Christmas tree land, p.1
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       Christmas-Tree Land, p.1

           Mrs. Molesworth
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Christmas-Tree Land


  Produced by Delphine Lettau, Mary Meehan, Clive Picktonand the Online Distributed Proofreading Canada Team athttps://www.pgdpcanada.net

  CHRISTMAS-TREE LAND

  BY MRS MOLESWORTH

  AUTHOR OF 'CARROTS,' 'CUCKOO CLOCK,' 'TELL ME A STORY.'

  THE WHITE CASTLE]

  ILLUSTRATED BY WALTER CRANE

  London MACMILLAN AND CO. 1884

  Rollo could not help noticing the pretty picture the twomade.]

  CONTENTS.

  PAGE

  CHAPTER I. THE WHITE CASTLE 1

  CHAPTER II. IN THE FIR-WOODS 18

  CHAPTER III. THE MYSTERIOUS COTTAGE 36

  CHAPTER IV. FAIRY HOUSEKEEPING 50

  CHAPTER V. THE STORY OF A KING'S DAUGHTER 70

  CHAPTER VI. THE STORY OF A KING'S DAUGHTER--(_continued_) 87

  CHAPTER VII. A WINDING STAIR AND A SCAMPER 113

  CHAPTER VIII. THE SQUIRREL FAMILY 137

  CHAPTER IX. A COMMITTEE OF BIRDS 157

  CHAPTER X. A SAIL IN THE AIR 170

  CHAPTER XI. THE EAGLES' EYRIE 186

  CHAPTER XII. A VISION OF CHRISTMAS TREES 203

  LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.

  _To face page_

  THE WHITE CASTLE _Vignette_

  'ROLLO,' SHE EXCLAIMED, HER EYES SPARKLING, HALF WITHFEAR, HALF WITH EXCITEMENT, 'I DO BELIEVE WE'VE GOT INTOTHE COTTAGE OF THE THREE BEARS' 37

  ROLLO COULD NOT HELP NOTICING THE PRETTY PICTURE THE TWO MADE 60

  'IT WAS THE PRETTIEST SIGHT IN THE WORLD TO SEE AUREOLE INHER BOWER EVERY MORNING' 81

  'AUREOLE COULD NOT HELP SHIVERING AS THE FORM OF THE MONSTERCAME IN SIGHT' 108

  I DON'T THINK EVER CHILDREN BEFORE HAD SUCH FUN 149

  'ALL RIGHT--WE'RE OFF NOW,' WALDO CALLED OUT, AND AT ONCE,WITH A STEADY SWING, THE QUEER SHIP ROSE INTO THE AIR 180

  'SEE, ROLLO,' CRIED MAIA; 'SEE, THERE IS OUR CHRISTMAS TREE' 221

  CHAPTER I.

  THE WHITE CASTLE.

  'The way was long, long, long, like the journey in a fairy tale.'

  MISS FERRIER.

  It was not their home. That was easy to be seen by the eager looks ofcuriosity and surprise on the two little faces inside the heavytravelling carriage. Yet the faces were grave, and there was a wearylook in the eyes, for the journey had been long, and it was not forpleasure that it had been undertaken. The evening was drawing in, andthe day had been a somewhat gloomy one, but as the light slowly faded, asoft pink radiance spread itself over the sky. They had been driving forsome distance through a flat monotonous country; then, as the groundbegan to rise, the coachman relaxed his speed, and the children, withoutknowing it, fell into a half slumber.

  It was when the chariot stopped to allow the horses breathing time thatthey started awake and looked around them. The prospect had entirelychanged. They were now on higher ground, for the road had wound up andup between the hills, which all round encircled an open space--a sort ofhigh up valley, in the centre of which gleamed something white. But thisdid not at first catch the children's view. It was the hills rising everhigher and higher, clothed from base to summit with fir-trees,innumerable as the stars on a clear frosty night, that struck them withsurprise and admiration. The little girl caught her breath with astrange thrill of pleasure, mingled with awe.

  'Rollo,' she said, catching her brother's sleeve, 'it is a land ofChristmas trees!'

