6 A TALE OF THE TONTLAWALD
her, asking if her parents were alive, and if she really would like to stay with them. Elsa stooped and kissed her hand, then, kneeling down, buried her face in the woman's lap, and sobbed out:
'My mother has lain for many years under the ground. My father is still alive, but I am nothing to him, and my stepmother beats me all the clay long. I can do nothing-right, so let me, I pray you, stay with you. I will look after the flocks or do any work you tell me; I will obey your lightest word; only do not, I entreat you, send me back to her. She will half kill me for not having come back with the other children.'
And the woman smiled and answered, ' Well, we will see what we can do with you,' and, rising, went into the house.
Then the daughter said to Elsa, ' Fear nothing, my mother will be your friend. I saw by the way she looked that she would grant your request when she had thought over it,' and, telling Elsa to wait, she entered the house to seek her mother. Elsa meanwhile was tossed about between hope and fear, and felt as if the girl would never come.
At last Elsa saw her crossing the grass with a box in her hand.
' My mother says we may play together to-day, as she wants to make up her mind what to do about you. But I hope you will stay here always, as I can't bear you to go away. Have you ever been on the sea ?'
' The sea?' asked Elsa, staring ; ' what is that? I 've never heard of such a thing!'
' Oh, I'll soon show you,' answered the girl, taking the lid from the box, and at the very bottom lay a scrap of a cloak, a mussel shell, and two fish scales. Two drops of water were glistening on the cloak, and these the girl shook on the ground. In an instant the garden and lawn and everything else had vanished utterly, as if the earth had opened and swallowed them up. Sand as far as the eye