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Little Bud by Louisa M. Alcott

 

"The naughty cuckoo has been here while we were gone, and left this great blue egg among our little white ones," said the linnet to her mate as they came back from their breakfast one day and found the nest full.

"It is not a cuckoo's egg, my dear," answered the father bird, shaking his head, "some fairy must have put it here, and we must take care of it or they may be angry and do harm to our little ones by and by. Sit carefully on it, and see what will follow."

So Mamma Linnet sat patiently on the five eggs for many days more, and then out came her four small children and began to chirp for food. But the big blue egg still lay there, and no sound of a little bill pecking inside was heard.

"Shall we throw it out of the nest and make room for our babies?" asked the mother, finding her nursery very crowded.

"Not yet," said the careful papa, standing on one leg to rest, being very tired of bringing worms for his family. "Wait two more days, and then if the egg does not break, we will push it out."

He was a wise bird, and they were always glad that they waited; for on the seventh day the blue egg suddenly flew open, and there lay the smallest, prettiest little girl ever seen,—three inches long, but rosy, gay, and lively as she popped up her curly head and looked about her as if much surprised to find herself in a nest swinging on the branch of a tree.

"Who are you?" asked the father linnet, while all the young ones stared at her with their big eyes, and opened their beaks as if to eat her up.

"I'm little Bud," answered the tiny creature, smiling at them so sweetly it was impossible to help loving her at once.

"Where do you come from?" said the mother.

"I don't know."

"Are you a fairy?"

"No; for I have no wand."

"A new kind of bird?"

"I have no feathers or wings."

"A human child?"

"I think not; for I have no parents."

"Bless the dear! what can she be? and what shall we do with her?" cried both the birds, much amazed at this new child of theirs.

Bud did not seem to be troubled at all, but lay rocking in her blue cradle and laughing at the young linnets who peeped curiously over the edge of it.

"She must have something to eat," said the papa, flying off.

"And some clothes," added the mamma, bustling about.

But when a nice, fat worm was brought, Bud covered her face and cried with a shiver,—

"No, no! I cannot eat that ugly thing."

"Get a strawberry," said the mamma; and she tried to wrap the largest, softest feather that lined her nest round the naked little maid.

But Bud kicked her small legs out of it at once, and stood up, saying with a laugh,—

"I'm not a bird; I cannot wear feathers. Give me a pretty green leaf for a gown, and let me look about this big world where I find myself all at once."

So the linnet pulled a leaf and pecked two holes for Bud's arms, and put it on like a pinafore; for she never had dressed a baby and did not know how, her own children being born with down coats which soon changed to gray feathers. Bud looked very pretty in her green dress as she sat on the edge of the nest staring about with her blue eyes and clapping her hands when the papa came flying home with a sweet wild berry in his bill for her breakfast. She ate it like an apple, and drank a drop of dew that had fallen in the night; then she began to sing so sweetly that all the neighbors came to see what sort of bird Dame Linnet had hatched.

Such a twittering and fluttering as went on while they talked the matter over, asked many questions, and admired the pretty little creature who only knew her name and nothing more!

"Shall you keep her?" asked the robin, as he puffed out his red waistcoat and looked very wise.

"We dare not send her away," said the linnets.

"She will be a great deal of care," said the wren.

"You never can teach her to fly, and what will you do when your own children are gone?" asked the wood dove, who was very tender-hearted.

"You will have to make a new frock every day, and that will be so much work," said the yellow-bird, who was very proud of her own gay gown and black velvet hood.

"I think some bad elf put her here to bring you trouble. I'd push her out of the nest and let her take care of herself," advised the woodpecker, wondering if the plump child would be as good to eat as the worms he hammered out of the trees.

"No, no!" cried the brown thrush; "she is too pretty to bring harm. Keep her till you see what she can do, and perhaps she may be a good sprite after all."

"She sings almost as well as I do, and I shall like to add her songs to the many I already know," said the blackbird, who had lovely concerts in the meadow all by himself.

"Yes, we will wait a little; and if we cannot decide, by and by we will ask your advice, neighbors," said the linnets, beginning to feel rather proud of the curious stranger, since her coming made such a stir in the wood.

