If one could always hold one's tongue as to what one sees, one would be the better for it. They are the wise people of this world who keep silence as to what they see; many such there are who behold things such as neither you nor I may ever hope to look upon, and yet we know nothing of this because they say nothing of it, going their own ways like common folks, and as though they saw nothing in an egg but the meat.
Dame Margery Twist of Tavistock town was not one of these wise folks who hold their tongues; she was a good, gossiping, chattering old soul, whose hen never hatched a chick but all of the neighbors knew of it, as the saying goes. The poor old creature had only one eye; how she lost the other you shall presently hear, and also how her wonderful tulip garden became like anybody else's tulip garden.
Dame Margery Twist lived all alone with a great tabby cat. She dwelt in a little cottage that stood back from the road, and just across the way from the butcher's shop. All within was as neat and as bright as a new pin, so that it was a delight just to look upon the row of blue dishes upon the dresser, the pewter pipkins as bright as silver, or the sanded floor, as clean as your mother's table. Over the cottage twined sweet woodbines, so that the air was ladened with their fragrance in the summer-time, when the busy, yellow-legged bees droned amid the blossoms from the two hives that stood along against the wall. But the wonder of the garden was the tulip bed, for there were no tulips in all England like them, and folks came from far and near, only to look upon them and to smell their fragrance. They stood in double rows, and were of all colors—white, yellow, red, purple, and pied. They bloomed early, and lasted later than any others, and, when they were in flower, all the air was filled with their perfume.
Now all of these things happened before the smoke of the factories and the rattling of the steam-cars had driven the fairy folks away from this world into No-man's-land, and this was the secret of the dame's fine tulip bed. For the fairies dwelt among the flowers, and she often told her gossips how that she could hear the fairy mothers singing their babies to sleep at night, when the moon was full and the evening was warm. She had never seen the little folks herself, for few folks are given to look upon them, and Dame Margery's eyes were not of that nature. Nevertheless, she heard them, and that, in my opinion, is the next best thing to seeing them.
Dame Margery Twist, as I said, was a good, kind, comfortable old soul, and was, moreover, the best nurse in all of Tavistock town. Was any one ill, it was Dame Margery who was called upon to attend him; as for the dame herself, she was always ready to bring a sick body into good health again, and was always paid well for the nursing.
One evening the dame was drinking her tea by herself with great comfort. It was just at the dusking of the twilight; the latticed window was opened, so that the little breezes came rushing into the room, or stayed a while to play wantonly with the white linen curtains. The tabby cat was purring in the door-way, and the dame was enjoying the sweetness of the summer-time. There came a knock at the door. "Who is it?" said Dame Margery.
"It's Tommy Lamb, if you please, ma'am," said a little voice.
"Come in, Tommy," said the dame.
So in came Tommy Lamb, a little, curly-headed fellow, not any older than you. "What is it you want, Tommy?" said the dame.
"If you please, ma'am, there's a little gentleman outside, no taller than I be; he gave me this box, and told me to tell you to rub your eyes with the salve and then to come out to him."
The dame looked out of the window, but never a body stood there that she could see. "Where is the gentleman, dearie?" said she.
"Yonder he is, with a great white horse standing beside him," said Tommy Lamb, and he pointed with his finger as he spoke.
The dame rubbed her eyes and looked again, but never a thing did she see but the green gate, the lilac-bushes, and the butcher's shop opposite. The truth of the matter is, that little children like you, my dear, see things which we grown folks, with the dust of the world in our eyes, may never behold. "Well," said Dame Margery to herself, "this is strange, for sure! I see no little old gentleman in green." Then she opened the box that she held, and looked into it and saw that it was filled with a green salve. "I'll rub some of it on my eyes, at any rate," said she; whereupon she did so. Then she looked again, and, lo and behold! there stood a little old man, no taller than Tommy Lamb. His face was as brown, and as withered, and as wrinkled as a winter's crab-apple left on the bare tree when the frost is about. He was dressed all in green from top to toe, and on his head was a tall green cap, with a bell at the peak, which tinkled at every movement of his head. By his side stood a great, tall, milk-white horse, with a long tail and mane tied with party-colored ribbons.