  Rollo gazed out for a moment or two without speaking. Then he gave asigh of sympathy.

  'Yes, Maia,' he said; 'I never could have imagined it. Fancy, onlyfancy, if they were all lighted up!'

  Maia smiled.

  'I don't think even the fairies themselves could do that,' she answered.

  But here their soft-voiced talking was interrupted. Two attendants, anelderly man and a young, rosy-faced woman, whose eyes, notwithstandingher healthy and hearty appearance, bore traces of tears, had got downfrom their seat behind the carriage.

  'Master Rollo,'--'My little lady,' they said, speaking together; 'yonderis the castle. The coachman has just shown it to us. This is the firstsight of it.'

  'The white walls one sees gleaming through the trees,' said the girl,pointing as she spoke. 'Marc cannot see it as plainly as I.'

  'My eyes are not what they were,' said the old servant apologetically.

  'I see it,'--'and so do I,' exclaimed Rollo and Maia. 'Shall we soon bethere?'

  'Still an hour,' replied Marc; 'the road winds about, he says.'

  'And already we have been so many, many hours,' said Nanni, the maid, indoleful accents.

  'Let us hope for a bright fire and a welcome when we arrive,' said oldMarc cheerfully. 'Provided only Master Rollo and Miss Maia are not tootired, _we_ should not complain,' he added reprovingly, in a lowervoice, turning to Nanni. But Maia had caught the words.

  'Poor Nanni,' she said kindly. 'Don't be so sad. It will be better whenwe get there, and you can unpack our things and get them arrangedagain.'

  'And then Marc will have to leave us, and who knows how they will treatus in this outlandish country!' said Nanni, beginning to sob again.

  But just then the coachman looked round to signify that the horses wererested, and he was about to proceed.

  'Get up, girl--quickly--get up,' said Marc, reserving his scolding, nodoubt, till they were again in their places and out of hearing of theirlittle master and mistress.

  The coachman touched up his horses; they seemed to know they werenearing home, and set off at a brisk pace, the bells on their harnessjingling merrily as they went.

  The cheerful sound, the quicker movement, had its effect on thechildren's spirits.

  'It _is_ a strange country,' said Maia, throwing herself back among thecushions of the carriage, as if tired of gazing out. 'Still, I don't seethat we need be so very unhappy here.'

  'Nor I,' said Rollo. 'Nanni is foolish. She should not call it anoutlandish country. That to _us_ it cannot be, for it is the country ofour ancestors.'

  'But _so_ long ago, Rollo,' objected Maia.

  'That does not matter. We are still of the same blood,' said the boysturdily. 'We must love, even without knowing why, the place that washome to them--the hills, the trees--ah, yes, above all, those wonderfulforests. They seem to go on for ever and ever, like the stars, Maia.'

  'Yet I don't think them as _pretty_ as forests of different kinds oftrees,' said Maia thoughtfully. 'They are more _strange_ than beautiful.Fancy them always, always there, in winter and summer, seeing the sunrise and set, feeling the rain fall, and the snow-flakes flutter down ontheir branches, and yet never moving, never changing. I wouldn't like tobe a tree.'

  'But they _do_ change,' said Rollo. 'The branches wither and then theysprout again. It must be like getting new clothes, and very interestingto watch, I should think. Fancy how funny it would be if our clothesgrew on us like that.'

  Maia gave a merry little laugh.

  'Yes,' she said; 'fancy waking up in the morning and looking to see ifour sleeves had got a little bit longer, or if our
toes were beginningto be covered! I suppose that's what the trees talk about.'

  'Oh, they must have lots of things to talk about,' said Rollo. 'Think ofhow well they must see the pictures in the clouds, being so high up.And the stars at night. And then all the creatures that live in theirbranches, and down among their roots,--the birds, and the squirrels, andthe field-mice, and the----'

  'Yes,' interrupted Maia; 'you have rather nice thoughts sometimes,Rollo. After all, I dare say it is not so very stupid to be a tree. Ishould like the squirrels best of all. I do love squirrels! Can you seethe castle any better now, Rollo? It must be at your side.'

