From The Sussex County Magazine: July 1931
The Fairy Wood
By E Arden Minty
One afternoon last June I was strolling along the road from Hillbrow to Rogate, in Sussex, which leads past a wood called "Fairyland." I was in no hurry, and never having explored it before decided to do so now.
I had not proceeded far along a rough path through tangled undergrowth, when I found my progress arrested by an impenetrable barrier of brambles, so leaving the track I made my way along beside the obstruction till I came to a place where something had evidently forced a way through the branches of a young hazel.
I thrust them aside and beheld a small clearing. It was carpeted with sward in the centre, but the surrounding grass was long, and sorrel was showing its russet spires above in places; low bushes covered with wild roses and various flowering creepers gave an enchanting loveliness to this natural garden, while butterflies flitted from blossom to blossom and the musical murmur of insects filled the air. Surely, thought I, if ever there was a place fitted to be frequented by fairies it is this.
The thought had scarcely taken form in my mind, when there was a movement in the long grass behind one of the bushes. Casting my eyes in that direction, I saw an object rise above the heads of the cuckoo-flowers and quiver-grass. It shone bright and golden as it caught the rays of sunlight flickering through the branches. It rose higher and displayed the loveliest little child’s face I have ever seen. The eyes were the colour of forget-me-nots, the cheeks roses, and her parted lips displayed a row of small ivory teeth, as she smiled at me, and placing a finger on her mouth, to enforce silence, beckoned to me.
Here at least is one fairy, I thought, as I quietly made my way through the opening.
"Hush," she whispered as I approached, "lie down, don’t make any sound, or you may disturb them."
"Disturb whom?" I asked in a whisper, as I obeyed.
"The Little People; don’t you see them? Look there," pointing to the centre of the dell.
I gazed in the direction in which she pointed; but only saw that the grass there was short and turf-like, with several flowering plants showing light-coloured stalks, surrounded with green leaves, and crowned with various coloured blossoms, and on the margin of the little lawn were some toad-stools.
"I only see the flowers and some butterflies," I said.
"Can’t you see the Little People? Look, now they are beginning to dance again," as a slight breeze set the plants in motion.
"I’m afraid my sight is not good enough," I answered; "no doubt if you could lend me your eyes, I should see them as well as you do."
"I can’t lend you my eyes," she said, "but I think I can show you how to see them. Do you know when I first came here I could only see the flowers the same as you. I was so disappointed, for I had been told this was the Fairy-wood, and I had come a long way all by myself and was a little frightened, till I found this beautiful spot. I was tired, so I lay down and shut my eyes. When I opened them there was a little man dressed in green with a red cap on his head. He looked at me as if he were rather angry, and said, "What are you doing here?"
"I only came because I wanted to see the fairies," I said.
"Oh! Is that all. Do you believe in them?"
"Ye-es," I answered, "at least I think so, although grown-up people say there are no such things; but I think there must be, else why should there be such a lot about them in books? They are in nearly all my story-books. Of course they don’t come in lesson books."
Then he said, "Shut your eyes." I did so, and he placed his hand over them. "Now count seven and think of seven fairies."
I did as I was told, then he removed his hand and said, "Look," and there I saw seven little people dancing, just as they are now. I wish you could see them."
"Look here," I said, "I believe you could make me see them, since you have not forgotten how you were taught to. Will you try?"
"Yes, let’s see. Oh, I remember. Do you believe in them?"
"Ye-es: at least I’d like to."
"Well, I suppose that will do. Now shut your eyes and count seven and think of fairies."
I shut my eyes, and she placed her hand over them while I counted seven and thought hard. I found I couldn’t remember the names of seven fairies, the only ones that occurred to me were Mab and Ariel, so I simply said mentally "and five others."