Dame Margery went out to the little old gentleman in green, and asked him what he would have with her. He told the dame that his wife was sorely sick, and that he wanted her to come and nurse her for the night. At this Dame Margery hemmed and hawed and shook her head, for she did not like the thought of going out at night, she knew not where, and with such a strange little body. Then the little man begged her and pleaded with her, and his voice and his words were as sweet as honey. At last he persuaded her to go, promising her a good reward if she would nurse his wife back into her health again. So the dame went back into the cottage to make ready for her journeying, throwing her red riding-cloak over her shoulders, and drawing her thick shoes upon her feet. Then she filled her reticule with a parcel of simples, in case they should be needed. After this she came out again, and climbed up behind the little man in green, and so settled herself upon the pillion saddle for her ride. Then the little man whistled to his horse, and away they went.
They seemed to fly rather than ride upon the hard ground, for the hedges and cottages and orchards flew past as though in a dream. But fast as they went, the old dame saw many things which she had never dreamed of before. She saw all of the hedge-rows, the by-ways, the woods and fields alive with fairy-folk. Each little body was busy upon his or her own business, laughing, chatting, talking, and running here and there like folks on a market-day.
So they came at last to a place which the dame knew was the three-tree-hill; but it was not the three-tree-hill which she had seen in all of her life before, for a great gateway seemed to open into it and it was into this gateway that the little man in green urged the great white horse.
After they had entered the hill, Dame Margery climbed down from the pillion and stood looking about her. Then she saw that she was in a great hall, the walls of which were glistening with gold and silver, while bright stones gleamed like so many stars all over the roof of the place. Three little fairy children were playing with golden balls on the floor, and when they saw the dame they stopped in their sport and stood looking silently upon her with great, wide-opened eyes, just as though they were little mortal children. In the corner of the room was a bed all of pure gold, and over the bed were spread coverlets of gold and silver cloth, and in the bed lay a beautiful little lady, very white and ill. Then Dame Margery knew well enough that every one of these little people were fairies.
The dame nursed the fairy lady all that night, and by cock-crow in the morning the little woman had ease from her pain.
Then the little man spoke for the first time since Dame Margery had left home. "Look'ee, Dame Margery," said he; "I promised to pay you well and I will keep my word. Come hither!" So the dame went to him as he had bidden her to do, and the little man filled her reticule with black coals from the hearth. The dame said nothing, but she wondered much whether the little man called this good pay for her pains. After this she climbed up on the great horse again, and behind the little man, and they rode out of the place and home, where they were safe and sound ere the day had fairly broken. But before the little man had left her he drew out another little box just like the one that Tommy Lamb had brought her the evening before, only this time the box was filled with red ointment. "Rub your eyes with this, Dame Margery," said he.
Now Dame Margery Twist knew butter from cheese, as the saying is. She knew that the green salve was of a kind which very few people have had rubbed over their eyes in this world; that it was of a kind which poets would give their ears to possess—even were it a lump no larger than a pea. So, when she took the box of red ointment, she only rubbed one eye with it—her left eye. Her right eye she pretended to rub, but, in truth, she never touched it at all.
Then the little man got upon his horse again, and rode away to his home in the hill.
After he had gone away, Dame Margery thought that she would empty her reticule of the dirty black coals; so she turned it topsy-turvy, and shook it over the hearth, and out tumbled—black coals? No; great lumps of pure gold that shone bright yellow, like fire, in the light of the candle. The good dame could scarcely believe her eyes, for here was wealth enough to keep her in comfort for all the rest of her days.
But Dame Margery's right eye! I wish I could only see what she saw with that right eye of hers! What was it she saw? That I will tell you.
The next night was full moon, and Dame Margery came and looked out over the fine bed of tulips, of which she was very proud. "Hey-day!" she cried, and rubbed her eyes, in doubt as to whether she was asleep or awake, for the whole place was alive with little folks.
