A TALE OF THE TONTLAWALD 5
rushed madly away, all except Elsa, who had strayed farther than the rest, and had found a bed of the finest strawberries right under the trees. Like the others, she heard the boy's cry, but could not make up her mind to leave the strawberries.
'After all, what does it matter?' thought she. 'The dwellers in the Tontlawald cannot be worse than my stepmother ' ; and looking up she saw a little black dog with a silver bell on its neck come barking towards her, followed by a maiden clad all in silk.
' Be quiet,' said she ; then turning to Elsa she added : ' I am so glad you did not run away with the other children. Stay here with me and be my friend, and we will play delightful games together, and every day we will go and gather strawberries. Nobody will dare to beat you if I tell them not. Come, let us go to my mother'; and taking Elsa's hand she led her deeper into the wood, the little black clog jumping up beside them and barking with pleasure.
Oh! what wonders and splendours unfolded themselves before Elsa's astonished eyes! She thought she really must be in Heaven. Fruit trees and bushes loaded with fruit stood before them, while birds gayer than the brightest butterfly sat in their branches and rilled the air with their song. And the birds were not shy, but let the girls take them in their hands, and stroke their gold and silver feathers. In the centre of the garden was the dwelling-house, shining with glass and precious stones, and in the doorway sat a woman in rich garments, who turned to Elsa's companion and asked:
' What sort of a guest are you bringing to me?'
' I found her alone in the wood,' replied her daughter, ' and brought her back with me for a companion. You will let her stay ?'
The mother laughed, but said nothing, only she looked Elsa up and down sharply. Then she told the girl to come near, and stroked her cheeks and spoke kindly to