ONCE upon a time, a woodcutter and his wife lived in their cottage on the edge of a large and ancient forest. They had two dear little children who met with a most wonderful adventure
But, before telling you all about it, I must describe the children to you and let you know something of their character; for, if they had not been so sweet and brave and plucky, the curious story which you are about to hear would never have happened at all.
Tyltyl – that was our hero's name – was ten years old; and Mytyl, his little sister, was only six.
Tyltyl was a fine, tall little fellow, stout and well-setup, with curly black hair which was often in a tangle, for he was fond of a romp. He was a great favourite because of his smiling and good-tempered face and the bright look in his eyes; but, best of all, he had the ways of a bold and fearless little man, which showed the noble qualities of his heart. When, early in the morning, he trotted along the forest-road by the side of his daddy, Tyl the woodcutter, for all his shabby clothes he looked so proud and gallant that every beautiful thing on the earth and in the sky seemed to lie in wait for him to smile upon him as he passed.
His little sister was very different, but looked ever so sweet and pretty in her long frock, which Mummy Tyl kept neatly patched for her. She was as fair as her brother was dark; and her large timid eyes were blue as the forget-me-nots in the fields. Anything was enough to frighten her and she would cry at the least thing; but her little child's soul already held the highest womanly qualities: she was loving and gentle and so fondly devoted to her brother that, rather than abandon him, she did not hesitate to undertake a long and dangerous journey in his company.
What happened and how our little hero and heroine went off into the world one night in search of happiness: that is the subject of my story.
Daddy Tyl's cottage was the poorest of the countryside; and it seemed even more wretched because it stood opposite a splendid hall in which rich children lived. From the windows of the cottage you could see what went on inside the Hall when the dining-room and drawing-rooms were lit up in the evening. And, in the daytime, you saw the little children playing on the terraces, in the gardens and in the hot-houses which people came all the way from town to visit because they were always filled with the rarest flowers.
Now, one evening which was not like other evenings, for it was Christmas Eve, Mummy Tyl put her little ones to bed and kissed them even more lovingly than usual. She felt a little sad, because owing to the stormy weather, Daddy Tyl was not able to go to work in the forest; and so she had no money to buy presents with which to fill Tyltyl and Mytyl's stockings. The Children soon fell asleep, everything was still and silent and not a sound was heard but the purring of the cat, the snoring of the dog and the ticking of the great grandfather's clock. But suddenly a light as bright as day crept through the shutters, the lamp upon the table lit again of itself and the two Children awoke, yawned, rubbed their eyes, stretched out their arms in bed and Tyltyl, in a cautious voice called: