ON THE GRAY WALL
It was a very high wall that hid their
mother, and at first glance it seemed impossible that
they could ever climb it. But Ivra did not stop
to wonder. She ran up and down, hunting for a
foothold. At last she reached the end of the
wall and disappeared around the corner. Eric and
the Wind Creatures followed. When they came up
to her she had already found a place where the stones
were laid a bit unevenly, one on the other, and was
half way to the top, clinging with toes and fingers.
“Bravo!” cried the Wind
Creatures. Eric went up after her, often slipping
back and bruising and scratching his hands and knees,
but as resolute as his playmate. At last they
gained the top. The Wind Creatures had flown
up and were waiting for them there, sitting cross-legged
with their purple wings folded down their backs.
The wall enclosed the garden of a
very rich family. It was a formal garden with
straight walks, trellises, fountains, benches and neat
flower beds laid out in squares and circles, now piled
high with blossoming snow.
Just as the children reached the top
of the wall, the door into the garden from the stern
gray mansion behind it opened and through it came
three people. First was a very tall lady all wrapped
up in furs, tails and heads of the poor
animals that had been slain to make them hanging from
her shoulders and down her back. Even the children
could see that her face was sour in spite of all its
smiling. Then came a young man in a stiff, funny
hat, carrying a cane, beating up the snow flowers with
it as he passed the flower beds. And behind them
walked Helma, with her gaze on the ground.
That is why they did not know her at first, that and
her very strange clothes. She was dressed all
in velvet and fur, and her arms up to her elbows were
hidden in a huge white muff. She swayed as she
walked on weird little high heels and the toes of her
boots drew out to long points, almost like a goblin’s.
Her hat was a velvet affair, so awkward and heavy
it seemed to weigh down her head, and her candleflame
hair was smothered under it. Is it any wonder
that they did not know her like that!
But when she walked close under the
wall and they heard her voice they knew her, and the
Wind Creatures had to hold Ivra from jumping down and
throwing herself into her arms. “Wait,”
From their high place on the wall
they could look down on the heads of the three people,
and hear all they were saying. They had never
learned that it is not fair to listen that way.
From all Helma said they could plainly
see she was a prisoner. She was pleading with
the old woman. She was saying, “No, never,
never, never, in a thousand days and years will I
ever be happy here. My place is in the forest.
Oh, how these heels bother!”
“Silly girl!” cried the
old woman, smiling more than ever, and looking more
disagreeable than ever at the same time. “Your
place is where you were born-in a fine house and wearing
clothes like other people. Heels indeed!
Did you expect them to do any thing else but bother?
Mine have bothered for sixty years, but you haven’t
heard me complain.”
“Neither would I,” Helma
said, “if I didn’t know about other kinds
of shoes that don’t hurt. Those sandals
I wore when you caught me didn’t hurt.
Why can’t I wear those, at least when I walk
in the garden?”
“Well, you might,” began
the old woman, a little more kindly, and smiling less,
“if you promise always to put on the high heels
before coming into the drawing room ”
“No,” said the young man
sharply. “Let her once into the garden in
her sandals and she’ll climb the wall and be
off. I say that we give her no chance to escape.
After she has been to a hundred or so balls and worn
these beautiful and appropriate clothes long enough
she’ll be glad of her luck, and nothing could
drag her into the forest. Believe me!”
Now Helma stopped pleading, and laughed
at the young man. “Do you think high heels,
or even a hat that weighs down my head like this horrid
one can keep me much longer from my little daughter,
and that dear new little boy? What they are doing
without me all this time I wonder!”
She stopped laughing to sigh.
The old woman took her hand not unkindly.
“My poor, dear girl,” she said, “how
many times must I tell you it is only a dream, that
house in the woods and the little girl and boy?
They aren’t really there at all, you know.
You have dreamed them. Come, cheer up. Be
a brave girl. We have parties and good times
enough here, if you will only get into the spirit
of them, to make up for all your forest foolishness.”
Helma answered in a low even voice,
that showed well enough how sure she was of the truth
of what she was saying “No, they are
realer than you. Ivra is realer than all the
people in that mansion put together, cousins, uncles,
aunts, guests, servants and all. She is my little
“No,” said the young man.
The wings of the Wind Creatures on
the top of the wall rustled just then in a gust of
cold north wind. Helma threw up her head as at
a familiar sound, and her eyes slowly lifted to the
faces of the children looking down. For a minute
she looked steadily at them without believing, and
then it was as though her pale face suddenly burst
into song. But the old woman and the young man
were not looking at her and so they noticed nothing.
The young man said, “The neighbors have talked
about us enough already for all your queer ideas and
doings. So you’ll wear no sandals, no,
nor sleep with your skylight open, as you’re
always asking, nor go one step outside the wall until
you have come to your senses and are more like other
people. So there!”
But Helma laughed, her head thrown
back, so that the children could look into her happy
eyes and see the glow of her short hair under her
“Keep your keys, cousin,”
she said, “and your old skylight keep shut tight
as tight. I shall find a way out. But my
children must be patient, and Ivra must teach Eric
to keep his face and body clean. They must not
forget meal-times, and when anything goes wrong, or
they think it is going wrong, they must ask the Tree
Man’s advice. I will find a way to them
soon. They must keep happy and wait.”
She said all that slowly and distinctly,
her eyes smiling into theirs.
“What silly talk,” laughed
the sour old lady. “Just as though you were
making a speech. Well, it must be luncheon time
now, and high time we were changing our frocks.
Wear your gray velvet, Helma, and don’t forget
to put on stockings to match. There’s to
be strawberry ice to-day, and goose to
begin with of course. Cook says she has never
seen a tenderer ”
The old lady went on talking about
the wonderful luncheon they were to have until they
were out of hearing. But the children on the gray
wall could see that Helma was going in differently
from the way she had come out. Her head was high,
and she stepped out in her funny high heeled boots
as though she were walking in sandals. At the
little door into the mansion she turned and waved
her queer great muff to the children and the Wind
Creatures, and they heard her laugh.
But when she was gone, and the door
was shut and locked they heard the great
key scrape Eric turned joyfully to Ivra.
She was staring intently at the closed door, her face
very pale. Suddenly she buried her head in her
arms and burst into sobs, hoarse, jerky sobs, the first
and the last time Eric was ever to hear her cry.
Eric and the Wind Children sat cross-legged and waited.
Soon she stopped and wiped her face on her sleeve.
“She is locked in, but she will
find a way home,” she said, almost laughing.
“How glad and how surprised she was to see us!
It was almost as though she had begun to believe all
their talk about dreams, until she heard the Wind
The Wind Creatures took them back
to the forest. Under the giant cedars they said
good-by and left them. The children went straight
to the Tree Man’s to tell him the news.
He gave them deep bowls of warm milk to drink, and
took off their sandals so that their toes might spread
and warm in front of the fire.
Then the Tree Girl begged for a story,
and Ivra told a World Story about the rivers, how
they go in search of their mother, the ocean, day and
night, around mountains and through mountains, and
across whole continents, and never stop until they
find her, and of the myriad presents they
carry to her, of the things they see and
the things they do, as they flow searching.
It was a long story. And almost
before the end the little story teller had fallen
asleep with her head tipped back against the Tree Man’s
They spent that night in the tree,
and that was good, for a storm had risen outside,
and it was bitter cold in the forest.