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A Week In Fairyland
by H. P. Nicholls
These episodes occurred during a week's vacation in which Henry and his little friend, Eleanor, roamed daily in the colorful semitropical veldt or hill country in sunny South Africa.
Henry was a constant visitor to the citrus ranch, Eleanor's home, which formed part of a huge estate covering many thousands of acres of grass land, foothills, and mountains. He loved all the creatures who lived there, and roamed with them freely among the beloved streams and hills. He felt that all these varied expressions of creation were a part of his own being. The silence of the limitless veldt was life to his soul. He was keenly alive to the throbbing, pulsating heartbeat of nature, to the wonder of the azure sky and of the golden Sun. Roaming here with the beauty of the veldt before him, he was happy and in harmony with all things.
With Eleanor he roamed the great out-of-doors. Often they spoke of fairies, elves, gnomes, naiads, and satyrs. Sometimes they thought they saw shadowy forms among the trees or near the shaded pools. And now a joyous experience was about to be theirs - a week of intimate proximity to the elusive Spirits of Nature, made visible through the wonder working power of their love for all created things.
In the heart of South Africa lies Zimbabwe, a pleasant upland country, the home of the native Mashona and Matabele, and the home of many white settlers as well. Favored with a genial climate, this fertile land attracts many who love the sunshine, the ocean of open spaces, and a free life. Here on the wide veldt, silence reigns at noontide, and the Sun floods the Earth with its glorious light the year round.
In a wide and spacious valley, through which ran a river carved deep in the fertile earth, lay the avenue of these happenings. The ranch was set out on gentle sloping ground; rows and rows of citrus trees, protected by tall eucalyptus or wattle, shone green and golden laden with luscious fruit. Broad roads intersected the groves and the silvery irrigation furrows. Here and there were dotted the red-roofed homes of those who cared for the trees and superintended the work from blossom time to harvest.
Overlooking the scene, upon a knoll which was part of a rampart of protecting hills, was the manager's spacious home. In the grounds was a rondavel (round hut) which was set apart for the accommodation of visitors. Very cool and comfortable was this cabin, set among the trees and flowers.
Henry, a poet and Nature lover, came over to the ranch from a little town nestling under the friendly hills. Sometimes he rode his pony or walked the twelve miles across the veldt. He knew the furry animals who range the plains, those who live underground and in the trees, the monkeys and baboons, the flashing snakes and lizards, the antelope and wild leopards. The ways of the natives were familiar to him. En route to his friend's home he greeted a naked herd boy who sat under a shady bush playing upon a flute, whiling away the hours till sundown, when he must drive the cattle home.
Eleanor was a little girl, joyous and carefree, at home among the hills and dales. She, too, loved Nature, talked to the bees and the gorgeous butterflies, and knew the names of all the birds, flowers, and insects. She loved to roam through the citrus groves and down to the river, up the ravines, and upon the rocky hills where dwelt the rabbits and the little brown monkeys.
It was the first day of a holiday week. Overhead the sky shone blue, and the Sun gleamed like a disk of molten gold. Away went Eleanor and Henry, with Pat, the Irish terrier, along the cattle road, pushing open the big gate which swung shut behind them. The track wound through bushes covered with lovely crimson flowers, past mimosa trees fragrant with white and yellow pompons, thorn trees resplendent in their new garments of soft green leaves, and the violet trees festooned with purple blossoms. Here and there big umbrella trees, flat topped and solid, stood like patient sentinels guarding the denizens of the prairie. Soon the track grew fainter as it led over boulders and lichen-covered stones.
Stooping, Eleanor and Henry went through an arched bush of white jasmine with its thorns trying to catch them as they passed. Below them tumbled a sparkling stream flashing in the sunlight. The air was resonant with the sound of insect wings, and deep in a tiny sunless cavern sat a bullfrog that monotonously intoned, "Kraak-kraak-kraak." Birds chattered gaily and a hawk soared high in the cloudless sky. Here the two rested, quietly receptive, attuned to the peace of this beautiful sylvan glade, for they knew the value of perfect stillness in the veldt. To see the dwellers in the bushes one must be able to keep as silent as the speckled kingfisher who sits aloft and watches the pool, alert yet motionless. Pat, the dog, slept soundly.
Suddenly Eleanor whispered to her companion: "Look across the stream! There are many little forms moving among the grass and up in the bushes. What are they?"
Henry looked across the dancing stream into the forest of trees and brush, rocks, and grasses intermingled. There before his very eyes he saw that which he could hardly believe. Flitting from flower to flower and perching upon the tips of leaves were tiny figures from two to six inches high.