  'I don't see it at all just now,' said Rollo, after peering out for somemoments. 'I'm not sure but what it's got round to _your_ side by now,Maia.'

  'No, it hasn't,' said Maia. 'It couldn't have done. It's somewhere overthere, below that rounded hill-top--we'll see it again in a minute, Idare say. Ah, see, Rollo, there's the moon coming out! I do hope weshall often see the moon here. It would be so pretty--the trees wouldlook nearly black. But what are you staring at so, Rollo?'

  Rollo drew in his head again.

  'There must be somebody living over there,' he said. 'I see smokerising--you can _hardly_ see it now, the light is growing so dim, butI'm sure I did see it. There must be a little cottage there somewhereamong the trees.'

  'Oh, how nice!' exclaimed Maia. 'We must find it out. I wonder what sortof people live in it--gnomes or wood-spirits, perhaps? There couldn't beany real _people_ in such a lonely place.'

  'Gnomes and wood-spirits don't need cottages, and they don't makefires,' replied Rollo.

  'How do _you_ know?' and Rollo's answer was not quite ready. 'I dare saygnomes like to come up above sometimes, for a change; and I dare say thewood-spirits are cold sometimes, and like to warm themselves. Any way Ishall try to find that cottage and see who does live in it. I hope shewill let us go on walks as often as we wish, Rollo.'

  'She--who?' said the boy dreamily. 'Oh, our lady cousin! Yes, I hopeso;' but he sighed as he spoke, and this time the sigh was sad.

  Maia nestled closer to her brother.

  'I think I was forgetting a little, Rollo,' she said. 'I can't think howI could forget, even for a moment, all our troubles. But father wantedus to try to be happy.'

  'Yes, I know he did,' said Rollo. 'I am very glad if you can feelhappier sometimes, Maia. But for me it is different; I am so mucholder.'

  'Only two years,' interrupted Maia.

  'Well, well, I _feel_ more than that older. And then I have to take careof _you_ till father comes home; that makes me feel older too.'

  'I wish we could take care of each other,' said Maia; 'I wish we weregoing to live in a little cottage by ourselves instead of in LadyVenelda's castle. We might have Nanni just to light the fires and cookthe dinner, except the creams and pastry and cakes--_those_ I would makemyself. And she might also clean the rooms and wash the dishes--I cannotbear washing dishes--and all the rest we would do ourselves, Rollo.'

  'There would not be much else to do,' said Rollo, smiling.

  'Oh yes, there would. We should need a cow, you know, and cocks andhens; those we should take care of ourselves, though Nanni might churn.You have no idea how tiring it is to churn; I tried once at ourcountry-house last year, and my arms ached so. And then there would bethe garden; it must be managed so that there should always, all the yearround, be strawberries and roses. Wouldn't that be charming, Rollo?'

  'Yes; but it certainly couldn't be done out of fairyland,' said the boy.

  'Never mind. What does it matter? When one is wishing one may wish foranything.'

  'Then, for my part, I would rather wish to be at our own home again, andthat our father had not had to go away,' said Rollo.

  'Ah, yes!' said Maia; and then she grew silent, and the grave expressionoverspread both children's faces again.

  They had meant to look out to see if the white-walled castle was oncemore within sight, but it was now almost too dark to see anything, andthey remained quietly in their corners. Suddenly they felt the wheelsroll on to a paved way; the carriage went more slowly, and in a momentor two they stopped.

  'Can we have arrived?' said Maia. But Rollo, looking out, saw that theyhad only stopped at a postern. An old man, bent and feeble, came out ofan ivy-covered lodge, round and high like a light-house, looking as ifit had once been a turret attached to the main building, and pressedforward as well as he could to open the gate, which swung back rustilyon its hinges. The coachman exchanged a few words in the language of thecountry, which the children understood but slightly, and then thechariot rolled on again, slowly still, for the road ascended, and evenhad there been light there would have been nothing to see but two highwalls, thickly covered with creeping plants. In a moment or two theystopped again for another gate to be opened--this time morequickly--then the wheels rolled over smoother ground, and the coachmandrew up before a doorway, and a gleam of white walls flashed before thechildren's eyes.

