Read CHAPTER XII - They run away from old mother Fate of Mopsa the Fairy , free online book, by Jean Ingelow, on

  A land that living warmth disowns,
    It meets my wondering ken;
  A land where all the men are stones,
    Or all the stones are men.

Before the apple-woman had finished, Jack and Mopsa saw the Queen coming in great state, followed by thousands of the one-foot-one fairies, and leading by a ribbon round its neck a beautiful brown doe.  A great many pretty fawns were walking among the fairies.

“Here’s the deputation,” said the apple-woman; but as the Guinea-fowl rose like a cloud at the approach of the Queen, and the fairies and fawns pressed forward, there was a good deal of noise and confusion, during which Mopsa stepped up close to Jack, and whispered in his ear, “Remember, Jack, whatever you can do you may do.”

Then the brown doe laid down at Mopsa’s feet, and the Queen began:

“Jack and Mopsa, I love you both.  I had a message last night from my old mother, and I told you what it was.”

“Yes, Queen,” said Mopsa, “you did.”

“And now,” continued the Queen, “she has sent this beautiful brown doe from the country beyond the lake, where they are in the greatest distress for a queen, to offer Mopsa the crown; and, Jack, it is fated that Mopsa is to reign there, so you had better say no more about it.”

“I don’t want to be a queen,” said Mopsa, pouting; “I want to play with Jack.”

“You are a queen already,” answered the real Queen; “at least, you will be in a few days.  You are so much grown, even since the morning, that you come up nearly to Jack’s shoulder.  In four days you will be as tall as I am; and it is quite impossible that any one of fairy birth should be as tall as a queen in her own country.”

“But I don’t see what stags and does can want with a queen,” said Jack.

“They were obliged to turn into deer,” said the Queen, “when they crossed their own border; but they are fairies when they are at home, and they want Mopsa, because they are always obliged to have a queen of alien birth.”

“If I go,” said Mopsa, “shall Jack go too?”

“Oh, no,” answered the Queen; “Jack and the apple-woman are my subjects.”

“Apple-woman,” said Jack, “tell us what you think; shall Mopsa go to this country?”

“Why, child,” said the apple-woman, “go away from here she must; but she need not go off with the deer, I suppose, unless she likes.  They look gentle and harmless; but it is very hard to get at the truth in this country, and I’ve heard queer stories about them.”

“Have you?” said the Queen.  “Well, you can repeat them if you like; but remember that the poor brown doe cannot contradict them.”

So the apple-woman said, “I have heard, but I don’t know how true it is, that in that country they shut up their queen in a great castle, and cover her with a veil, and never let the sun shine on her; for if by chance the least little sunbeam should light on her she would turn into a doe directly, and all the nation would turn with her, and stay so.”

“I don’t want to be shut up in a castle,” said Mopsa.

“But is it true?” asked Jack.

“Well,” said the apple-woman, “as I told you before, I cannot make out whether it’s true or not, for all these stags and fawns look very mild, gentle creatures.”

“I won’t go,” said Mopsa; “I would rather run away.”

All this time the Queen with the brown doe had been gently pressing with the crowd nearer and nearer to the brink of the river, so that now Jack and Mopsa, who stood facing them, were quite close to the boat; and while they argued and tried to make Mopsa come away, Jack suddenly whispered to her to spring into the boat, which she did, and he after her, and at the same time he cried out,

“Now, boat, if you are my boat, set off as fast as you can, and let nothing of fairy birth get on board of you.”

No sooner did he begin to speak than the boat swung itself away from the edge, and almost in a moment it was in the very middle of the river, and beginning to float gently down with the stream.

“The boat swung itself away from the edge, and almost in a moment it was in the very middle of the river.” Page 162.]

Now, as I have told you before, that river runs up the country instead of down to the sea, so Jack and Mopsa floated still farther up into Fairyland; and they saw the Queen, and the apple-woman, and all the crowd of fawns and fairies walking along the bank of the river, keeping exactly to the same pace that the boat went; and this went on for hours and hours, so that there seemed to be no chance that Jack and Mopsa could land; and they heard no voices at all, nor any sound but the baying of the old hound, who could not swim out to them, because Jack had forbidden the boat to take anything of fairy birth on board of her.

