run. Then he woke and called me back. I thought he was going to eat me up. Then I saw that his face was kind ..... and so very sad. I knew he was lonely too. When he asked me to stay and be his messenger, I was pleased to be able to help him.”
“You must have met many interesting creatures.”
“I met a few. The Giant used to talk of many others, but he always forgot where they lived or what message he wanted to send them. In the end I made errands of my own. I got to know the birds and animals and insects, I used to bring in all the gossip of the mountain. The Giant loved to hear it. He used to laugh. He was especially fond of Goat's sayings. So I visited Goat often and we became very good friends.”
“I am glad you found friends. Yet you missed your own people?”
“I did, dreadfully. I missed the music and the dancing. How I would like to join a fairy revel again.”
“You shall, very soon. In the meantime, let us practice a few steps.”
Clasping her hands he whirled her away in a lively dance. Their tiny feet beat out a rhythm on the smooth sounding stone. Its echo woke the mountain to faint, far rumblings. A blackbird alighted on a clump of moss and whistled a dancing tune. More birds took up the refrain. Soon there was a vast choir. Hearing the music, all the small shy mountain beasts and insects gathered about them. There was a great buzz and rustle, padding of feet and beating of wings. What a farewell party for Mizzinog! Though she did not tell them, they sensed that she was going. They were sad and happy at one and the same time.
When the party had dispersed, Mizzinog took Weevy-Weevy by the hand.
“Come,” she said, “let me take you to see the Jovial Giant.”
She guided him down the mountain side by secret paths through moss and heather. She knew how to avoid the pitfalls and loose stones. As they ambled along, Weevy-Weevy told her something of his adventures in the Upper World. He told her the sad story of the seagulls and the witch.
“Tell me,” he said, “is the Giant on friendly terms with the Very Last Witch in the World?”
“Not exactly,” said Mizzinog. “He doesn't approve of her behaviour.”
“Good! Then he may be willing to help me.”
“He will, if you can keep him awake for long enough.”
They came to the mouth of the cave. It was a great opening in the rocky face of the mountain. A huge slab of rock covered it. It looked as though it were shut up for a thousand years, for no human being could move that boulder. Mizzinog was not deterred. She knew a chink just wide enough for two fairies to squeeze through.
They found themselves in a dark tunnel. Weevy-Weevy could not see his way. But Mizzinog knew what to do. She clapped her hands and presently a light appeared away in the dim distance. It moved slowly towards them. It was the first of a whole train of lights ..... a procession of glow-worms that Mizzinog had trained to lead her along the tunnels.
A great red glow appeared in the distance. It was the fire on the hearth in the Giant's kitchen.
“Good!” said Mizzinog, “he hasn't let it go out.”
A loud snort shook the passage. Weevy-Weevy started and turned pale.
“No need to be frightened,” Mizzinog said gently, “he is just dropping off again. You should hear him when he's really fast asleep.”
“However do you listen to him?”
“Oh, it's not so bad when you get used to it. I believe they make much more noise in the human world.”
“Indeed they do. I have been in the great city. There's not one great noise there, but a whole choir of noises. I got used to that too.”
“Come on in then. Never mind the Giant.”
The Giant's kitchen was a lofty, spacious cavern, so dimly lit that the ceiling disappeared in darkness. It was very comfortable. The Giant appeared to have made it his one and only living place. On an enormous bed at the farther side, he lay sprawled out. He was asleep and did not see the tiny pair. Mizzinog led Weevy-Weevy up quite close to him. He was like a whole range of mountains. His thumb nail would have made a skating rink. His face was craggy as the rocks, but Weevy-Weevy could see that he wore a good-humoured expression.
“You get used to his size,” said Mizzinog. “I walk all over him and he does not mind at all. He wouldn't hurt a fly.”
Weevy-Weevy squatted by the fire while Mizzinog brought him milk and honey cake.
“Yum,” he said, “I have not tasted honey cake since I left home. I am glad you did not forget how to make it.”