"Fairies?" He whispered the word, hoping not to frighten away those soft and shadowy creatures. Yes, they were real fairies, the dearest little beings, joyful, gracious little folk drifting slowly on wings of opalescent splendor. They sprang from leaf to leaf, from flower to flower, climbed up the tall fern fronds, played hide and seek among the stalks of the wild irises, and settled upon the broad leaves of the water lilies. Some were opalescent, others delicate rose color, light blue, yellow, and every conceivable hue, shining like the petals of flowing flowers. Dainty as the thistledown, lithe as cloud wisps, these happy faced fairies wreathed in and out among the bushes. A myriad of flower-like creatures, they passed like a sun-lit cloud toward the mystic shadow land among the trees.
Eleanor and Henry were filled with delight. Slowly they followed their little visitors and found them friendly and unafraid. Some rode upon dragon flies and bees, and the flowers nodded to them as they passed. Through all that glen there was a hushed and quiet atmosphere of rejoicing. Gradually the bevy of floating fairy forms moved into the dense forest bush and like a swarm of bees scattered far and wide, finally disappearing from view.
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Eleanor looked up at Henry, her eyes still wide with happy wonder, "Oh, I knew I should see them sometime. Often I felt that they were near, and I was right. Now I have seen them, and I am happy."
The next morning proved gloriously radiant. Indeed, spring was there in all its tender unfoldment of beauty. During the night a gentle shower had fallen, and the rising Sun gleamed in the globules of rain which hung like luminous pearls from leaf and flower. The fresh, crisp air was odorous with the resinous scent of the pines. The gentle zephyrs played among the treetops and around the bushes, causing the flowers to dance a stately minuet to the swish of the feathery bamboo. Serene and brilliant was this morning, the beginning of another day.
Eleanor and Henry strolled upward toward the hills. Quietly they made their way. Nothing escaped their notice and every sight and sound gave pleasure. Their path skirted the hill, where huge monoliths stood gaunt and bare on the hillside. Old and gnarled trees showed signs of conflict with the elements. Silent and strong, they sheltered birds and bees and gave their shade to all who sought it. Young saplings shot upward into the vernal air. Bushes and creepers made a tangled mass of undergrowth, restfully green. Every step revealed some fresh beauty, some new vistas through the trees, and many a scurry told of a decamping dweller of the wild frightened by the soft measured tread of unknown feet.
Soon a touch from Eleanor drew the attention of Henry. "Look!" she whispered, "Oh! Look!" At her right hand, poised on the bushes near her face, were three of the loveliest fairies. Lightly one glided upon her arm, another into her lap, another upon her shoulder. Gradually these beautiful forms came flitting from every direction - tiny, colorful creatures clad in garments which resembled the most delicate flower petals. All were feminine in form, with tiny, dainty faces, some pale, others olive color, some ruddy, some amber. All were slim and delicately proportioned, exquisite in every way, of every known color and shade except dark purple, brown, and black. Some were opalescent and multi-colored, others light blue, light yellow, white, green, pink, silver, and gold. Still others shone like pearls, and their wings of iridescent radiance flashed like sun-lit jewels among the grass. Their hair was delicately curled, and upon their feet were tiny sandals kept in place by crossed straps. Some had no foot-gear. Most of them wore hats made of bell-like flowers. All had wings which folded closely behind them.
They appeared to glide, to float, to hover like humming birds, and to move in any chosen direction. At first they seemed imbued with shyness, but after advancing and receding, then approaching again, they finally became very friendly. When Eleanor and Henry moved, or gently roamed about, the fairies were not frightened, but at any loud noise they quickly turned to the bushes and disappeared. Many soared high up into the trees. They appeared to touch every flower and to delve among the grass and ferns. It was quite evident that they were on no idle gambol for it was noticed that they busily and gently gave attention to everything that grew. They searched the bushes thoroughly and visited them much as bees visit the flowers, and it was apparent that they were doing some specific work. Eleanor said those that lighted upon her were delicately scented. They were not afraid of Pat who wagged his tail and moved among them as though he, too, might have been aware of their presence.
Now the Sun began to glint through the tops of the trees, casting long shadows aslant the glade. The approach of cattle from the higher ground was heralded by the sound of cracking timbers. The herd boys were collecting sticks for their fires. Gradually the fairy forms receded into the thick bush until, of the myriads Eleanor and Henry had seen, not one remained. They rejoiced in the delightful experience the day had brought them and with it the conviction that fairy hosts were everywhere.
After breakfast on the following morning, Eleanor and Henry, with Pat, and Wasp, a little sharp-nosed terrier, started for an excursion to the adjoining ranch which was also a part of the estate.
The kindly Dutch manager and his wife welcomed the holiday-makers. They enjoyed a lunch which was set out for them in the cool, thatched dining room overlooking the placid mountains. The bright Sun, high up in the heavens, beat upon the Earth, the breezes whispered in the tall wattle trees in the stillness peculiar to all tropical countries at noontide, the herds slept, and the ploughmen nodded under friendly trees. All Nature seemed to slumber.
Henry and Eleanor, with Pat and Wasp, went into the hills. Climbing steadily upward among gnarled and knotted trees, they suddenly came upon a semicircular space, a broad, miniature plain backed by a huge mass of rock.