The birds flew away; and Bud settled down as one of the family, making herself so pleasant that all loved her and willingly crowded together to make room for her in the nest. The mother brooded over her at night, and made her fresh gowns every day when the old ones withered up; the father brought her dew to wash in and to drink, and flew far and wide to find ripe berries for her to eat; while the young birds were never tired of hearing her sing, watching her dance on the edge of the nest, or learning the pretty plays she taught them. Every one was very kind and waited patiently to see what would come. But when at last the little birds flew away, the parents wanted to go with them, and did not like to leave Bud all alone.

"I'm not afraid," she said, "for now I am strong enough to take care of myself. All the birds know me, and I shall not be lonely. Carry me down to the grass below, and let me run about and find my own food and clothes as your children do. I won't forget you, but you need not trouble about me any more."

So Papa Linnet took her on his back, as often before, and flew down to the softest place below, and there they left her with a tender good-by; for they had to watch over their young ones, who were trying their wings and wandering far and wide.

"I shall be taken care of as the flowers are," said Bud, when she found herself sitting on a pebble beside the path that went through the pleasant wood, full of happy little creatures busy with their work or play.

"I wish I were a bird, then I could fly about and see the world; or a fairy, then I could do splendid things; or even a flower for some one to love and carry away. I wonder what I was made for, and what I can do,—such a little thing in this great world! I'm sure I don't know; but I can be happy and kind, and try to help all I see, then I shall make friends and not feel lonely very long."

As she said this, brave Bud looked about her to see whom she could help first, and spied an ant tugging a large white bundle along. It looked as if he were taking clothes to some fairy washerwoman; but the bundle was an egg, and the ant-nurse was bringing it up from the nest to lie awhile in the warm sun to grow.

He told Bud all about it when she offered to help, and very gladly let her watch this egg while he and the other nurses went down for many more. Soon they lay all about in the quiet corner where the sun shone on them, and Bud went to and fro, turning them, and keeping guard over them lest some hungry bird should snap them up.

"Now I'm useful," she said, quite happy in her new work, though she was only a nursery-maid, and had no wages but the thanks of the busy ants. By and by the eggs were carried down, and she was free to go on her travels again. The grass was like a forest to her, the mounds of moss were high hills, a little brook a great river, and a patch of sand a desert to be crossed.

"First, I will dress myself nicely," said Bud; and coming to a wild rosebush she gathered up several of the fallen leaves, and tried to fasten them together with the thorns. But her little hands could not manage the pretty pink skirt, and the thorns pricked her tender flesh as she folded the leaves over her bosom; so she was about to give up in despair and put on the faded green one again, when a wood-spider, who sat in his hole near by, said kindly,—

"Come here, little lady! I can spin and weave, and I'll sew your dress for you with pleasure. I saw you helping my neighbors the ants; so I will help you."

Bud was very glad of this kind offer, and watched the spider at his work as he sewed the pink leaves together with his silver thread as neatly as a seamstress, put a line of embroidery all round the hem, and twisted a silken cord to tie it at the waist.

"Oh, how pretty you are!" cried the spider when the dress was on. "You must have a veil to keep the sun out of your eyes. Here is my last web;" and he threw the shining gauze over her head, making her look like a little bride under the silvery veil.

Bud thanked him very much, and went happily on till she came to a party of columbines dancing in the wind. They thought she was the spirit of a rose come to visit them, and lowered their scarlet horns to offer her the honey in the tower ends.

She was just wondering where she should find some dinner, and here was a delicious feast all ready for her, thanks to the pretty dress which made the columbines think her a flower. She threw up her veil and told them her story, which they thought very interesting and rather sad.

"Stay and live with us, little darling!" they cried. "You are too delicate to go about all alone. The wind will blow you away, some foot will crush you, or some cruel wasp kill you with its sting. Live here, and we will be your friends, and feed and care for you."

"You are very kind, and your home is very pleasant; but I must go on. I feel sure that I have something to do, that somewhere I shall find my place, and sometime have a pair of wings, and be either a bird or a fairy," answered Bud, as she rested by the rock round which the flowers grew.

"Here comes our good friend Honey-bag, the bee. He is very wise; perhaps he can tell you where you should go and what you are," said the columbines, nodding joyfully as the brown velvet bee came buzzing along, for he was their postman and brought the daily news.

Eagerly they told him all about their little guest, and asked him if he had heard anything of a featherless bird, a strayed elf, or a human changeling hidden in a blue egg.