“I was not allowed to forget. The Giant liked it too. He eats very little, really. But he likes good food.”
Mizzinog sat by him while he ate. When he had finished, she said that if they were to start for home, she must wake the Giant.
“We cannot leave without letting him know. Besides, I am sure he would be very disappointed if he didn't meet you.”
Weevy-Weevy wondered how ever she was going to rouse the Giant. He was such a huge mountain and so fast asleep. But she had done it many times before.
She climbed on the great feather bed and made her way towards the Giant's ear. Picking a feather from his pillow, she began tickling his ear. After a few tickles to the ear, the Giant's nose began to twitch. She moved down and began to tickle his nose. Then he wrinkled his forehead. She tickled his forehead till he shut his mouth and stopped snoring. He began to roll over and she had to move very carefully, like an acrobat on a rolling barrel.
It seemed at any moment that the Giant would sit up and look about him. He even sneezed, which shook the cave and toppled both Mizzinog and Weevy-Weevy head-over-heels. But he did not wake up. Instead, he seemed to be settling into a deeper sleep.
Mizzinog clambered to the foot of the bed. With a great effort, she rolled back a corner of the Giant's quilt. The Giant's great bare toes stuck up like monoliths. But she knew where the touchy places were. She began to tickle the soles of his feet.
Presently the Giant began to giggle to himself. The feather bed quivered. She went on tickling till she heard him chuckle.
Weevy-Weevy could hardly keep a straight face when he heard that sound like a mountain laughing inside itself. He nearly jumped out of his skin when the giant laughed out loud. It was a most startling experience to hear that laugh so near.
The Giant woke himself. Like a mountain, he rose, and stared about him with a puzzled look on his face.
“Where are those pesky mice?” he roared. “I'll have them in my soup. He rubbed his eyes and saw Mizzinog.
“Ah, it was you, was it? I might have known.”
“Sorry dear Jovial Giant, but I had to wake you. We have a visitor.”
“Visitor!” he exclaimed, swinging his massive legs out of bed. “We never have visitors. Where is he? Who is he anyway?”
“He's Weevy-Weevy, my old playmate,” Mizzinog explained. “I told you about him.”
“You did of course. Welcome, Weevy-Weevy! What brings you here, my dear fellow?”
“The Queen sent me as her ambassador to the Humans. I thought I'd make a courtesy call on an old friend.”
“Old friend! That's right. I used to know your Queen very well. Never see her nowadays ..... don't go out much any more.”
“Neither does she.”
“Why doesn't she?”
“Well things have changed so much. People have very little time for us now. Even when we are there, they pretend we are not. It makes you feel VERY small when people pretend you are not there.”
“It doesn't make me feel small,” said the Giant. “It makes me feel too big to be true. Like a dinosaur. He disappeared because he was too big to be true. He was unbelievable.”
“You understand our problem so well,” said Weevy-Weevy. “Maybe you'd understand other things.”
“Try me,” said the Giant, holding out his thumb for Weevy-Weevy to sit on. “Tell me everything.”
Weevy-Weevy made his story as brief as possible. He told of the mistake Mizzinog had made. The giant looked sad when he heard that she was going to leave him, but he understood why. Of course she must return to her own land and her own people. He would manage. Weevy-Weevy went on to tell of the seagull's troubles, and of the mischievous witch. The giant was most interested.
“So she's still in the land of the living. Well, well! I'd like to meet her. I think I could find something for her to do ..... something much better than preying on the poor seagulls.”
“Whatever do you mean?”
It was Mizzinog who asked the question. She had been staring sadly into the fire. Now she looked up. Her eyes were bright.
“I've had a brilliant idea,” said the Giant. “I believe Mizzinog has guessed what it is.”
“I'm not sure,” she said. “Do please tell us.”
The Giant chuckled to himself. He was about to rub his hands together when he remembered that Weevy-Weevy was sitting on his thumb.
“The Very Last Witch in the World must be a very lonely being. And she seems to have very little to do. That is why she gets into mischief. Now, if she had someone to look after .....”
