Now Eric learned that the old woman’s
name was Nora, for that was what Helma called her,
and seemed glad to find her there. She stayed
on only long enough to see what Helma had brought
in her bundles, and then started out for the farm,
drawing her red cape closely about her this time,
and not blowing much as she walked briskly to the gap
in the hedge. Once through she disappeared quickly
in the high drifting snow. Hardly had she gone
her way when Ivra came from another, jumping the hedge
and reaching the door in three bounds.
Helma had bought a good deal of thick
brown cloth in the village and a strip of brown leather.
It was all for Eric. She had noticed his lack
of shoes and stockings last night, and that his worn
clothes were much too poor and thin for winter in
the forest. To-day, while she sewed for him,
he would have to stay in. That was a pity, for
it is such fun out in a storm. By night, though,
all would be finished.
“And that is good!” exclaimed
Ivra. “For to-night the Tree Man has asked
us to a party. We’re going to roast chestnuts
and play games, and there’s to be a surprise,
too. The Tree Girl called it all out to me as
I passed just now. She put only her head through
the door, for the snow came so suddenly it caught
her without a single white frock, only a
bonnet. But that was pretty. It has five
points like a star, mother.”
“The Tree Girl,” said
Eric. “What a queer name! But how did
she know about me to ask me too? Did she ask
“I told her about you.
And of course she asked you. You are my playmate!”
Helma pulled a table to the settle
and sat down with all the brown cloth before her,
a work-basket, and shears. But first she measured
Eric for his new clothes.
“You may make the leggins,
if you want to,” she said to Ivra, “and
when you come to a hard place tell me and I will help.
You may even measure them yourself.... We’re
the only Forest People, Eric, who wear anything but
white in the winter. Most Forest People like to
be the color of their world. They often laugh
at us. But I like brown. Ivra makes me think
of a brown, blown leaf, and now here will be two of
them! You can blow together all over the forest.”
Eric’s eyes swam in sudden,
happy tears, but he only said, “Nora wore
“Oh, she’s not one of
us,” laughed Helma. “But she’s
lived close to us so long, she is able to see us.
We aren’t afraid of her. She’s a good
But why might they be afraid of such
a nice old woman, Eric wondered. He was to learn
sometime, and much beside, for this was the beginning
of new things for him, and his mother, Helma, and
Ivra were strange people. But how he loved them!
“Now that we are settled at
our work, and nothing to interrupt, what shall it
be?” asked Helma. She and Ivra were sewing
briskly, one in each corner of the settle. Eric
was stretched on the floor, looking now into the blaze,
and now up at the windows where the snow tapped and
swirled; for to-day, Helma had said, was
to be a rest day for him. It was the first rest
day he could remember, and how good it was!
To know he could lie there with no cans to sort or
label for hours, and no Mrs. Freg to boss him about
when work was over! There were to be no more cans
for him forever, and no more Mrs. Freg. Helma
had said that quite firmly. He believed her and
was so happy that he trembled. And so, it being
true that never again should he go back to that unchildlike
life that had frightened him so, and tired him so,
all the breaths he drew felt like sighs of relief,
and he turned his shaggy little head on his arm, crooked
under it, and watched Helma’s flying brown fingers
with glad eyes.
“What shall it be?” asked Helma.
“Oh, World Stories, please,”
said Ivra, drawing her feet up under her as she bent
over her sewing.
“Eric probably knows very few
of the World Stories,” said Helma. “So
sometime I shall have to go back to the beginning and
tell them all over for him.”
“And I’ll stay and hear
them over again too!” cried Ivra, dropping her
work to clasp her hands. “I love to hear
“Why, better than that, you
might tell them yourself. Would you like that?”
“Oh, yes if I can.
Do you suppose I can, mother Helma? I shall begin
at the very beginning, way back before men were in
the world at all, or fairies even. He’d
like to hear about the big animals. And you will
listen, mother, to see that I get it all right?”
Now these World Stories of Helma’s
were wonderful stories, but all true. They began
way back when the Earth was young. There were
stories about the Earth itself, how it hung in space
and turned, making day and night. When the strange,
great animals that by-and-by appeared on the Earth
and have since gone from it first came into the stories,
and then, later, the floods and glaciers, and at last
the first man, any child might have listened
with delight and wonder. Ivra had listened so
ever since she was a tiny girl, old enough to understand
at all. And with man, and the wonderful happenings
that came along with him, Ivra had begged for the
stories day and night, and never could have enough
of them. For then in a great procession came
the stories of cities and nations, of great men and
women, of explorations and adventures. They led
in turn to stories of languages and writing, of painting
and geometry, of music and of life. The names
of these things may not promise good stories to you,
but that is only because you do not know them as stories.
If you could listen to Helma telling them, by the
fire, or out in the starlight, deep in the wood, or
swinging in a tree-top, then no other stories
you might ever hear would satisfy you quite.
So perhaps it is as well you do not know now just
where Helma’s little house is standing deep in
the wood under the snow.
Ivra always said that the nicest thing
about the stories was the interruptions. Helma
never minded them, and she answered all the questions
Ivra asked. She answered them by making things
that Ivra could see with her own eyes, by drawing
pictures on the ground or in the ashes, building with
earth or snow, playing with wind and water, and in
a hundred other ways. Sometimes the answer to
a question would take up the playtime of a whole day.
But now Eric was to hear his first
story, World Story or any other kind. Can you
imagine how it would feel if to-day you were to hear
the first story of your life?
“All ready?” asked Helma.
The silence in the room said plainer
than words that all was ready for the World Story.
This time it was a story about a man named Saint Francis,
and a story after Eric’s own heart.
Almost as fast as the story went the
work of Helma’s fingers. But Ivra was neither
so swift nor so skilled, and the leggins were
dropped many times from forgetful hands because all
her thoughts were gone away following the story.
Yet somehow the leggins got done,
and the jacket and trousers got done, and even a little
round cap, and all before dusk. For a finishing
touch Helma sewed two soft little brown feathers she
had picked up in the snow one on either side of the
cap, which gave Eric, small as they were
and soft as they were, a look of flying.
Then nothing remained but the sandals,
and because Eric was well rested by then, he was allowed
to help at them. They were cut from the strip
of brown leather, and Helma showed Eric how to shape
them and sew them himself. So after supper he
stood attired, all in brown, a pale, happy child,
ready for his first party.
Ivra and Eric were to go to the Tree
Man’s party alone, for Helma was going far away
from the wood to spend the evening with a comrade.
It was to be a very long walk for her, for she put
on her heaviest sandals and pulled the hood of her
cloak up over her hair.
She walked with the children as far
as Little Pine Hill. It was a low hill, bare
of trees, except for a dwarfed pine on the top.
In summer the slope was slippery with the needles
of the little pine, but now it was several inches
deep in snow. It was bright starlight, and far
away down an avenue of trees, Eric saw shining open
fields, and beyond them the lights of the town.
There Helma said good-by. Eric
looking up at her in the starlight saw her hair like
pale firelight under her dark hood and her eyes so
calm and friendly. He clung to her hand for a
“Have a good time,” she
told them. Ivra leapt away and Eric after her.
Helma stood watching until their little forms had flickered
out of sight among tree-shadows. Then she sped
down the starlit avenue towards the open fields and