The bee said he once heard a humming-bird tell about some little creatures who were neither children nor fairies, because they were made out of the fancies in people's heads. These poor mites never could be real boys and girls; but if they tried very hard, and were very good, wings would grow and they would be elves at last.

"I will, I will!" cried Bud. "I know I am one of those creatures, and I want to be a fairy and find my home by and by. How shall I do it?"

"I think you have begun very well; for I've heard of you from several friends as I came through the wood, and all say good words of you. Go on, and I am sure you will find your wings at last. See! I will do my part, and give you something to eat as you travel along."

As the kind bee spoke he began to mix the yellow pollen and honey he had gathered, and soon handed Bud a nice little loaf of bee-bread to carry with her. She folded it up in white violet leaves, like a sweet-scented napkin, and with a horn of honey from the columbines set out again with many thanks and full of hope and courage.

Presently a cloud of gay butterflies came flocking round her, crying out,—

"Here's a rose! I smell honey! Come and taste! No, it is an elf! Dance with us, little dear!"

Bud admired them very much, and felt very glad and proud when they lighted all over her, till she looked like one great butterfly with wings of every color.

"I cannot play with you because I am not an elf; but if you will carry me on my way toward Fairyland I will give you my honey and my bread, for I go very slowly and want to get along as quickly as I can," said Bud, thinking that these pretty insects might help her.

The butterflies were idle things and hated to work, but they wanted the dainty loaf and the flower sweets; so they said they would try to carry Bud and save her tired little feet. They held tightly to her belt, her hair, her frock, and all flew up at once, lifting her a little way above the ground and carrying her along in a cloud of blue and yellow, red and brown wings fluttering as they went. It was hard work, and soon the smaller ones let go; so Bud began to fall, and they were forced to lay her down on the grass while they rested and ate the bee-bread every crumb.

"Take me a little farther, and then you shall have the honey," said wise Bud, who was anxious to get on, and saw that the lazy flies would leave her as soon as her provisions were gone.

"Up again!" cried the great black and golden one; and away they went, all tugging stoutly. But though the tiny maid was as light as a feather, they had little strength in either legs or wings, and soon dropped her bump in the dusty path below.

"Thanks! Here's the horn; now let me rest and get over my fall," said Bud, making up her mind that her own feet were safest, after all.

The butterflies flew away, and the small traveller sat up to see where she was. A dismal groaning caught her ear; and close by she saw a rusty old beetle feebly trying to dig a hole in the sand.

"What is the matter?" asked Bud.

"It is time to die, and I want to bury myself; but I'm so weak I'm afraid I shall not get my grave ready in time, and then I shall be eaten up by some bird, or crushed by some giant's foot," answered the beetle, kicking and shovelling away as hard as he could.

"But if you were dead you would not know it," said Bud.

"Stupid child! if I'm killed in that way I cannot live again; but if I bury myself and lie asleep till spring, I come up a grub or a young beetle, I don't know which, but I am sure of some change. So I want a good grave to rest in; for dying is only a sleep before we wake up in another shape."

"I'm glad of that!" cried Bud. "I'll help you dig, and I'll cover you nicely, and hope you will be some pretty insect by and by."

So she threw off her veil, and worked busily with a little wooden shovel till a deep grave was made. The old beetle tumbled in with a gruff "Thank you, child," and died quite comfortably, with the warm sand over him. Bud piled little stones above the place, and left him to his long sleep, happy to be able to help, and full of wonder as to whether she too would have to die before her change came.

The sun was going down now; for the butterfly party and the beetle's funeral had taken a long time, and twilight was coming on.

"I must find a place to sleep," said Bud, rather anxiously; for this was her first night alone, and she began to miss Mother Linnet's warm wings brooding over her.

But she kept up her courage and trudged on till she was so tired she was forced to stop and rest on a bank where a glow-worm had just lighted its little lamp.

"Can I stay here under this big leaf?" she asked, glad to see the friendly light and bathe her tired feet in the dewy grass.

"You cannot go much farther, for the marsh is close by, and I see you have no wings, so you never could get on," answered the worm, turning his green lamp full upon the weary little wanderer.