“You mean look after you?” Mizzinog asked.
“Why not? She can cook in her cauldron, sweep up with her broom, bring her cat to keep the mice from my toes. She can even chop wood to use up her spare energy. Then I shall be able to sleep as much as I like. If she wants to talk, I understand witch language. Don't you think we would make admirable companions?”
“Indeed yes, if you're quite sure.”
“I am. But there is one last thing I want you two good people to do for me.”
“We'll be delighted,” they said together. “Do tell us.”
“I am too old for chasing witches. Go and fetch her. Don't say good-bye. Just go and fetch her.”
They stood on tip-toe, hesitating.
“Be gone!” he roared good-humouredly. “I want no tears. You can visit me any time.”
He rolled back into bed and was fast asleep in a jiffy. Mizzinog climbed up and planted a kiss on his chin.
“Farewell dear Jovial Giant. I do hope your new housekeeper will be good. I think she will. Nobody could be unkind to you.”
She took Weevy-Weevy by the hand and, lighted on their way by the waiting glow-worms, they hurried along the winding tunnel. After the stuffy heat of the Giant's kitchen, they found the cool evening air very refreshing.
With whoops of joy they ran down the mountain side. They skipped and danced over moss and stone, through heather and fern. As they capered, they whistled and sang and called to each other. Far below the mouth of the cave they sat dawn to rest on a tussock of soft grass. Side by side they watched the first stars kindle in the dark blue sky. Weevy-Weevy sighed.
“I wish,” he said softly, “that I had my nice little Flying Pan. We could whizz back to the lone thorn and be in time for the dancing.”
An odd, sound made him look up. He could hardly believe what he saw. There was his very own Flying Pan floating through the air. It seemed to be flying on its own. Then he saw that there was a piece of string attached and that it was being towed. Just disappearing round a clump of bushes, he glimpsed a huge black broomstick. Astride the broomstick rode the Very Last Witch in the World. He was on his feet in a twinkling.
“Mizzinog!” he called, “do you see that? The Very Last Witch herself. And what do you think she has got?”
“Your precious Flying Pan. She must have stolen it.”
“She did, and we must get it back.”
“Of course. Let's go. She's heading for the Dark Wood. That's where she lives. We must run very fast.”
Away they ran after the flying figure. They just managed to keep her in sight. Over the Dark Wood she slowed down and hovered as though looking for a clearing. Then, very suddenly, she dived. As Mizzinog and Weevy-Wee entered the wood, they could hear the witch crash through the trees, breaking off branches, startling birds. The Flying Pan clanked and rattled against tree-trunks. Weevy-Weevy was sure it would be damaged. Oh dear, would she never land?
When she had done so, they hurried forward and peered through the tangled undergrowth. The Very Last Witch had leant her broomstick against a tree-trunk and was squatting in the ashes of a burnt-down fire. She held the Flying Pan in her hands. It seemed to please her.
“Ha, ha, ha!” she chuckled to the skinny black cat who had come to rub its whiskers on her long cloak. “Ha, ha, ha ..... I've found the very thing I needed ..... I found it ..... found it. It's brand new, too. It's the best frying pan I ever did have, Puss. We'll have a tasty hot supper tonight. We shall. What would you purr to that, Puss?”
The cat's eyes lit up. Weevy-Weevy could see them glowing like twin lamps. Then came a rasping purr. He could make out some of the words.
“Purr ..... purr ..... purr ..... very good ..... very good ..... supper tonight ..... supper tonight ..... hurry up then ..... hurry up ..... hurry ..... hur .....”
“Not so fast, old skin-and-bones,” said the witch. “Not so fast, or you'll get no supper at all.”
“No supper at all ..... no supper at all ..... no supper ..... no supper. Not the first time ..... not the first time.”
The Witch did not like to be reminded of her failures. She shook a long, thin finger at the cat.
“Hsh!” she said, “or the Bogey-Fox will come and get you. Not another word out of you.”