Henry saw the first fairy to appear. It seemed to come from nowhere - a dainty, ruby-colored sprite, poised upon the tip of a blade of grass. Gradually the whole place was alive with a fairy throng. They approached Eleanor and seemed glad to be near her, thousands of them, flitting and soaring in mid air, perching upon leaves and blossoms, emerging from the matted grasses and mossy undergrowth. The air was filled with an exquisite fragrance and was vibrant with joyous life. For the first time Eleanor and Henry realized that the fairies worked in groups, each group consisting of a bevy of tiny creatures in different colors. They all appeared intent upon a definite task, yet they worked with no great hurry or bustle. It seemed as if they touched or ministered in some way to all the leaves and flowers and were careful not to miss a single one. They appeared to be very happy and played with each other. Several of them alighted on Eleanor and flitted from her head to her shoulder and about her person unafraid. If she moved perceptibly they disappeared, only to reappear when the movement stopped. With great joy Eleanor and Henry watched this lovely army march across the sunlit plain. Sparkling, iridescent, rainbow-hued, clad in delicately textured diaphanous robes of cobweb weight, exquisite in form and sweetly gracious in countenance, these wonderful and gentle fairy hosts ranged the hills sweeping onward until lost to sight.
That evening under the Moon, another wonderful sight presented itself to Eleanor and Henry. After dinner they slipped away into the garden. After strolling for a while they came to the rondavel set so pleasantly among the tall eucalypti. Beside the porch was a comfortable bench. It was a glorious night. The Moon shone bright and clear. From the waxy, white petals of the moon flower came an exotic fragrance. The stillness of the mystic African night surrounded them, a stillness made more apparent by intermittent sounds, the shrill voices of insects, and the monotonous beat of tom-toms in the native village. Sometimes, wind borne, would come the sound of the cadence of a native song. Yet, interpenetrating all was the intense silence.
Quietly discussing the events of the day, Eleanor and Henry were about to retire when Eleanor said: "Look under the euphobia! There is something moving. It is not an animal because it is upright. Oh! It is a brownie!"
And there it was! Two more appeared, then many of them were seen moving under the leaves in the violet bed; soon the whole garden seemed alive. Before the delighted eyes of Eleanor and Henry a little brown fellow just like the brownies of fiction strolled into the moonlit open space before the rondavel. Then two more joined him. Apparently they were intent on examining the grass and stirring around the leaves of the various plants. They were about five or six inches high. One wore a cap, another was bareheaded. Their wings were large and old looking; they had wizened faces, full bodies, very long arms and short legs. Some wore little moccasin-like shoes, others wore none. The brownies were not afraid of our two friends and came right up to the bench on which they were sitting. All around, deep in the shadows, they could be seen, bent upon some task among the leaves of the plants. These solemn little creatures stopped their work at times and communicated with one another. Eleanor wanted to stay out and watch them, but hours on the estate were early. The dew was heavy and so she said good-night and hurried in. Henry continued to watch the little brown men as they moved noiselessly among the leaves. A hare hopped out and sat silent for a moment then went its way. An owl hooted from a nearby tree. All through the shadowy foliage on the ground the little brownies moved. Henry tried to see exactly what they were about but could not discern the nature of the work they were doing. Tired by the day's exertion, he returned to the hut and was soon asleep.
Suddenly Henry awoke and looked at his watch. It was three o'clock. Putting on a thick wrap he stepped out of the rondavel. Here a novel sight met his eyes - drawn up in rows of three were many companies of brownies. They seemed to be quite at home in the garden and Henry surmised that they worked continuously in a given area. One fact he noticed; solid objects like tree trunks, walls, and rocks offered no obstacle to these little brown men as they walked right through them.
Suddenly they began to march away, three by three. Evidently their work was over for the night. Their movements seemed orderly as they silently slipped away and disappeared among the deep shadows.
Re-entering the rondavel, Henry was soon sound asleep, despite the extraordinary happenings he had witnessed.
Thursday afternoon Eleanor and Henry betook themselves to a far away corner of the estate. It was a favorite area of theirs because of a broad, grassy stretch of plain, or prairie land, on which they always saw antelope peacefully grazing. The grass was always green in this particular pasture because of water filtering out from a kloof, or wooded gully in the hills. There was no visible stream in this lovely, tree-clad fissure in the hills, but evidences showing that water flowed underground, and splitting up at the base of the hills, spread across the land that gently sloped toward the river.
Adjoining the valley was a dense forest, almost dark by reason of myriads of trees festooned with creepers, lianas, mosses, orchids, and various kinds of parasites. Entering the forest by a Kaffir path, narrow and winding, they slowly proceeded toward the west. Here a peculiar silence reigned except for the rustle of a bird in a tree, the crash of an animal running through the brush, the tap, tap of a woodpecker, the hum of bees and winged insects. It was indeed a maze, a primeval forest.
Contemporary Mystic Christianity
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