Luckily the bottom of the boat was full of those delicious flowers that had dropped into it at breakfast-time, so there was plenty of nice food for Jack and Mopsa; and Jack noticed, when he looked at her towards evening, that she was now nearly as tall as himself, and that her lovely brown hair floated down to her ankles.

“Jack,” she said, before it grew dusk, “will you give me your little purse that has the silver fourpence in it?”

Now Mopsa had often played with this purse.  It was lined with a nice piece of pale green silk, and when Jack gave it to her she pulled the silk out, and shook it, and patted it, and stretched it, just as the Queen had done, and it came into a most lovely cloak, which she tied round her neck.  Then she twisted up her long hair into a coil, and fastened it round her head, and called to the fire-flies which were beginning to glitter on the trees to come, and they came and alighted in a row upon the coil, and turned into diamonds directly.  So now Mopsa had got a crown and a robe, and she was so beautiful that Jack thought he should never be tired of looking at her; but it was nearly dark now, and he was so sleepy and tired that he could not keep his eyes open, though he tried very hard, and he began to blink, and then he began to nod, and at last he fell fast asleep, and did not awake till the morning.

Then he sat up in the boat, and looked about him.  A wonderful country, indeed! no trees, no grass, no houses, nothing but red stones and red sand, and Mopsa was gone.  Jack jumped on shore, for the boat had stopped, and was close to the brink of the river.  He looked about for some time, and at last, in the shadow of a pale brown rock, he found her; and oh! delightful surprise, the apple-woman was there too.  She was saying, “O my bones!  Dearie, dearie me, how they do ache!” That was not surprising, for she had been out all night.  She had walked beside the river with the Queen and her tribe till they came to a little tinkling stream, which divides their country from the sandy land, and there they were obliged to stop; they could not cross it.  But the apple-woman sprang over, and, though the Queen told her she must come back again in twenty-four hours, she did not appear to be displeased.  Now the Guinea-hens, when they had come to listen, the day before, to the apple-woman’s song, had brought each of them a grain of maize in her beak, and had thrown it into her apron; so when she got up she carried it with her gathered up there, and now she had been baking some delicious little cakes on a fire of dry sticks that the river had drifted down, and Mopsa had taken a honeycomb from the rock, so that they all had a very nice breakfast.  And the apple-woman gave them a great deal of good advice, and told them if they wished to remain in Fairyland, and not be caught by the brown doe and her followers, they must cross over the purple mountains.  “For on the other side of those peaks,” she said, “I have heard that fairies live who have the best of characters for being kind and just.  I am sure they would never shut up a poor queen in a castle.

“But the best thing you could do, dear,” she said to Mopsa, “would be to let Jack call the bird, and make her carry you back to his own country.”

“The Queen is not at all kind,” said Jack; “I have been very kind to her, and she should have let Mopsa stay.”

“No, Jack, she could not,” said Mopsa; “but I wish I had not grown so fast, and I don’t like to go to your country.  I would rather run away.”

“But who is to tell us where to run?” asked Jack.

“Oh,” said Mopsa, “some of these people.”

“I don’t see anybody,” said Jack, looking about him.

Mopsa pointed to a group of stones, and then to another group, and as Jack looked he saw that in shape they were something like people, stone people.  One stone was a little like an old man with a mantle over him, and he was sitting on the ground with his knees up nearly to his chin.  Another was like a woman with a hood on, and she seemed to be leaning her chin on her hand.  Close to these stood something very much like a cradle in shape; and beyond were stones that resembled a flock of sheep lying down on the bare sand, with something that reminded Jack of the figure of a man lying asleep near them, with his face to the ground.

That was a very curious country; all the stones reminded you of people or of animals, and the shadows that they cast were much more like than the stones themselves.  There were blocks with things that you might have mistaken for stone ropes twisted round them; but, looking at the shadows, you could see distinctly that they were trees, and that what coiled round were snakes.  Then there was a rocky prominence, at one side of which was something like a sitting figure, but its shadow, lying on the ground, was that of a girl with a distaff.  Jack was very much surprised at all this; Mopsa was not.  She did not see, she said, that one thing was more wonderful than another.  All the fairy lands were wonderful, but the men-and-women world was far more so.  She and Jack went about among the stones all day, and as the sun got low both the shadows and the blocks themselves became more and more like people, and if you went close you could now see features, very sweet, quiet features, but the eyes were all shut.