The cat slunk into the undergrowth, purring a soft complaint to herself. The witch busied herself about the fire. She piled on fresh sticks and blew hard till they kindled with a great crackle and the flames shot high among the trees. As though this were a signal, two ravens flew down from the top of the highest tree. Croaking in the most eerie way, they perched, one on each of the witch's shoulders. The trio of thin beaked faces made a strange picture.
“You can stay and look after that,” said the witch, pushing the pan towards the cat. “We are going hunting.”
Astride her broomstick, she was soon clearing the treetops. The ravens rose croaking in her wake. Puss was left with her great responsibility. She had to keep her eyes about her. No doubt there were robbers on every side, all of them coveting the fine, shiny pan. She started when she hear a rustle in the grass.
“It's all right, Puss,” whispered Mizzinog. “I'm your friend. So is Weevy-Weevy.”
“You're all right, I know,” purred the cat, “I know you. I suppose he's all right too. Come out and sit by the fire, Weevy-Weevy. I prefer to have you where I can keep an eye on you.”
“Very well,” said Weevy-Weevy as he came forward.
The three settled comfortably to wait for the witch's return.
“Why do you want to see her?” asked the cat. “I didn't know she was your friend.”
“It's like this,” Mizzinog said, as she began to tell how they had come to capture the witch and bring her to the Jovial Giant's kitchen.
“You'll always have a good fire to sit by, Puss. And you'll be well fed. You need it too. You're a very thin puss.”
The cat licked her lips and purred very loudly for a moment; then stopped suddenly.
“Do you think the Jovial Giant will have me?”
“Why of course. He thinks the mice nibble his toes when he is asleep. He will be pleased to have a bright, clever cat to scare them away.”
The cat nodded drowsily and purred and purred till she purred herself asleep.
“Now's our chance,” said Weevy-Weevy.
He caught the pan by the handle and dragged it into the undergrowth where the witch could not find it.
“Come on,” he said, “she'll be back soon.”
He and Mizzinog hid themselves where they could watch. They crouched down close together and stayed very still.
“Why did she call it a Frying Pan?” Weevy-Weevy asked.
“Because she's like people. They never find the same uses for things as we do. Birds are a bit like us. They build their nests in what people would call kettles. People always cook in things that we would use as houses or vehicles. The witch thinks of your Flying Pan as something to cook in.”
“Well really ..... I never did. I wonder what people would think if the giants came back and boiled potatoes in their town halls.”
“Hush!” said Mizzinog, “she's coming back.”
There was a swish of cape and a croak of ravens. The witch landed with a bump just a few feet from the fire.
“She's getting old and clumsy,” whispered Mizzinog. “It isn't safe for her to be flying alone. She'll be better off with the Jovial Giant.”
The cat stirred and opened an eye. She had been dreaming of giant mice. It was not good to wake in a shivery wood with no food in sight except two eggs and a brown paper parcel. The witch had taken the parcel from a larder. Now she was clawing it open. It contained a few rashers of bacon.
“Where's the frying pan?” she screeched. “Where is it, you wretched cat? Didn't I leave you in charge? You went to sleep and let a thief take my frying pan. There will be no supper. No supper! And it's all your miserable fault!”
Her voice had risen to a blood-curdling screech. Even before she reached for the broom, the cat had fled for her life. She lay low among the brambles.
The witch raved and stormed. The raven flapped and croaked. At last they had to pause for breath. The witch flopped on the ground, a raven on each shoulder.
“If it's your frying pan you have lost, I think I can help you?” said a small voice.
Mizzinog stepped out from the tangled grass.
“Oh, it's you,” said the witch. “What did you say?”
“I said I could help you find your frying pan.”
“Flying Pan,” hissed Weevy-Weevy.
“Hsh!” said Mizzinog.
“Don't hsh me,” said the witch crossly. “Tell me where the frying pan is this very minute ..... or .....”
“I cannot do that,” said Mizzinog. “I only offered to help.”
“Well get on with it ..... help!” snapped the witch.
