He appeared, sniffed, and sneered,In a fairy pet.—Child Nature.
For a moment or two Hildegarde stared down at the little man without speaking.Then her face lighted up again, and she replied—
‘I am very sorry, sir, that I can’t tell you, for I have no watch and I don’t know.’ Something like a smile broke over the gnome’s countenance.
‘All right,’ he said, ‘you don’t know, and you don’t pretend you do. And I don’t want to know. Here in our country,’ and he waved his hand in a lordly fashion, ‘we have nothing to do with clocks and watches, and time and hours, and all such fiddle-faddle.
We leave that to the poor folk who can’t settle things for themselves, but have to be ruled by the sun and the moon, and the stars too, for all I know. Some people up there, where you come from, fancy we make the cuckoo-clocks down here, but that’s all nonsense—we wouldn’t waste our time over such rubbish.’
‘I thought you said——’ began Leonore impulsively. She was getting over her alarm a little by now—’I thought you said you didn’t trouble about time,’ she was going to have added, but a touch from Hildegarde came, luckily, quickly enough to stop her, and to remind her of the fairy’s warning.
The gnome did not seem to have heard her; he was unfastening the gates. When he had got them ajar, he stood right in the middle, his head cocked on one side and his feet well apart, and surveyed the children coolly.
‘And who sent you?’ he said at last.
‘The fairy of the spinning-wheel,’ Hildegarde replied.
‘Humph—I thought as much,’ he remarked. ‘And what for, if you please?’
‘To pay you and your wonderful country a visit, if you will kindly allow us to do so,’ Hildegarde answered.
‘That means that I am to——’ he cleared his throat and hesitated for a moment, then went on again, ‘to tire myself out doing showman; I suppose?’ he said rather grumpily.
‘I hope not to tire yourself out, sir,’ Hildegarde returned in her politest tone. ‘We shall give you as little trouble as possible, but we are of course very anxious to see all you will kindly show us.’
‘All right,’ the gnome replied. ‘Enter, children of the upper world, and be welcome,’ and he ung open the gates with a ourish, while Hildegarde and Leonore passed through.
It had seemed to them as they stood waiting that within the entrance was much the same as outside, but no sooner had they stepped across the boundary, the doors clanging behind them as they did so, than they found everything quite different.
They were no longer in a rather narrow passage, but on a broad road, bordered on each side by magnificent rocks which stretched up so high that they could see their summit or the roof. The ground was covered with very fine gravel or white silvery sand, firm and pleasant to walk upon, and which glistened like pale pink tinsel in the light. For everywhere was flooded with the soft red or rosy brilliance they had noticed before they entered, though whence it came they could not see.
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