But she was awake, and it was certain that she saw them. Yes; there they were—little men, little women, little children, and little babies, as thick in the tulip bed as folks at a wedding. The little men sat smoking their pipes and talking together; the little women sat nursing their babies, singing to them or rocking them to sleep in cradles of tulip flowers; the little children played at hide-and-seek among the flower-stalks. So the dame leaned out of the window, watching them with great delight, for it is always a delight to watch the little folks at their sports.
After a while she saw where one of the tiny fairy children hid himself under a leaf, while the others who were to seek him looked up and down, and high and low, but could find him nowhere. Then the old dame laughed and laughed to see how the others looked for the little fellow, but could not tell where he was. At last she could hold her peace no longer, but called out in a loud voice, "Look under the leaf, Blackcap!"
The words were no sooner out of her mouth than, whisk! whirr! off they scampered out of the garden and away—fathers, mothers, children, babies, all crying in their shrill voices, "She sees us! she sees us!" For fairies are very timid folk, and dread nothing more than to have mortals see them in their own shapes.
So they never came back again to the dame's garden, and from that day to this her tulips have been like everybody else's tulips. Moreover, whenever she went out the fairies scampered away before her like so many mice, for they all knew that she could see them with her magical eye. This, as you may see, was bad enough, but no other harm would have come of it if she had only gathered wisdom at that time, seeing what ill came of her speech. But, like many other old dames that I wot of, no sound was so pleasant to her ears as the words of her own mouth.
Now, about a twelvemonth after the time that the dame had nursed the fairy lady, the great fair was held at Tavistock. All the world and his wife were there, so, of course, Dame Margery went also. And the fair was well worth going to, I can tell you! Booths stood along in a row in the yellow sunlight of the summer-time, and flags and streamers of many colors fluttered in the breeze from long poles at the end of each booth. Ale flowed like water, and dancing was going on on the green, for Peter Weeks the piper was there, and his pipes were with him. It was a fine sight to see all of the youths and maids, decked in fine ribbons of pink and blue, dancing hand-in-hand to his piping. In the great tent the country people had spread out their goods—butter, cheese, eggs, honey, and the like—making as goodly a show as you would want to see. Dame Margery was in her glory, for she had people to gossip with everywhere; so she went hither and thither, and at last into the great tent where these things of which I have spoken were all spread out for show.
Then, lo and behold! who should she see, gliding here and there among the crowd of other people, but the little man in green whom she had seen a year ago. She opened her eyes mightily wide, for she saw that he was doing a strange thing. By his side hung a little earthenware pot, and in his hand he held a little wooden scraper, which he passed over the rolls of butter, afterwards putting that which he scraped from the rolls into the pot that hung beside him. Dame Margery peeped into the pot, and saw that it was half full; then she could contain herself no longer.
"Hey-day, neighbor!" cried she, "here be pretty doings, truly! Out upon thee, to go scraping good luck and full measure off of other folks' butter!"
When the little man in green heard the dame speak to him, he was so amazed that he nearly dropped his wooden scraper. "Why, Dame Margery! can you see me then?"
"Aye, marry can I! And what you are about doing also; out upon you, say I!"
"And did you not rub your eyes with the red salve then?" said the little man.
"One eye, yes, but one eye, no," said the dame, slyly.
"Which eye do you see me with?" said he.
"With this eye, gossip, and very clearly, I would have you know," and she pointed to her right eye.
Then the little man swelled out his cheeks until they were like two little brown dumplings. Puff! he blew a breath into the good dame's eye. Puff! he blew, and if the dame's eye had been a candle, the light of it could not have gone out sooner.
The dame felt no smart, but she might wink and wink, and wink again, but she would never wink sight into the eye upon which the little man had blown his breath, for it was blind as the stone wall back of the mill, where Tom the tinker kissed the miller's daughter.
Dame Margery Twist never greatly missed the sight of that eye; but all the same, I would give both of mine for it.
All of these things are told at Tavistock town even to this day; and if you go thither, you may hear them for yourself.
But I say again, as I said at first: if one could
only hold one's tongue as to what one sees,
one would be the better for it.
Ye Song of ye Gossips
A Victim to Science
Play and Earnest
The Accident of Birth