Now, as you know, the little old woman all dressed in brown was none other than Old Mother Nature—the very same who had heard the little boy say, "There aren't any fairies, Pansy,—Mother says there are not."
And now the little boy lay sleeping at her feet.
For a moment the queer little woman in brown stood looking down into his sleeping face and then she stooped and kissed him softly on the cheek.
"Such a sad little boy," she said, "not to believe in fairies." Then, taking some fine golden fairy dust from her pocket, she sprinkled it over his head and shoulders, and seated herself by his side to wait until he should awake.
But the little old woman did not fold her hands while she waited—there was always work for her to do, and taking a big brown bag from her belt, filled to the brim with seeds, she poured them in a steady stream into her lap, and busily began to sort them out—some in one pile and some in another.
This she was doing when the little boy at last opened his eyes, sat up and looked with wonderment into her face. "Little boys sleep while the fairies work," said the little old woman with a twinkle in her eyes. "I have been following behind you all through your walk and when you sat down to rest, I sat down to work."
The little boy seemed very much puzzled and stretched his eyes wider and wider. "I did not see you," he said.
"No, and there were many other things you did not see, also," she replied. "It was a most beautiful walk.
"We passed birds and fish and flowers and rabbits and squirrels and—and fairies!" Then the little old woman threw back her head and laughed merrily, because the little boy looked so surprised, you know. He had not seen any of those things at all,—he most surely had not seen a fairy.
"Are you a fairy?" asked the little boy, looking straight into her beautiful brown eyes.
"To those who believe in fairies, I am," said the little old woman, with a touch of sadness in her voice. "Come, sit beside me, and help me sort out my children—there are more than you can count."
"Children? I see no children," said the little boy, "where are they?"
"Here in my lap," replied the little old woman, "in the woods around you,— everywhere. Look and you will find them.
"I am the nurse and mother of all that lives in forest or water—all that flies, all that creeps, all that swims, all that sleeps—all are my children and I nurse and watch over them. Would you not like to help me sort these seed babies?"
Somehow the little boy did not seem one bit afraid, but edged closer to the little old woman and began to do as she did.
"See," she said, "place the large seeds here, the small seeds here, the prickly seeds here, the pod seeds here, and the winged seeds here—so.
"Handle them gently, little lad, for a plant baby sleeps in each one. They are a deal of care, and keep me busy, I can tell you, since they all have to be tucked in bed in different parts of the world—just where it is the best for them, neither too hot nor yet too cold; and they have to be fed and watered and cuddled the same as any earth-child.
"But then, at last, when they bud and blossom. Oh, but they are a joy to me then, and enough to fill the heart of any mother! Each little blossom has a tale to tell as to how it got its name—listen and I will tell you, while we work.
"This tiny brown seed, so small you can hardly see it, has never had a name until to-day. The fairies have named it Pansy for a dear little girl they know—a little girl with golden hair and dark, rich violet eyes."
"Oh!" said the little boy, jumping up from his seat, "I believe I know that little girl, because a little girl named Pansy lives close by me—maybe it is she."
"Maybe so," replied the little old woman in brown, nodding her head at the little boy. "Maybe so—especially if she is the little girl who believes in fairies."
"And this seed?" asked the little boy, holding out a smooth, round white one, "tell me about this one."
"That seed," said the little old woman, "is the Lady Slipper. Its blossoms are in white and blue and pink and violet, and it was never seen upon the earth until after the story of Cinderella.
"Now she was a little girl the fairies loved too—because Cinderella most surely believed in the fairies.
"Look closely at its delicate blossom, and you will find it is shaped just like a little slipper. It is Cinderella's little slipper and the fairies placed it there.
"It is also said that the prince who rode through the forest in search of her whom the slipper would fit, lost the crimson feather from his velvet cap and the feather was never found, but in its place a strange new flower was found, and it looked so much like a feather that it was ever afterwards called the Prince's Feather.
"Perhaps the fairies had something to do with that," continued the little old woman, with a smile about her lips.
"Anyway, you will find them growing to-day, much to the delight of the earth-children—the Lady Slipper and the Prince's Feather."
"Yes, I have seen them myself," said the little boy, turning the small, round seed over and over in his hand, "but I never knew before about the fairies—I wish you were my mother."
"I?" said the little old woman, with a fresh ripple of laughter, "why, I could never be spared for an earth-child's mother. How could my babies get on without me?
"What would the baby birdlings do, when lost from their mother's breast? What would the baby bees and the baby ants and the baby fish and the baby seed do—all waiting to be fed and watered and warmed and cuddled and shaken up for their spring awakening?
"No, I couldn't be spared, I think, little boy, but at least I will be your fairy god-mother, but—there, I hear someone calling me!" And then what do you think happened?
The little old woman all dressed in brown grew dimmer and dimmer and dimmer, until there wasn't any old woman at all, and though the little boy looked and looked, behind all the big trees and bushes and rocks,—all that he saw was an old brown stump, and yet, there in the palm of his hand was a small, round pea seed. Now what do you think of that?