THE STORY OF THE YEAR 433
on hues of red and gold, and beauteous tints spread over all the woodland. The rose bush gleamed with scarlet hips ; the elder-branches hung down with great heavy bunches of dark berries ; the wild chestnuts fell ripe from their dark husks ; and in the depths of the forests the violets bloomed for the second time.
But the Queen of the Year became more and more silent, and paler and paler.
' It blows cold,' she said, ' and night brings damp mists. I long for the land of my childhood.'
And she saw the storks fly away, one and all ; and she stretched forth her hands towards them. She looked up at the nests, which stood empty. In one of them the long-stalked cornflower was growing ; in another, the yellow mustard-seed, as if the nest were only there for its protection; and the Sparrows were flying up into the storks' nests.
' Piep ! where has the master gone ? I suppose he can't bear it when the wind blows, and that therefore he has left the country. I wish him a pleasant journey ! '
The forest leaves became more and more yellow, leaf fell down upon leaf, and the stormy winds of autumn howled. The year was now far advanced, and the Queen of the Year reclined upon the fallen yellow leaves, and looked with mild eyes at the gleaming star, and her husband stood by her. A gust swept through the leaves, it fell again, and the Queen was gone, but a butterfly, the last of the season, flew through the cold air.
The wet fogs came, an icy wind blew, and the long dark nights drew on apace. The Ruler of the Year stood there with locks white as snow, but he knew not it was his hair that gleamed so white—he thought snowflakes were falling from the clouds ; and soon a thin covering of snow was spread over the fields.
And then the church bells rang for the Christmas-time.
1 The bells ring for the new-born,' said the Ruler of the Year. * Soon the new King and Queen will be born ; and I shall go to rest, as my wife has done—to rest in the gleaming star.'
And in the fresh green fir-wood, where the snow lay, stood the Angel of Christmas, and consecrated the young trees that were to adorn his feast.