Bud told her story, and was just going to ask if there was anything to eat, for she was sadly hungry, when some very sweet voices called down to her from a tall bush over her head,—

"Come to us, dear! We are the marsh-honeysuckles, cousins of the columbines you met to-day. Here is supper, with a bed, and a warm welcome for the good little creature Honey-bag the bee told us about."

Bud put up her arms to a great cluster of white flowers bending down to her, and in a moment lay in a delicious place, full of sweetest fragrance, while the honeysuckles fed and petted and rocked her to sleep before she could half thank them for their kindness.

There was time for a good nap and a lovely dream before a harsh voice waked her up, and she heard a bat talking as it hung near by, with its leathery wings over its eyes to shut out the light of the glow-worm still strolling about on the bank.

"Yes, the poor little boy wandered into the bog and was nearly drowned," said the bat. "It was that naughty Willy Wisp playing tricks again, and leading people out of the right path to splash into the mud. I've scolded him many a time, but he will do it; for he loves to make the woodmen and the children think he is the light in their cottage windows till they fall into the marsh, and then he hides and leaves them to get out as they can."

"What a wicked fellow!" cried Bud, rubbing her eyes and sitting up to listen.

"Of course he wouldn't mind you, for he knows you hate light, and he likes to teaze you by flashing his lantern in your eyes," said the glow-worm.

"Yes, I do hate light of all kinds, and wish it were always night," scolded the bat.

"I don't! I love sunshine and stars and fireflies and glow-worms and all the bright things; so perhaps if I went and talked to Willy Wisp he would stop playing these naughty pranks," said Bud, much interested, and feeling that this would be a very good work to do for the dear children.

"You couldn't keep him out of mischief unless you told stories all night. He loves tales dearly, but won't stay still and listen unless they are always new and very charming," said the bat, peeping out with one eye to see who the stranger might be.

"I know hundreds! for I was born of a fancy, and my head is full of lovely ones, and I sing such merry songs all the birds used to listen to me for hours. If I could only reach this Willy Wisp I think I could amuse him till the people got safely home," said Bud.

"Come and try; I'll carry you," said the bat, shutting his wings and looking like a black mouse as he crept nearer for Bud to mount.

"No, no; stay with us, and don't go to that dismal marsh full of ugly things and bad air," cried the honeysuckles, trying to hold her fast with soft, sticky hands.

But Bud was eager to do all the good she might, and bravely mounted her new horse, singing as she flew away,—

"On the bat's back I do fly
After summer, merrily."

"She won't do it," said the glow-worm, putting out his lamp as he went to bed.

"Alas, no! Poor little thing! she will die over there, and never be a fairy," sighed the flowers, looking like sad white ghosts in the dim light.

A cloud of fireflies danced over the marsh, where frogs croaked, mosquitoes hummed, and tall yellow lilies rang their freckled bells. The air was damp and hot; a white mist rose from the water that glimmered between the forests of reeds and the islands of bog moss, and sleek muskrats and bright-eyed snakes glided about, while wild ducks slept with their heads under their wings in quiet corners.

A strange, shadowy place, and Bud's heart died within her as she thought of staying here alone. But she did want to see if she could make the bad Willy behave better and not lead poor people into danger; so she held fast while the bat skimmed to and fro looking for the naughty fellow. Soon he came dancing toward them,—a dark little body with a big head like a round lantern, all shining with the light inside.

"What have you brought me, old Leather-wing?—a pretty bride to cheer up the marsh, or an elf to dance at my ball to-night?" he said, looking at Bud with delight as she sat on the dusky bat, with her pink dress and silvery veil glimmering in the brightness, that now shone over her like moonlight.

"No; it is a famous story-teller, come to amuse you when you are tired of whisking about and doing mischief. Be very polite or I will take her away again," answered the bat, setting Bud down on a small green island among the bulrushes and tall marsh moss.

"Let us hear one. Stop croaking, Speckle-back, and do you ladies quit dancing while I listen. Go along, Leather-wing; she shall stay till to-morrow and see what she can do," said Willy Wisp, seating himself near Bud, while the frogs grew still and the fireflies settled on the leaves like little lamps, making the island as light as day.

"It is late now; so when you hear the clock strike twelve you can stop and go to sleep, for the people will all be safe at home and Willy can do no harm. I'll come again soon. Good-night."

And away skimmed the bat, glad to find the darkest part of the marsh and hunt gnats for supper.