“I saw the culprit,” said Mizzinog. “I was in The Dark Wood on one of the Giant's errands and I saw this person lurking by your fire. I saw him take your pan. He whipped it away before poor Puss could do anything. He made it disappear in thin air.”
“Nonsense, how do you expect me to believe that. Even I cannot make things disappear.”
“If you move anything fast enough it disappears. He moved the pan very fast. I wouldn't be surprised if he flew away with it ..... or in it.”
“Come, come, nobody without the magic could do that.”
“He has the magic. He is a fairy man.”
“Well you should know, you being one of the little folk yourself. I thought you were the very last fairy in the world.”
Mizzinog raised her eyebrows. Maybe this was not the Very Last Witch in the World, either. Maybe the Jovial Giant was not .....
“It all depends what you believe,” Weevy-Weevy whispered behind her.
“Believe,” said the witch. “I can believe nothing at this moment except that I am very hungry and want my supper. Where did that fairy go?”
“Not far away,” replied Mizzinog. “Wait a minute and watch out. You may see him fly past. Be ready to follow on your broomstick. I'll come with you.”
Weevy-Weevy knew what she wanted him to do. He took off at once and soon was flying slowly over the Dark Wood. He hovered above the clearing till the witch saw him. When she got astride her broom, he darted off at high speed. The chase was on. The witch roared after the flying speck, her ravens flapping and screaming in her wake.
As the furore died into the distance, the cat came out from her hiding place and found the brown paper parcel where the witch had left it. She scratched it open with her claws and ate the bacon.
“That was good,” she said licking her chops. “What a silly fuss over a frying pan ..... or a Flying Pan or whatever it is. Witch has no need of it. None at all.”
She stretched by the warm embers and fell asleep.
Up the face of the mountain flew Weevy-Weevy. Up rose the broomstick in hot pursuit. The witch had forgotten her hunger, even her anger. All she wanted now was to win the race ..... or at least overtake this pesky Flying Pan.
At the mouth of the Giant's cave, Weevy-Weevy swooped in to land. By the time the witch could bring in the broomstick he had disappeared. The pan lay shining and empty at the foot of a great boulder. However, the witch was so preoccupied with catching Weevy-Weevy, that she did not see it. She stood outside the bouldered-up cave and stamped and screamed in the most senseless way. The ravens perched on top of the boulder and screamed back. They had peered through a chink and seen the tunnel and they were trying to tell her, but all she would do was yell: “Come out you thieving fairy man.” She beat on the rock till she cracked her broomstick.
This was a real disaster. Mizzinog was sorry for the poor old witch.
“Is there anything I can do?” she asked.
“Go in and fetch him out,” shrieked the witch. “It's all his fault that I lost my temper and broke my broomstick. Now he's got to give me back the pan. If it flies, it will get me home to Dark Wood.”
“Wait a second,” said Mizzinog, “and I'll have him out. He can't refuse me.”
She slipped past the boulder and ran along the tunnel as fast as she could in the darkness, for there was no time to summon the glow-worms. She was a little worried lest Weevy-Weevy had lost himself. But he was all right. He was just getting the Giant roused when she rushed into the kitchen.
The witch crouched against the boulder, trying to hear what was going on inside. She looked a sorry sight, with her hat awry and her broomstick broken in her hand. The ravens, now silent, were staring down at her. They nudged each other and muttered together. It had entered their silly heads that they were free at last. The witch could not follow them. They flapped their black wings and took off. She could have sworn they laughed as they flew away.
Now she was alone. Her best friends had deserted her. Her broomstick was broken. She was tired and hungry and she felt very, very sorry for her poor self. The wind in the grass moaned about her as though it were sorry too.
Then there was another sound. Surely she heard a familiar “miaow”. She did. There it was again. The cat had grown cold and lonely all by herself in the Dark Wood by the dying fire. However bad the witch was, she was better than no friend at all. Now she came gliding out of the bracken a silly smile on her face, and drew close to the crouching witch. As she came she kept making the most pitiful little miaows.
