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- The Little House in the Fairy Wood - 1/19 -


THE LITTLE HOUSE IN THE FAIRY WOOD

by

ETHEL COOK ELIOT

TO TORKA AND NORTHWIND

CONTENTS

I. MAGIC IN A MIST II. THE BRIGHT HOUSE III. FIRELIGHT IV. THE GOSSIP V. WORLD STORIES VI. AT THE HEART OF A TREE VII. TREE MOTHER AND THE DROWSY BOAT VIII. A WITCH AT THE WINDOW IX. THE WIND HUNT X. ON THE GRAY WALL XI. THE BEAUTIFUL WICKED WITCH XII. IVRA'S BIRTHDAY XIII. NORA'S GRANDCHILDREN XIV. SPRING COMES XV. SPRING WANDERING XVI. OVER THE TREE TOPS XVII. THE JUNE MOON XVIII. THE DEEPEST PLACE IN THE WOOD XIX. MORE MAGIC IN A MIST

CHAPTER I

MAGIC IN A MIST

That morning began no differently from any morning, though it was to be the beginning of all things new for Eric. He was awakened early by Mrs. Freg's rough hand shaking him by the arm, and her rough voice in his ears: "Get up, lazy-bones! _All_ you boys pile out, this very minute! It's six o'clock already!" Then she reached over Eric and shook the other two boys in the bed with him, repeating and repeating "Wake up, wake up! It's six o'clock already!" When she was sure the three boys in the bed were awake and miserable, she crossed the room with a hurried, heavy tread and clumped, clumped down the stairs into the kitchen.

Though it happened just that way every morning, and it had happened so this morning, this day was to be very different from any other in Eric's life. But Eric could not know that; so he crawled farther down under the few bedclothes he had managed to keep to himself, and shut his eyes again just for a minute.

The night had been a cold one, and the other two boys in the bed, because they were older and stronger, had managed to keep most of the bedding wrapped tightly around them, while little Eric shivered on the very edge. So he had not slept at all in the way little boys of nine usually sleep,--that is, when they have a bed to themselves, and their mother has left a kiss with them. When he had slept, he had dreamed he was wading in icy puddles out in the street.

But it was only a minute that he huddled there, trying to come really awake, and then he sprang out, and without thought of a bath, was into his clothes in a minute. The two older boys followed him more slowly, yawning, growling, and quarreling.

Breakfast was served in the kitchen by Mrs. Freg. The room was bare and ugly like the rest of the house, and the food was far from satisfying. As the older boys got most of the bedding for themselves, so they got most of the breakfast, while Mr. and Mrs. Freg laughed at them, and praised them for fine, hearty boys who knew what they wanted and would get it.

"You will succeed in the world, both of you," said Mrs. Freg with mother-pride gleaming in her eyes, when they had managed to seize and divide between them little Eric's steaming cup of coffee,--the only hot thing he had hoped for that morning.

"Will I be a success, too?" asked Eric in a faint but hopeful voice.

"You!" said the harsh woman. "You, young man, had better be thankful to work on at the canning instead of starving in the streets. That's the fate of most orphans. Success indeed! Now hurry along, all of you. It's quarter to seven."

But right here is where the day began to differ from other days. Eric did not hurry along. He threw down his spoon and cried, "I'd just as soon starve in the streets, and wade in its icy puddles, too, as live here with you and your nasty boys and work in that old canning factory! I just wonder how you'd feel if I went out this morning and never, never came back! I'd like to do that!"

Mrs. Freg laughed, and her laugh was not a nice mother-laugh at all, for she was not Eric's mother, and had never pretended that she was.

"Why, little spitfire, it wouldn't matter a bit except to make one less mouth to feed. But you won't be so silly as that. You don't want to starve."

"All right," said little Eric, snatching his cap from its peg. "You said it wouldn't matter to you. You won't see me again, any of you. I hate you all, and everything in the world. I hate you. You've made me hate you hard!"

Then he suddenly ran out into the street.

In a minute he was in a flood of people, men, women and children moving towards the canning factory, a big brick building on the outskirts of the city. Eric had worked in that factory from the day he was seven. There is no need to tell you what he did there, for this is not the story of the canning factory Eric,--the queer, hating Eric who had waked up that morning.

But how he did hate! His eyes were full of hating tears, and they were running down his face, making horrid white streaks on his dirty cheeks. He was hating so hard that he did not even care if people saw his tears. He lifted his face straight up and dropped his arms straight down at his side and walked right along, no matter how fast the tears came.

Now he had often hated before, but never quite like this. Before, it had been a frightened hate, a gnawing, hurting thing deep down in his heart. But to-day it was a flaring hate, a burning thing right up in his head. It was big, too, because it included everything that he knew, Mrs. Freg, her boys, the street, the people jostling him, and hottest and wildest of all the canning factory. How terrible to go in there in the morning, when the sun was only just up, and not to come out again until it was quite down! Eric knew little about play, but he did know that if he could only be let stay out in the sunshine he would find things to do there. If they'd only let him try it once!

So he walked along in the direction the others were going, the hating tears in his eyes and on his face. But no one laughed at him, and no one asked him what was the matter, even the other children. For he was not crying in the usual way with little boys. He was walking along with his head up. So people did not bother him.

He had reached the outskirts of the town, and was almost in the shadow of the big, cruel factory, when the Magic began to work. For there was magic in this day that had started so badly. It was only waiting for Eric to see it before it would take hold of him and carry him away into happiness. It had waited for him at the door of the dull, bare little house that had never been home to him, but his tears would not let him see it. So it had followed along beside him all the way to the factory, waiting for him to feel, even if he could not see. And he did feel,--just in time to let the Magic work.

He felt that the day that had begun so freezingly was warm, strangely warm. He wiped the tears from his eyes away to the side of his face with his sleeve, and looked about. The sun was very bright, but in a mild, pleasant way. And a tree on the other side of the street was showering softly, softly, softly, yellow autumn leaves, until they covered the cobblestones all around. Eric did not think about being late. The Magic was pulling him now. He went across and stood under the tree, and felt the leaves showering on his head and shoulders, and caught a few in his hands.

All the people passed, and soon the last one was hidden behind the heavy factory door. Eric gave the door a glance or two, but did not go. Over the roof of the factory he saw the tops of tall trees waving. He had never looked so high above the factory before. But he knew there was a wood on the other side, a wood he had always been too tired to think of exploring, even on holidays. Now he saw the tops of the tall trees beckoning him in a golden mist. "The mist is the yellow leaves they're dropping," thought Eric. With every beckon the golden mist of leaves grew brighter and brighter, until he could not see the beckoning any more, but only the mist. Still he knew the beckoning was going on behind the mist.

"If I'm to live in the streets at night," he thought to himself, "there's no need to live in the factory by day. I'll just go and see what those trees want of me."

Very slowly, with little firm steps, he went by the factory door, and then around under its windows to the wood at the back.

It was Indian Summer. That was why the golden leaves were showering in a mist, and why the sun was so warm.

Eric dropped his ragged coat and cap on the edge of the wood,--it was so warm,--and went in.

A little girl had been watching him from her place at one of the factory windows where she was sorting cans. She had seen him before, working at the factory, day after day, and they had played together sometimes in the noon half hour. Now she wondered what he was doing out there. Had they sent him, perhaps, to do a different kind of work that could only be done in the woods? But as he walked away in under the trees farther and farther, the golden mist that was over the wood drew in about him; and although she leaned far forward over the cans at a great risk of knocking over dozens and setting them rolling,--he was lost in it. It had dropped down behind him like a curtain.

CHAPTER II


The Little House in the Fairy Wood - 1/19

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