Bud immediately began to tell the story of "The Merry Cockchafer," and it proved so very interesting that soon a circle of frogs surrounded the island, laughing with their great mouths and winking their bright eyes as they listened. The wild ducks woke up and came to hear also; a water-snake glided nearer, with his neighbor the muskrat; while the fireflies grew so thick on the reeds and moss that everything sparkled, and Willy Wisp nodded his bright head joyfully as he sat like a king with his court about him.

Just in the most exciting place, when the Cockchafer and the Stag-beetle were going to fight a duel about the lovely white Moth, the clock struck twelve, and Bud, who was very tired, stopped short, saying,—

"I will finish to-morrow at twilight. The last part is the best, for the Lady-bug and the wicked Grasshopper do terrible things in it."

They all begged eagerly for the end, but Bud was hoarse and must go to sleep; so every one went away to talk about this new and charming creature who had come to make the long nights pleasant. Willy Wisp went zigzagging to and fro, trying to imagine what would come next, and Bud laid her head on a bulrush pillow to dream of stars till morning.

She was rather troubled, when daylight came, to find herself a prisoner; for deep water was all round her island, and there was no way of escaping. She asked a pretty white duck to take her to a larger place, for here there was nothing to eat but the soft green buds of the sweet flag and the little sour balls of the wild-cranberry vines.

"I'm not a steamer, and I don't carry passengers," answered the duck, paddling away; for he wanted Bud to stay and tell more tales.

So there she had to live for many days, watching the long-legged herons as they stalked about fishing in the pools, seeing how the rats built their curious houses, the frogs leaped and dived, the snakes glided to and fro, and the ducklings ate flies all day long. She talked with the yellow lilies, learned the song of the whispering reeds, and climbed up the tall stems of the bulrushes to look out over the marsh and long to be on the firm ground again. The bat forgot to come and see her, and Willy grew so fond of her stories that he would sit for hours while she told them; so no one came to harm, and Bud felt that she was really doing a good thing all alone there in the dreary bog. Every one loved her and wanted her to stay; but by and by the summer was over, the fireflies died, and Willy Wisp grew pale and lazy and fell asleep easier each night, as if he too were ready to fade away till hot weather should make him lively and bright again.

"Now I might go if I could find any friend to help me," said Bud, when the wild ducks said good-by and the herons stalked away.

"I will help you," said a water-snake, popping his head up with a kinder look than one would fancy such fiery eyes could wear.

"You!" said Bud, much surprised; for she had never liked the snake very well, though she had always been kind to him.

"I am your friend if you will have me. No one cares for me, I am so ugly and have had a bad name ever since the world began; but I hope when I shed my skin I may be handsomer or change to something better, so I try to be a good snake and do what I can to make my neighbors happy."

"Poor thing! I hope you will be a pretty green adder, and live among the flowers like one I once knew. It must be hard to be contented here, and you are very kind to want to help me," said Bud, laying her little warm hand on the ugly head of the snake, who had crept up to bask in the sun.

That pleased Forked-tongue very much; for no one ever petted him, and his eyes shone like jewels as he coiled his slender body nearer Bud's feet, and lifted up his head to answer her.

"You want to go away and you shall. We shall all miss you sadly, but it will soon be cold and you need stay no longer; so I will ask my friend Sleek to gnaw these strong rushes till they fall and make bridges across the pools. You can go safely over them and find some warm, pretty place to live in till the summer comes again."

"That is a fine plan! Thank you, dear friend; let us do it at once while Willy is asleep and no one sees us," cried Bud.

So Sleek the muskrat came and made a road for her from one tuft of grass to another till she was safely on the land. Then she bade these ugly but kind friends good-by, and gladly ran about the pleasant field where autumn flowers were going to seed and dead leaves falling fast. She feasted on wild grapes, dried berries, and apples fallen from the trees since the harvest was carried in. Everything was getting ready for winter, and Bud was glad to make herself a warm suit of mullein clothes, with a little hood of thistle-down. She was fitting beechnut shells on her tiny feet for shoes when a withered plant near by called out to her,—

"Are you going far, that you put on new clothes and stout boots, little stranger?"

"I must travel till I find my own country, no matter how far away it is. Can I do any errand for you?" asked Bud, kindly.

