A Collation Under Difficulties
D’une façon fort civile.
Le rat de ville et le rat des champs.
They were at the opposite side of the garden from that by which they had entered it, and just before them was a large white tent. A faint sound reached them—a rustle and murmur, as of people moving about busily, but not of voices. The tent appeared closed, but as they went nearer they saw that there were doors or flaps in the stuff it was made of, which could be opened either from within or without.
Hildegarde turned to Leonore.
‘We may as well go in,’ she said. ‘We weren’t told not to, and we want to see all we can.’
Leonore was looking a little frightened again.
‘We can’t knock,’ she said; ‘there’s nothing to knock on. And we can’t ring; there’s no bell.’
‘So the only thing is to walk in,’ said Hildegarde.
She drew aside the first flap they came to, and both entered.
It was a busy scene. There was a table right round the tent, and at it gnomes were working actively. A moment’s glance sufficed to show that they were packing, for queer-shaped boxes and baskets stood about, and quantities of moss. For a minute or so no one seemed to notice the visitors. These gnomes were evidently not of the young and giddy class; they did not seem to be speaking to each other at all.
The children drew still closer to the table.
The gnome nearest to them was laying a bright scarlet flower, in shape like a large pitcher with half a dozen small jugs hanging round it, in a basket well filled with moss. He glanced at the newcomers.
‘If you please,’ said Hildegarde, ‘are you packing flowers?’
‘You can see that for yourself,’ was the reply.
‘Yes,’ she agreed, ‘but we would like to know why you are doing it—I mean where are all the packages to be sent to, and what for?’
‘Who sent you down here?’ asked the gnome.
‘The spinning-wheel fairy,’ Hildegarde replied.
The gnome’s manner became more cordial.
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