112 THE ENCHANTED WREATH
doves were sitting on the handle, all of them looking very sad.
'You poor little things,' said the girl, stroking them. 'Why do you sit there and get wet? Go and fly home to your nest, it will be much warmer than this; but first eat this bread, which I saved from my dinner, and perhaps you will feel happier. It is my father's axe you are sitting on, and I must take it back as fast as I can, or I shall get a terrible scolding from my stepmother.' She then crumbled the bread on the ground, and was pleased to see the doves flutter quite cheerfully towards it.
'Good-bye,' she said, picking up the axe, and went her way homewards.
By the time they had finished all the crumbs the doves felt much better, and were able to fly back to their nests in the top of a tree.
'That is a good girl,' said one; 'I really was too weak to stretch out a wing before she came. I should like to do something to show how grateful I am.'
'Well, let us give her a wreath of flowers that will never fade as long as she wears it,' cried another.
' And let the tiniest singing birds in the world sit amongst the flowers,' rejoined the third.
'Yes, that will do beautifully,' said the first. And when the girl stepped into her cottage a wreath of rosebuds was on her head, and a crowd of little birds were singing unseen.
The father, who was sitting by the fire, thought that, in spite of her muddy clothes, he had never seen his daughter looking so lovely; but the stepmother and the other girl grew wild with envy.
'How absurd to walk about on such a pouring night, dressed up like that,' she remarked crossly, and roughly pulled off the wreath as she spoke, to place it on her own daughter. As she did so the roses became withered and brown, and the birds flew out of the window.