"Yes; will you carry these seeds of mine to the great meadow over there? All my friends are there, and I long to be at home again. Some one picked me last spring and dropped me here. But I did not die; I took root and bloomed here, and must always stay unless some one will take my seeds back. Then I shall come up in my own place next spring and be a happy flower again."

"I will do it," said Bud; "but I thought the wind took your seeds about for you."

"Some are too heavy. Pine seeds, maple keys, thistle and dandelion down, and many others blow about; but some of us grow from our roots, and some, like me, come from seeds kept in little bags. I'm called Shepherd's-purse, and I'm a humble weed; but I love my own people and long to see them again."

"You shall!" cried Bud; and gathering the three-cornered bags she took them carefully away to the meadow where other plants like this one were glad to hear of their lost friend and to watch over the gift she sent them.

Remembering how pleasant and comfortable it was to find various flowers blooming along the roadside like hospitable inns for tiny travellers like herself, good Bud spent several days in planting roots and seeds beside the path that led through the meadow.

"Now children, birds, butterflies, and fairies will be glad to find these pretty things blooming here, though they will never know who planted them," she said, when the last task was done.

The frost had come, and nuts were rattling down, leaves turning brown, and cold winds beginning to blow; so poor Bud looked about as she went through a wood to find some safe, warm place to sleep in, for a time at least, because she felt sure that when the snow came she would die, so small and delicate and friendless was the dear little thing. When she came to a great oak she sat down on an acorn cup, and tried to break the hard shell of an acorn that she might nibble a bit for her dinner. She could not do it, and sat thinking sadly what would become of her, when a sweet acorn without its shell dropped into her lap, and, looking up, she saw a gray squirrel peeping at her from a branch above her head. She smiled, and thanked him, and he came down with a whisk to sit opposite and look at her with his fine tail over his head like an umbrella.

"I know you, little maid, and I'm glad you came here, for I can show you a charming house for the winter. I heard you tell a field-mouse how lonely you were, and I saw tears dropping just now as you sat here thinking you had not a friend in the world," said Dart, as he nodded at her and kindly cracked a chestnut to follow the acorn if she needed more.

"Every one is very kind to me, but every one seems to go to sleep when autumn comes; so I felt alone and sad, and expected to die in the snow. But if I can find a cosey place to live in till spring I shall be very glad, and will do anything I can to pay for it," answered Bud, much comforted by her good dinner and a kind word.

"If you will help me get in my nuts and acorns and moss and leaves for winter food and bedding, I will let you use the Kobolds' house till they come. They are jolly little fellows, and they will allow you to stay, and teach you to spin; for they spin all winter, and make lovely cloth for the elves out of silkweed and thistle-down. Here is their house. I hide it and take care of it while they are gone, and get it ready for them in the autumn, as they come with the first snow."

While Dart spoke he had been clearing away a pile of dead leaves at the foot of the old oak, and soon Bud saw an arched doorway leading into the hollow trunk, where the roots made different chambers, and all was dry and warm and cosey as a little house. She went in and looked about, well pleased at what she saw, and very glad of such a comfortable home. She hoped the Kobolds would let her stay, and set to work at once to help Dart get ready for them; for the sky looked dark with snow, and a cold wind rustled through the wood.

In one room they stored nuts and acorns, rose and holly berries, a dried apple or two, and many pine cones to burn; for Dart showed her a little fireplace, and told her the Kobolds kept themselves very warm and jolly at their work. In another room they spread moss and dry grass for beds, and there the seven little men would sleep like dormice. The empty cocoon of a caterpillar still hung in one corner, and Bud said that should be her hammock with a curtain made of woven yellow bindweed hung before the nook. They swept the floor with fir-needle brooms, and spread a carpet of red oak leaves, which gave a very gay air to the place. Then Dart left Bud to fill a row of acorn cups with water from a spring near by, while he ran off to nibble splinters from the pitch pines to make torches for the Kobolds, who worked in the evening and needed light.

Bud was as happy as a little girl with a new baby-house, and looked like a tiny doll herself as she bustled to and fro, filling her tubs, dusting her pretty rooms, and getting ready for the seven strangers, like Snowdrop and the dwarfs in the dear old fairy tale. All was ready in two days, and Dart had time to lay up his own stores before the snow came. Bud watched over the heaps of nuts he piled lest his sly neighbors should steal them while he ran up and down tucking them away in holes about the oak-tree. This helped him much, and he was very fond of her; and together they got up a nice surprise for the Kobolds by putting in new beds for them made of chestnut burrs, which rocked on their outside prickles like cradles, and were lined with down as soft as silk.

