Dora wandered through the garden selecting leaves, branching twigs, smooth rounded stones. All were carefully carried to a shady nook, the leaves stood in a shallow saucer of water while she resumed her search. Size, shape, colour and texture, all differed. Blemishes were rejected. The twigs leaned against a nearby brick surrounded by the growing pile of stones. A small watering can stood under a bush, a trowel lay by.
The garden ate up an acre of ground. Scattered fruit trees escaped from what was once an orchard. Chickens scratched the floor of a forgotten vegetable patch. Dora’s feet pattered to and fro, here and there, her eyes busy examining and selecting, fingers gathering the spoil. The sun slipped down the sky.
Dora was aware that the day was growing cooler. She turned her attention to the flowers, carefully selecting and rejecting. Coreopsis blooms were too big, but the little green buds made lovely cushions. Brightly red, the Salvias were well shaped. But the little pink and purple Fuchsias were perfect. The blue skirts of the Agapanthus blooms contrasted with the yellows and oranges of the Red Hot Poker flowers, carefully culled from rounded heads and tall spires. She gathered the rose petals that would fall with the morning breeze and a handful of assorted blooms from here and there.
Pushing aside the lower branches of a well rounded shrub, Dora held them back with logs borrowed from the fire box. The soil was brushed with a fir-tree besom, levelled using the trowel, and damped with water from the can. It was ready for the carpet of the leaves. Kneeling, Dora picked out leaf after leaf, placing, patting, turning, fitting; sometimes she removed a section already laid, choosing an alternate pattern of shapes and colours.
When the floor was complete she built a retaining wall of smooth stones using a small flat piece of slate for a doorstep. Branching twigs, smoothed and pointed were pushed through the leafy carpet into the soil beneath and stood lifting little branches upward. Rose petals scattered across the floor along the walls, Coreopsis buds offering tiny seats among the pinks and whites. Very gently she hung the bells of the Agapanthus, the Salvias, the Pokers and the Fuchsias.
She was still busy when she heard her name called.
“Dora, where are you?”
It was Jilly-from-over-the-road. Jilly went to high school in the city, she was almost grown up. Dora was just starting school in the village. But this was school holidays and Jilly was at home. She knew everybody in the village and she visited them all. She brought Dora some of her books to read while she visited with Dora’s mother.
Dora stood up. “I’m over here, Jilly.”
“What are you doing?” Jilly looked down at the dell of leaves and flowers. “Oh, that is so pretty, Dora.”
“It’s for the fairies,” Dora explained.
The two girls got down on their knees together. Jilly adjusted a twig that was leaning a little.
“Why have you hung these flowers up, Dora?”
“Those are the ball gowns. I wanted some apple blossoms too, but I couldn’t reach them. They are nearly as pretty as the Fuchsias for dresses.”
Jilly jumped up. “Show me.”
Together they raced to the apple tree. Jilly jumped to catch a spray of blossom. Together they raced back to the ballroom to hang a few more ball gowns for the fairies. Together they pulled the lower branches of the shrub back to roof the ballroom, peering under them to ensure nothing was disturbed as they did so.
“The fairies will just love that, Dora. I brought a jumper for your baby doll. Let’s see if it fits.”
So saying she pulled the knitted garment from her pocket.
In the morning Dora visited the ballroom. The ball gowns had been pulled from the twigs and lay, some among the rose petals and some hanging in the branches overhead. Balanced on the stones forming the protecting wall were bright shining farthings. Twenty-four bright shining farthings.
Her feet carried the breathless child into the kitchen.
“Mummy, mummy, come and see what the fairies left!”
Grabbing her mother’s skirt she pulled her into the garden. Kneeling, Dora lifted a branch gently so that her mother could see. Jilly came up behind them, and knelt beside them to look into the ballroom with them.
“I told you the fairies would like it, didn’t I, Dora? And they just loved those pretty ball gowns, didn’t they?”
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