“Poor Puss. Poor old Puss,” said the witch. “The only friend I have left. Even the broomstick let me down. And the ravens have gone. And the pesky fairy has taken my frying pan.”
The cat looked up at her slyly. Little did the witch know that she had just eaten the bacon.
Behind the boulder there were strange goings-on. Weevy-Weevy and Mizzinog had got the Giant fully awake and were leading him along the dark tunnel, hushing him all the time so that he made next to no noise. The witch heard nothing but her cat’s loud purring. Nor did she suspect anything till she felt the boulder move. On the other side, the Giant had put his shoulder to it and was inching it away from the cave-mouth. She had barely time to leap aside before it rolled over.
When she turned, the first thing that caught her eye was the gleam of the pan. She pounced on it, but Weevy-Weevy pounced faster. He took to his heels and ran back along the tunnel dragging it after him. With a shriek, she bounded after him. She never noticed the giant who stood aside to let her pass. On and on she raced following the flash of the pan, till she found herself in the Giant's great warm kitchen. The cat who had followed hard on her heels, now ensconced herself by the fire and began licking her paws. The witch began a frantic search for Weevy-Weevy. It never occurred to her that she was in danger of being trapped.
She was trapped. The Giant had replaced the stone door. He and Mizzinog were on their way back to the kitchen. What a sight met their eyes. The witch was scrabbling under the Giant's huge bed for Weevy-Weevy. Weevy-Weevy was sitting on the knob of the bedpost winking at the cat. When the witch saw the Giant she cowered back into the darkness and kept very quiet.
“It's no use,” he roared at her. “I have got you where I want you, my dear Witch. It's a long time since you paid me a visit.”
The witch came out looking very shamefaced.
“I don't do much visiting nowadays. I'm an old woman. Can't get about the way I used to.”
“Indeed! I have heard all about your exploits. It takes quite an active old woman to steal eggs from a gull colony.”
“You heard that! Who told you?”
“Tell-tale,” she spat at Mizzinog.
“Now, now,” said the giant, picking her up in his two great hands, and holding her so that their eyes were on a level.
“Not a word about Mizzinog. She has been my very good friend. Now it will be your chance to show how good a friend you can be.”
“Yes, my friend. I need one. You need a friend too.”
“I do that,” said the witch sadly.
“All right, you can live here and take Mizzinog's place.”
“Yes, she is going back to her own folk. Fetch your broom and start sweeping.”
“We'd better be going,” said Mizzinog to Weevy-Weevy. “Leave the pan. She can use it to cook the Giant's supper. She will fly no more.”
The two little figures wound their way along the great tunnel. When they reached the last bend they turned to look at the cosy scene. The giant was stretched on his big feather bed. The cat lay at his feet. The witch had built a fire and was cooking something savoury in the pan.
“I suppose it will have to be a Frying Pan after all,” Weevy-Weevy said with a merry laugh.
Once out under the stars, Weevy-Weevy and Mizzinog ran as fast as their legs would carry them. In a very short time, for they went at great speed, they came in sight of the Lone Thorn Tree. Faint and far-away they heard the music of fairy pipe. The dance was already in full swing. Smoothing their hair and clothes they approached the enchanted circle. Soon they were swirling round with the others.
The music stopped suddenly. They had been spotted. The dancers crowded about them with cries of welcome and delight. The Queen came forward to shake Weevy-Weevy by the hand and to embrace Mizzinog. She drew them aside from the dancing throng.
“My dear ambassadors,” she said, “I have heard of the friends you have won for us in the Upper World. I think it would be a graceful gesture if you sent each and every one, Human, animal, bird and insect, a little farewell note. They will understand that it conveys our thanks.”
She picked a silvery dandelion head and passed it to them.
“Blow upon each seedling in turn, and give it the name of one whom you would wish to remember. If there are any seedlings left, blow on them also that they may find out others who half-believe. Like the little girl who waited here to see us dancing, and went away disappointed.”
