once every year, between the hours of midnight and dawn, the fairy queen and all the fairies from fairyland meet together and hold a festival.
Here they dance around the May-pole and sing and talk and sip nectar juice and dainty cream until just before sunrise, when they fly back again to fairyland.
It was in the heart of a deep and beautiful woodland that they met one night in May to hold this yearly festival.
Long silver-gray moss hung in cascades from tall cypress trees, and flowers rich and rare cast their fragrant perfume on the air, while the moon hung like a crystal lamp over the lake, throwing a shimmering path of light across its smooth surface.
Seated on a rustic throne of twisted roots the fairy queen held court—her fairies gathered around her. They were talking together of the earth world, and of their plans for the pleasure of the good children there,—what they had done the past year and what they would like to do the next. The queen was made very happy by the reports she heard from her fairies, and rising from her rustic bower she said: "Come, fairies, one and all, let us make something very beautiful for the earth-children to-night. Let us make them a magic wishing umbrella, such that the first one who stands beneath it, may make a wish and it will surely come true. Hasten, for the jewelled dawn will soon be parting the rosy curtains of day, and we have no time to lose."
So, with a song of gladness, the fairies sprang to their feet, and catching hands, danced around a fairy ring, singing and weaving as they danced, and by and by, suspended above their heads, was a most beautiful silken umbrella—cream on the outside and lined with the most delicate pink. The handle was pearl and it was quite the prettiest umbrella that anyone ever saw.
Then the fairy queen, who alone can sprinkle the wonderful wishing dust, dipped her fingers into the golden powder and sprinkled the dainty umbrella inside and out—and now it was quite ready for a fairy gift to the earth-children.
Calling two of the fairies who were fleetest of wing, she told them to carry the umbrella swiftly to the earth-land and place it on the top of a very high hill called The Hill of Faith.
The two fairies did as they were told, and then all the little dream fairies, who carry around the pretty dreams, hastened on wings of love to the earth-land's sleeping children and whispered in pretty dreams what the fairies had done for them.
There are still many children now, like the little boy I have already told you about, who do not believe in fairies, and so it was in those days.
Night after night the little dream fairies visited their beds and told them over and over again about the gift of the wonderful wishing umbrella; but when morning came not a child would believe it enough to climb to the top of the high Hill of Faith.
True they stood in the streets and in their doorways and talked about the wonderful umbrella, and even told what wish they would like to make should they be first to reach the hill-top and stand beneath its magic shelter.
One little blue-eyed boy with fair curls, whose eyes were brighter than any of the others, said he believed the umbrella must be on the top of the hill, as the dream fairies had told them.
He thought he could really see its dim outline and he started off alone, up the hill, with a happy smile on his rosy lips, but he had gone only a short way when the hot, shining sun made his head ache, and he turned back saying he believed he must have been mistaken after all, because he could not see the umbrella as before.
Then a group of merry-hearted girls and boys started off up the hill, but the sharp stones cut their feet, and one by one they, too, came back, tired and cross, and they also said they did not believe the umbrella was there.
Now there was a little toad who hopped about in the grass at the foot of the hill, and though his coat was rusty and his eyes were dull, still he was wiser than the earth-land children, because he believed in fairies—this little toad.
The dream fairies had not been to him, but his ears were very sharp and he had heard the children talk and talk and talk about the wonderful wishing umbrella, until he knew it must be there.
Then, because the little toad had a wish he wanted to make, he started out one morning very early, up, up, up the high Hill of Faith, and he said to himself, "I'll go see for myself if what I hear is true." So he hopped and hopped and hopped and hopped and hopped and hopped and hopped, and though the sun was very hot and the little toad longed for water, still he would not stop, but hopped higher and higher and higher up the sharp, rocky path, until by and by the dark night came, and he could not see one inch ahead of him.
Still he would not turn back, but hopped on higher and higher, feeling his way in the dark, as he kept thinking of the wishing umbrella, which he believed he would surely find at the top. And the morning found him still hopping.
Now all this time the little toad was hopping higher and higher up the hill, the earth-children stood in the valley below, gazing at the top, and trying to see without having to climb up.
"It is too high up, anyway," they grumbled; "no child could climb so high. Why didn't the fairies put the umbrella at the bottom of the hill if they wanted to give us anything? It is so much trouble to climb."
But fairies are very wise, you know, and besides they did not want a lazy child to stand beneath the umbrella—because a lazy child would never know how to make a wise wish.
Then too, they did not want anyone who did not believe in fairies to find the wishing umbrella, and that was the very reason why they had placed it on the very top of the high Hill of Faith.
But the little toad still believed, and though the journey was a long one, it came to an end, and, one bright, beautiful morning, footsore and weary, he reached the top of the hill, and there was the beautiful fairy umbrella right before his eyes!
Now the little toad had planned to wish for the world full of flies—enough for himself and all the other toads, so that they might always have plenty to eat without bothering to catch them.
But somehow, when he saw the beautiful wishing umbrella which the fairies had taken so much trouble to make for the little earth-children, he felt so very sorry that none of them had been wise enough to believe, and climb to the top of the hill and see the wonderful umbrella for themselves, and stand beneath its shade and make the wish they wanted most of all—the little toad thought all of this was so very sad that he hopped right up, underneath the wishing umbrella, and said:
"I wish that thousands of tiny little umbrellas, as beautiful as this one, may spring up all over the world in valleys and fields and woods, so that every little earth-child may see for himself and know for a truth of the fairies' kind gift—the wishing umbrella."
Then the little toad hopped from beneath the umbrella and, much to his surprise, there was sweet music all around him, and the beautiful umbrella slowly closed up like a flower, and rose higher and higher and higher until it was quite out of sight.
And the little toad's wish came true, because, sure enough, that very day the earth-children found scattered over fields and valleys and woods these dainty little fairy umbrellas of cream and pink, just large enough for a toad to sit beneath,—but not for an earth-child.
Often, it is said, the pixies gather the little umbrellas and place them in a ring— as you have sometimes found them—and here they sit when they have their moonlight picnics and laugh about the little earth-children who do not believe in fairies.
Now the fairy queen was very much pleased when she heard about the little toad and the very kind wish he had made, and she said:
"For ever and ever these dainty fairy umbrellas shall be known as toadstool umbrellas, in memory of the little toad who heard and believed." And so they are to this day.