  The door was already open. Marc and Nanni got down at the farther side,for a figure stood just inside the entrance, which they at oncerecognised as that of the lady of the house come forward to welcome heryoung relatives. Two old serving-men, older than Marc and in well-wornlivery, let down the ladder of steps and opened the chariot door. Rollogot out, waited a moment to help his sister as she followed him, andthen, leading her by the hand, bowed low before their cousin Venelda.

  'Welcome,' she said at once, as she stooped to kiss Maia's forehead,extending her hand to Rollo at the same time. Her manner was formal butnot unkindly. 'You must be fatigued with your journey,' she said.'Supper is ready in the dining-hall, and then, no doubt, you will beglad to retire for the night.'

  'Yes, thank you, cousin,' said both children, and then, as she turned toshow them the way, they ventured to look up at their hostess, thoughthey were still dazzled by the sudden light after the darkness outside.Lady Venelda was neither young nor old, nor could one well imagine herever to have been, or as ever going to be, different from what she was.She was tall and thin, simply dressed, but with a dignified air as ofone accustomed to command. Her hair was gray, and surmounted by a highwhite cap, a number of keys attached to her girdle jingled as she went;her step was firm and decided, but not graceful, and her voice wasrather hard and cold, though not sharp. Her face, as Rollo and Maia sawit better when she turned to see if they were following her, was of apiece with her figure, pale and thin, with nothing very remarkable savea well-cut rather eagle nose and a pair of very bright but not tenderblue eyes. Still she was not a person to be afraid of, on the whole,Rollo decided. She might not be very indulgent or sympathising, butthere was nothing cruel or cunning in her face and general look.

  'You may approach the fire, children,' she said, as if this were aspecial indulgence; and Rollo and Maia, who had stood as if uncertainwhat to do, drew near the enormous chimney, where smouldered someglowing wood, enough to send out a genial heat, though it had but a poorappearance in the gigantic grate, which looked deep and wide enough toroast an ox.

  Their eyes wandered curiously round the great room or hall in which theyfound themselves. It, like the long corridor out of which opened most ofthe rooms of the house, was painted or washed over entirely inwhite--the only thing which broke the dead uniformity being anextraordinary number of the antlered heads of deer, fastened high up atregular intervals. The effect was strange and barbaric, but notaltogether unpleasing.

  'What quantities of deer there must be here!' whispered Maia to herbrother. 'See, even the chairs are made of their antlers.'

  She was right. What Rollo had at first taken for branches of treesrudely twisted into chair backs and feet were, in fact, the horns ofseveral kinds of deer, and he could not help admiring them, though hethought to himself it was sad to picture the number of beautifulcreatures that must have been slain to please his ancestors' whimsicaltaste in furniture; but he said nothing, and Lady Venelda, though shenoticed the children's observing eyes, said nothing either. It was
nother habit to encourage conversation with young people. She had beenbrought up in a formal fashion, and devoutly believed it to be the best.

  At this moment a bell clanged out loudly in the courtyard. Before it hadceased ringing the door opened and two ladies, both of a certain age,both dressed exactly alike, walked solemnly into the room, followed bytwo old gentlemen, of whom it could not be said they were exactly alike,inasmuch as one was exceedingly tall and thin, the other exceedinglyshort and stout. These personages the children came afterwards to knowwere the two ladies-in-waiting, or _dames de compagnie_, of LadyVenelda, her chaplain, and her physician. They all approached her, andbowed, and curtseyed; then drew back, as if waiting for her to take herplace at the long table before seating themselves. Lady Venelda glancedat the children.

  'How comes it?' she began, but then, seeming to remember something,stopped. 'To be sure, they have but just arrived,' she said to herself.Then turning to one of the old serving-men: 'Conduct the young gentlemanto his apartment,' she said, 'that he may arrange his attire beforejoining us at supper. And you, Delphine,' she continued to one of theancient damsels, who started as if she were on wires, and Lady Veneldahad touched the spring, 'have the goodness to perform the same officefor this young lady, whose waiting-maid will be doubtless in attendance.For this once,' she added in conclusion, this time addressing thechildren, 'the repast shall be delayed for ten minutes; but for thisonce only. Punctuality is a virtue that cannot be exaggerated.'