Weevy-Weevy and Mizzinog named and blew each seedling as the Queen had told them. There was one for the rabbit family, one for Owl, one for the farmer's wife with kind blue eyes, one for the engine driver. There were so many friends to remember. At last they had addressed a message to everyone they could think of, including the Very Last Witch in the World. There was one seedling left.
“For the little girl who watched and was disappointed?” said Mizzinog.
“For the little girl who half-believed in us,” said Weevy-Weevy.
Together they blew. The tiny parachute drifted away into the night. Then the music started and the whole company danced about the returned travellers, weaving a spell of welcome that twined all night till cock-crow.
Before the echo had died, the little people were hurrying down the root stair. After they had gone, not a footprint remained in the morning dew ..... not a bruised blade of grass marked the dancing place.
Tom and Moira had a long week-end off school. They had begged to be allowed to spend it on the farm where they had passed their summer vacation. That very day their parents had driven them from town. John had been at the gate to welcome them, his face flushed with excitement.
“I'm so glad to see you,” he greeted them. “So much has been happening since you left.”
“We read about it in the papers,” said Tom. “That is why we came. Did you see the UFO there was so much fuss about?”
“I think I did ..... once. It was flying quite low over the meadows. It was a round, shiny thing ..... definitely not a bird ..... too small to be any kind of aircraft. I watched for it again, but never saw another sign of it.”
“Some people claimed to have seen it several times. It must have been very exciting to have all the press and television reporters here, and to see all your pictures in the papers and on the screen. Did anyone take it really seriously?”
“Oh yes. The astronomers came and set up a telescope, and there were aircraft engineers and all sorts of experts buzzing around like bluebottles. Not one of them saw anything. I think they were too late.”
“I hope not. It would mean we had missed all the fun. Shall we go out and watch tonight? Oh, I do hope we see something. I want to be the first boy at school to have seen a real UFO. That is why we came.”
“It's not why I came,” said Moira.
“Oh, of course, you are still going on about fairies.”
“Well, they're no sillier than UFO's. I'm coming out with you tonight.”
“If you're awake, we don't mind, do we John?”
John shook his head. Of course he did not mind. His friends gave him a splendid excuse to be out at . That was enough to keep him happy.
“If you're awake,” Tom had said. Moira tried so hard to keep awake that she made herself very tired. She was fast asleep by the time the boys were ready to go. They slipped out without her. She heard nothing till they returned. Their whispers beyond the thin partition woke her. She gathered that they had been out and seen nothing. It was too late to go fairy-spotting now. She turned over and fell asleep.
She could not be sure what woke her. Something light and fragile tickled her nose. She felt wide-awake. She wanted to be up and about. There was something drawing her to that lone tree. She could not resist it. Had a fairy messenger roused her, she wondered.
She dressed quickly and quietly and stole down the stairs. The boys whispering together in the next room did not hear her. Nor did Drummer, the dog. As though soundless and invisible, she stole across the yard and out into the field. On tiptoe she hastened towards the fairy tree.
She paused at the edge of the shadowed ring. All was dark and silent. There were no dancing fairies, no music, no magic. She was about to turn sadly away when she felt the strange tickling on the tip of her nose. The seedling had followed her. She blinked and wrinkled her nose, but it stayed firm. Then she opened her eyes and stared.
For one moment she saw them ..... the fairy dancers with their Queen in their midst. She heard their music, saw their feet twinkle, listened to their laughing voices. The circle round the fairy tree was ablaze with light, light so clear and pure that she could see the tiniest buckle on a shoe, the palest flower embroidered in the hem of a dress. Every colour was rich and deep as the colour of a precious stone. Every movement was daintier than a butterfly's flight. For a moment she stared. Then they were gone. All was dark and silent again. With the fairy music echoing in her ears she turned homeward. Almost at once she was back in her warm bed.
The boys went on talking of UFO's. After that night Moira never mentioned fairies again. Fairies were real. She could not bear to have anyone laugh or shrug their shoulders.