I had counted seven aloud (of course we were speaking in very subdued tones all the time) when she removed her hand and said,
I opened my eyes and beheld in the centre of the dell a group of tiny beings. They seemed rather vague at first, but they gradually became more distinct. They were not more than ten or twelve inches high, joining hands and dancing in a circle. Their dresses, which appeared to be of gossamer lightness and transparency, were mostly of a greenish tint, their bare limbs almost white, while their hair was of varied tints, from almost black to silver; some wore red, blue or yellow caps like harebells. Others had no covering to their heads, their tresses floated in the breeze as they whirled around to music which sounded like the tinkling of blue-bells and the buzzing of bees.
"Isn’t it lovely," whispered my companion, "You can see them now?" clasping my hand.
"Yes," I answered, "I believe I am seeing them – with your eyes, though. What are they going to do?" as the dancers suddenly stopped and separated.
"Hush, wait and see," murmured my companion.
The little creatures formed themselves into pairs. I now noticed that those whose long hair had floated on the breeze whilst dancing were girls, the others, whose hair appeared to be bobbed, were the men. They strolled about and from a faint confused piccolo-like sound which arose, appeared to be talking. They then moved to the place where the toad-stools grew and the ladies sat on them, while the men vanished through the stalks of grass; but they soon returned, bearing little trays formed of laurel leaves, laden with acorn cups containing honeydew and milk-wort, and smaller leaves on which were "butter and eggs" and "oxlip" and "daisy" sandwiches.
Having refreshed themselves, they returned to the sward and sat in a semi-circle, chattering. Now a humming sound arose from a clump of tussock-grass, and silence fell upon the group, and a girl fairy proceeded to the centre of the turf. Then facing her companions she sang: -
Oh, sweet is the light of the long summer’s day
And the warmth of the mellow noon
We are glad and rejoice at the coming of May
But we revel in leafy June;
While all day long to the skylark’s song
And at night in the rays of the moon
We dance and we play, while far, far away
Comes the sound of the turtle-dove’s croon
The Humans do say, believe it who may
That fairies are things of the past
There’s no longer a Mab, a Puck, or a Fay
Such legends were not made to last
With most of the fables they’ve vanished away
Like leaves before the gale’s blast
But the eyes of a child, alone in the wild
Can still see the beautiful past.
She ceased and resumed her seat. The band now played a waltz, and the couples began gliding around on the sward, then they again formed a circle joining hands; the music flowed faster and faster. They seemed at times to leave the ground and continue their dance in the air. A cloud hid the sun, the light in the glade became dim, a cool breeze whispered among the foliage, the group of dancing figures rose higher and higher, the circle broke up and they vanished among the trees like a swarm of gnats.
"Now you really do believe in fairies, don’t you?" said a silvery voice beside me. I started as if suddenly awakened from a dream.
"Yes, my dear," I answered, "since I’ve seen them with your eyes, there’s no doubt left in my mind; but ought you not be going home, it’s getting late; where do you live?"
"I’m staying with Aunt Annie at the Lilacs. Do you know her?"
"Yes, I know Miss Robinson; I’ll see you home."
We got up and retraced our steps through the wood to the high road. We had not proceeded far in the direction of Harting before we met Miss Robinson.
"Oh! There you are, Silvia," she cried, " where have you been? It’s tea-time. How do you do, Mr Minty? I see you have made acquaintance with my niece. Where did you find her?"
"Looking for fairies in the wood," I replied.
"Did she find any," laughing.
"I think so; at any rate, I found one."
"Well, come and have tea with us," and we all three proceeded to the Lilacs.
That night as I lay in bed, the song that the fairy sang came back to me and I fell asleep with the melody ringing in my ears. It was a beautiful air, and I determined to record it; but curiously, in the day-time I never could remember the tune, though it frequently recurred to me just before falling asleep.
I had to go to London the next day, and did not return for a fortnight, and then to my great disappointment, Silvia had terminated her visit.
I went several times to the wood again, but could not see the fairies; but then Silvia was not with me. May it not be that fairies are only to be seen through the eyes and mind of a child?