  Rollo and Maia looked at each other; then both followed their respectiveguides.

  'Is my lady cousin angry with me?' Maia ventured timidly to inquire. 'Wedid not know--we could not help it. I suppose the coachman came as fastas he could.'

  'Perfectly, perfectly, Mademoiselle,' replied Delphine in a flutter.Poor thing, she had once been French--long, long ago, in the days of heryouth, which she had well-nigh forgotten. But she still retained someFrench expressions and the habit of agreeing with whatever was said toher, which she believed to show the highest breeding. 'Of courseMademoiselle could not help it.'

  'Then why is my cousin angry?' said Maia, again looking up with herbright brown eyes.

  'My lady Venelda angry?' repeated Delphine, rather embarrassed how toreconcile her loyalty to her patroness, to whom she was devotedlyattached, with courtesy to Maia. 'Ah, no! My lady is never angry. Pardonmy plain speaking.'

  'Oh, then, I mistook, I suppose,' said Maia, considerably relieved. 'Isuppose some people seem angry when they're not, till one gets to knowthem.'

  And then Maia, who was of a philosophic turn of mind, made Nanni hurryto take off her wraps and arrange her hair, that she might go down tosupper: 'for I'm dreadfully hungry,' she added, 'and it's very funnydownstairs, Nanni,' she went on. 'It's like something out of a book,hundreds of years ago. I can quite understand now why father told us tobe so particular always to say "our lady cousin," and things like that.Isn't it funny, Nanni?'

  Nanni's spirits seemed to have improved.

  'It is not like home, certainly, Miss Maia,' she replied. 'But I daresay we shall get on pretty well. They seem very kind and friendlydownstairs in the kitchen, and there was a very nice supper gettingready. And then, I'm never one to make the worst of things, whateverthat crabbed old Marc may say.'

  Maia was already on her way to go. She only stopped a moment to glanceround the room. It was large, but somewhat scantily furnished. The wallswhite, like the rest of the house, the floor polished like alooking-glass. Maia's curtainless little bed in one corner lookeddisproportionately small. The child gave a little shiver.

  'It feels very cold in this big bare room,' she said. 'I hope you andRollo aren't far off.'

  'I don't know for Master Rollo,' Nanni replied. 'But this is _my_ room,'and she opened a door leading into a small chamber, neatly but plainlyarranged.

  'Oh, that's very nice,' said Maia, approvingly. 'If Rollo's room is notfar off, we shall not feel at all lonely.'

  Her doubts were soon set at rest, for, as she opened the door, Rolloappeared coming out of a room just across the passage.

  'Oh, that's your room,' said Maia. 'I didn't see where you went to. Iwas talking to Mademoiselle Delphine. I'm so glad you're so near,Rollo.'

  'Yes,' said Rollo. 'These big bare rooms aren't like our rooms at home.I should have felt rather lonely if I'd been quite at the other end ofthe house.'

  Then they took each other's hand and went slowly down the uncarpetedwhite stone staircase.

  'Rollo,' said Maia, nodding her head significantly as if in thedirection of the dining-hall, 'do you think we shall like her? Do youthink she's going to be kind?'

  Rollo hesitated.

  'I think she'll be kind. Father said she would. But I don't think shecares about children, and we'll have to be very quiet, and all that.'

  'The best thing will be going long walks in the woods,' said Maia.

  'Yes, if she'll let us,' replied Rollo doubtfully.

  'Well, I'll tell you how to do. We'll show her we're awfully good andsensible, and then she won't be afraid to let us go about by ourselves.Oh, Rollo, those lovely Christmas-tree woods! We can't feel dull if onlywe may go about in the woods!'

  'Well, then, let's try, as you say, to show how very good and sensiblewe are,' said Rollo.

  And with this wise resolution the two children went in to supper.

 
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