"That will tickle them," said Dart; "and when they know that you thought of it, they will like you as much as I do. Now rest a bit, and be ready to welcome them, for I'm sure they will come to-day. I'll run to the tree-top and look out for them, so you can light the fire when I give the word."

Dart whisked away, and Bud stood in the doorway, with a warm mat of hemlock sprigs under her feet, and a garland of evergreen overhead; for she had trimmed up the arch, and stuck bits of gay holly all about to welcome the little men. Soon snow-flakes began to flutter down, and Bud rejoiced that she had a nice, warm home to stay in, instead of freezing to death like a lost bird. Suddenly Dart called from the tree-top, "They are coming!" and hurried down to rub two sticks together till a spark flew out and set the pine cone on the hearth ablaze. "Run to the door and courtesy when you see them," he said, fanning the fire with his bushy tail, in a great state of excitement.

Bud peeped out and was just going to say, "I see nothing but snow," when she saw that what looked like a party of flakes blowing up to the door was really the seven Kobolds loaded with great piles of white silkweed for their spinning. She dropped her best courtesy, smiled her sweetest smile, and called out, "Welcome home, my masters!" like a little maidservant, as she led the way to the large room, now bright and warm with the fire roaring up the chimney made by a hole in the old roots.

"Ha, ha! Neighbor Dart, you have done well this time, and we are satisfied with you. Now just store away our packs while we go for our wheels, and then we will have supper. But first, tell us who this pretty person is, if you please?" said the oldest of the Kobolds, while the others stood nodding and looking at Bud as if she pleased them well.

"Your new housekeeper, gentlemen," answered Dart, and in a few words told them all about his friend,—how she had helped get ready for them, what fine tales and songs she knew, and how much good she had done and still hoped to do while waiting for her wings to grow.

"Good, very good! She shall stay with us, and we will take care of her till spring. Then we will see what happens;" and they all smiled and nodded harder than ever, as if they knew something charming but would not tell it yet.

Then they clapped on their funny pointed hats, and trotted away before Bud could thank them half enough. While they were gone Dart showed her how to put a row of chestnuts on the hearth to roast, and how to set the table, which was a dry mushroom propped up on four legs in the middle of the room, with little toadstools to sit on. Acorn cups full of berries and water, and grains of wheat and barley were arranged on it, with a place for the chestnuts when they were done, and some preserved apple on an oak-leaf platter. Several torches were lighted and stuck in holes at the four corners of the table, and then all was ready, and Bud put on a little white apron made of her torn veil, and waited like a neat cook to dish up supper when her masters arrived.

Presently they came, each lugging a tiny spinning-wheel on his back; for they hid them in a cave among the rocks all summer, and got them out when the time for their winter work was come again. Dart helped them settle down a bit, and then left them to eat and rest; while Bud waited on them so nicely they wondered how they ever got on without a maid before. She was not at all afraid of them now; for they were jolly little fellows, with fat bodies, thin legs, rosy faces, and sharp eyes. All were dressed in white down suits, and wore droll pointed hats made of some seed pod, and boots of magic stuff which carried them great distances as if blown by the wind.

They liked their supper very much, and ate and drank and chatted pleasantly till all were done; then they sat round the fire and smoked sweet fern in Indian pipes till Bud had cleared away.

"Now come and sing to us," they said; and the youngest Kobold politely set a stool in the warmest corner for her.

So Bud sang all her gayest songs to their great delight, and told her adventures; and all were very cosey till it was time to sleep. The little men were charmed with their new beds, and pulling poppy-pod nightcaps over their heads tumbled in with drowsy good-nights, leaving Bud to cover up the fire, shut the front door, and put out the lights. Soon she was in her own soft hammock; and nothing broke the silence but the sigh of the wind, the tap of falling snow-flakes on dry leaves outside, and seven little snores inside, as the tired Kobolds dreamed cosily in their new beds.

Bud was up early next day, and had everything ready when the little men came out to breakfast. After it they set their wheels whirling, and all day long they spun busily till many skeins of shining silk were ready to be woven into elfin cloth. Bud soon learned, and they made her a wheel; so she could work with them. They seldom spoke, and never ate nor stopped till night; then the wheels stood still, and the spinners went out for a run while Bud got supper.