By this time the apple-woman began to feel very sad.  She knew she should soon have to leave Jack and Mopsa, and she said to Mopsa, as they finished their evening meal, “I wish you would ask the inhabitants a few questions, dear, before I go, for I want to know whether they can put you in the way how to cross the purple mountains.”

Jack said nothing, for he thought he would see what Mopsa was going to do; so when she got up and went towards the shape that was like a cradle he followed, and the apple-woman too.  Mopsa went to the figure that sat by the cradle.  It was a stone yet, but when Mopsa laid her little warm hand on its bosom it smiled.

“Dear,” said Mopsa, “I wish you would wake.”

A curious little sound was now heard, but the figure did not move, and the apple-woman lifted Mopsa on to the lap of the statue; then she put her arms round its neck, and spoke to it again very distinctly:  “Dear! why don’t you wake?  You had better wake now; the baby’s crying.”

Jack now observed that the sound he had heard was something like the crying of a baby.  He also heard the figure answering Mopsa.  It said, “I am only a stone!”

“Then,” said Mopsa, “I am not a queen yet.  I cannot wake her.  Take me down.”

“I am not warm,” said the figure; and that was quite true, and yet she was not a stone now which reminded one of a woman, but a woman that reminded one of a stone.

All the west was very red with the sunset, and the river was red too, and Jack distinctly saw some of the coils of rope glide down from the trees and slip into the water; next he saw the stones that had looked like sheep raise up their heads in the twilight, and then lift themselves and shake their woolly sides.  At that instant the large white moon heaved up her pale face between two dark blue hills, and upon this the statue put out its feet and gently rocked the cradle.

Then it spoke again to Mopsa:  “What was it that you wished me to tell you?”

“How to find the way over those purple mountains,” said Mopsa.

“You must set off in an hour, then,” said the woman; and she had hardly anything of the stone about her now.  “You can easily find it by night without any guide, but nothing can ever take you to it by day.”

“But we would rather stay a few days in this curious country,” said Jack; “let us wait at least till to-morrow night.”

The statue at this moment rubbed her hands together, as if they still felt cold and stiff.  “You are quite welcome to stay,” she observed; “but you had better not.”

“Why not?” persisted Jack.

“Father,” said the woman, rising and shaking the figure next to her by the sleeve, “Wake up!” What had looked like an old man was a real old man now, and he got up and began to gather sticks to make a fire, and to pick up the little brown stones which had been scattered about all day, but which now were berries of coffee; the larger ones, which you might find here and there, were rasped rolls.  Then the woman answered Jack, “Why not?  Why, because it’s full moon to-night at midnight, and the moment the moon is past the full your Queen, whose country you have just left, will be able to cross over the little stream, and she will want to take you and that other mortal back.  She can do it, of course, if she pleases; and we can afford you no protection, for by that time we shall be stones again.  We are only people two hours out of the twenty-four.”

“That is very hard,” observed Jack.

“No,” said the woman, in a tone of indifference; “it comes to the same thing, as we live twelve times as long as others do.”

By this time the shepherd was gently driving his flock down to the water, and round fifty little fires groups of people were sitting roasting coffee, while cows were lowing to be milked, and girls with distaffs were coming to them slowly, for no one was in a hurry there.  They say in that country that they wish to enjoy their day quietly, because it is so short.

“Can you tell us anything of the land beyond the mountains?” asked Jack.

“Yes,” said the woman.  “Of all fairy lands it is the best; the people are the gentlest and kindest.”

“Then I had better take Mopsa there than down the river?” said Jack.

“You can’t take her down the river,” replied the woman; and Jack thought she laughed and was glad of that.

“Why not?” asked Jack.  “I have a boat.”

“Yes, sir,” answered the woman; “but where is it now?”