Page images

all want to go to it, and an irruption of be-frilled and be-furbelowed young ladies would utterly ruin and corrupt my poor Cornertown. No, I shall keep the secret-the peaceful, happy, sunny little secret, -but in case there should be any among you who have kept the faith of your childhood, and a corner in your hearts for the stories and legends of a younger world, I have, with much care and pains, compiled these chronicles of that old-fashioned folk, the fairies, for your study and delight. You need not even tell any one that they were written for you, but share the book with your little brothers and sisters, and hold your peace.

Cornertown boasted two streets, for it was in the shape of a T, and lay on the slope of a hill. The grand street was the one that went across the top; it was much shorter than the other-rather out of proportion, in fact-but then it had a double row of trees down the centre, of which it was justly proud, and was called Wood Street, in compliment, I suppose, to the said trees. All the great people of Cornertown lived here, and it was thought a great distinction to be able to give one's address in

Wood Street. The other street was called Meadow Street; why, I don't know, unless that at the back of the cottages you looked across the meadows which sloped down the hill on which Cornertown was built. But this street, though it was a pleasant, straggling street enough, was not thought genteel -and the inhabitants of Cornertown were quite as genteel in their way as the inhabitants of the great world. I will tell you why. In the summer evenings-those long, pleasant evenings, when the hill was musical with a perfect jubilee of thrushes and children-all the good people of Cornertown came out of their houses, and sat chatting and telling stories and looking at each other till it was time to go to bed. But the inhabitants of Wood Street sat in groups under their own beautiful trees, and nodded at the other groups across the street; while the inhabitants of Meadow Street, all without exception, preferred the backs of their cottages, where they looked across the open country, so that Meadow Street itself was quite deserted. Now this was not thought genteel. At the same time, Meadow Street, had plenty of

reason to be proud of itself too, for it held both the market-place and school-house. The church was some way off, at the top of the hill, and might, therefore, reasonably be supposed to belong to both streets. But don't imagine that the two streets were not friendly with each other. Quite the contrary. When once it was clearly understood that Meadow Street was not so genteel as Wood Street, never had been, and never would be, it was all right, and Wood Street went to take tea with Meadow Street in as affable a manner as if there were no such thing as gentility in the world. What would have happened if Meadow Street had asserted its rights, and boldly declared that the backs of cottages were as genteel as the fronts, I cannot say, and we need not enter on that subject at present.

All the houses in Wood Street had little gardens at the back, but these little gardens were not generally patronized—at least, for flowers or vegetables, or anything but a plentiful crop of clean clothes. Somehow, gardening in Wood Street was not thought genteel, principally, I suppose, because

the Meadow Streetites were great gardeners, only they had no gardens! So their passion for flowers displayed itself chiefly in cracked pots, which were not ornamental. Therefore it was nothing remarkable to see a Wood Street garden utterly bare and uncultivated: the remarkable thing was, that in one of the gardens there was a bush of white flowerssuch lovely snowy blossoms, large and fragrant, gleaming with whiteness, only no one knew what the plant was; so it was set down for a foreigner, and coveted with passionate longing by Meadow Street in general, the people to whom it rightfully belonged wearing their honours with high-bred indifference. In other respects the happy garden which possessed the plant differed in no wise from its neighbours. It was walled round, the top of the wall being tastefully ornamented with a row of broken bottles, several fragments of which strewed the ground underneath. And yet the bush of white flowers grew and flourished in its uncongenial atmosphere, growing every year more and more fair and fragrant. What could be the meaning of it? To two people this garden was a source

of endless delight-two very different people, and yet rather alike, too, as you shall see when I tell you who they were. One was a little girl-Netta her name was-and to her the garden might properly be said to belong, for she was the grandchild of the people who owned it, and was the only one who took any interest in it. Indeed, she even attempted a little gardening, to the no small astonishment of her grandparents, and in the evening, when all Wood Street was sitting under its beautiful trees, Netta was as often as not to be found in that uninteresting little back garden, whereupon Wood Street shook its head, and declared that Netta intended to take after her father. For Netta was a very peculiar child, and born under peculiar circumstances: she was the seventh child of a seventh child, and was therefore supposed to be fairy-gifted. Her mother had died at her birth, and Netta was accordingly placed by popular superstition under the protection of the patroness of Cornertown-a commonplace-looking little old woman, who was usually dressed in red, and went by the name of the Fairy Rubinetta.

« PreviousContinue »