In the evening they went coasting if it was moonlight, or owl-hunting, and had gay times in the wood, whisking Bud with them, or sliding down hillocks of snow on their sleds of bark, while Dart looked on, well wrapped up in his gray fur coat.

But stormy nights they sat at home, and told stories and played games, and were very merry, and Bud learned many wise and interesting things; for the Kobolds knew all kinds of fairies, nixies, goblins, and spirits, and had been in many lands.

It was very pleasant; but when the last month of winter came Bud began to be so sleepy she could not keep her eyes open, and sat nodding as she spun, gaping instead of singing, and was often found dreaming in her bed when she should have been up and at work. She was much troubled about it, but could not help it; and the Kobolds only laughed, slyly felt of her shoulders, and told her to sleep away, for their work was nearly done and they did not need her.

One morning Bud did not wake up at all, and when the little men peeped at her there she lay rolled up in her hammock very like a chrysalis in its shell.

"All right," laughed the imps, nodding at one another; "let her sleep while the wings grow, and in May she will wake up to a prettier surprise than the one she gave us."

So they finished their work, packed up the silk, and as soon as the snow was gone they hid their wheels, had a farewell feast with Dart, and departed, begging him to watch over Bud, and have their house ready for them next year.

Day after day the grass grew greener, the buds larger, the air warmer, and the world more beautiful as spring flew over it; but Bud still lay asleep in her little bed, and the faithful squirrel went every morning to see that she was safe. May came at last, and the pink flowers under the leaves pushed out their rosy faces; birds sang among the green bushes, and the sun shone brightly as the little wood creatures ventured out one by one for another happy summer.

Then Bud woke from her long sleep, stretched her small arms and legs like a baby after its nap, looked about her to see where she was, and sprang up, fearing it was too late to get the Kobolds' breakfast. But the house was empty, the fire was out, the wheels gone, and nothing to be seen but a lovely white silk dress lying on the table with her name woven in tiny buds all over it. While she was looking at it with delight, Dart came in, and skipped for joy to see her awake again and prettier than ever; for while she slept she had grown very beautiful. Her winter gown was withered up, and fell off as she got out of bed, leaving her all ready for the new silver-white gown, which she gladly put on.

"Pull away my old hood that lies there on my shoulders, and let me tie my pretty dress with this fine belt," said Bud, feeling something on her back.

Dart's black eyes sparkled as he answered with a gay whisk,—

"Shake yourself and see what happens. But don't go till I have time to admire the splendid princess ready for Fairyland."

Bud shook; and, lo! a pair of blue and silver wings unfolded from her little shoulders, and there she stood, a shining creature, gay as a butterfly, delicate as an elf, lovely as a happy child; while Dart waved his tail like a banner as he cried joyfully,—

"The Kobolds said it would be so because you tried so hard to be and do good! Now you can go home and lead a happy life in Fairyland."

Bud could only clap her hands and laugh for joy, and try to see the beautiful wings she had worked and waited for so long.

"Thank you very much for all your kindness to me, dear Dart; I will come again and see you and the little men if I can. Now I must go and try to fly before I set out for home," she said, and hastened to the door, where wood violets were watching for her with eager blue eyes, while the robins, wrens, and linnets sang to welcome her.

There was no need to learn how to fly; the lovely wings lifted her lightly up, and away she went like a new-born butterfly glittering in the sunshine. It was so delightful that she could hardly bear to come down to the earth again; so she perched on a high branch of the old oak and took a peep at Dart's home before she said good-by to him.

"How shall I find my way to Fairyland?" she asked, eager to be off, for the longing was stronger than ever in her heart.

"I have come to show you the road," answered a shrill small voice, as a splendid humming-bird lit on the branch beside her, its breast sparkling like a jewel, and its long bill full of honey, while its quivering wings made the softest music.

"I am ready! Good-by, dear friends! good-by, great world! I love you, but I must go to my own people," cried Bud, and with a flash of the blue and silver wings she was gone.

But for many a winter's night her story was told by the Kobolds as they spun around their fire; and for many a long day did bird and bee, beetle, ant, and flower, love and remember little Bud.

 
 
 

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