The Making of an Opal is a story taken from Fairies I Have Met. A wonderful collection of fairy tales, originally penned by Mrs Rodolph Stawell, accompanied by Edmund Dulac’s splendid colour illustrations. It was written for a little girl named Penelope, ‘so that she may love the fairies, and keep the sunbeam always in her heart.’
A story from the town of Crystal Mountain, a wedding dress cut from a rainbow, and a stone made with the mist of sunshine.
The Making of the Opal
A Fairy Story
THE opal was the last of the precious stones to be made. And this was how it happened.
Long, long ago—so long ago that no one had ever seen a ruby or a sapphire or an emerald—there was a Princess who had a great many friends among the fairies. Because they loved her they called her the Dear Princess, and the country in which she lived was known as the Crystal Mountain. It was the delight of the fairies to do her bidding, to fly and fly over hill and dale to fetch her anything she wished to have. Sometimes she wished to have very curious things, because all the ordinary things that Princesses like to have had been brought to her long ago by the fairies. If she wanted things that no one had ever heard of before, the fairies would set to work to make them for her. One day she said—
“Oh, Fairies dear, I am going to be married. I am going to marry the Prince of the Far Land over the Hill, and the wedding is to be the grandest ever seen. My dress is lovely: it was cut out of a rainbow on purpose for me, and trimmed with the edge of a sunset cloud. But what am I to wear in my hair?”
Now, the Princess’s hair hung over her in dark waves, like a long cloak.
“Flowers!” cried the fairies. “Quick—quick—let us fly for flowers to twist in the Dear Princess’s hair!”
So they all flew away, some in one direction and some in another, while the Dear Princess of the Crystal Mountain sat and waited, with her cloud of hair hanging round her.
Very soon she saw them flying back, some from gardens and some from orchards, and some from the hills where the heather grew, and some from country lanes where the flowers were very sweet, and some from hothouses where the flowers were very rare. Wherever they came from they were all laden with flowers. Some brought roses, red and white and yellow; some brought heavy white lilies; some brought long trails of honeysuckle. Some were carrying great bundles of forget-me-nots; others had strange flowers from distant countries; others had bunches of golden daffodils. They crowded round the Dear Princess, and laid the flowers in great heaps beside her.
“Wear my roses!” cried one. “See how the crimson of them glows in your dark hair!”
“Wear my daffodils!” cried another. “See how they shine like gold!”
“Wear my lilies!” cried a third, “for they match your lily-face!”
Then they all held up the flowers against the Princess’s dark hair, to see which looked the best; red, or yellow, or white. The Princess herself found it very hard to make up her mind, because they were all so beautiful that she would have liked to wear them all. First she chose one, and then another, and then she thought that, after all, a third would look the best.
This went on for so long that at last the flowers died.
“Ah, look,” said the Princess, “the flowers are dead!”
“Oh dear, oh dear!” cried all the fairies together. “The flowers are dead! What shall we do now?”
The Princess sat down among the dead flowers, and thought.
“I must have something that will not die,” she said at last, “something stronger than flowers. In my dark hair I must have something that will gleam and sparkle. I must have colour that will not fade, a dewdrop that will not melt, a spark of fire that will not go out.”
“Dear me!” said the fairies; and they said no more for some time, for they were thinking that the Dear Princess wanted a good deal.
After a time three of them began talking together all at once, as if a very good idea had suddenly come into their heads.
Then these three spread their wings and flew away. They flew far away from the Princess and her palace, far from the other fairies, up and up to the heights of the Crystal Mountain. Then each of them chipped off a little piece of the rock at the top of the mountain, and each, as he did it, laughed aloud gleefully. Then each little fairy tucked his chip of rock under his arm; and they all nodded to each other, still laughing, and spread their wings again, and flew off in different directions.
The first of the three, with his chip of rock under his arm, flew straight to the sea-shore. On the shore, close to the shining blue sea, there lived a very nice mermaid who was a great friend of the fairy’s. So he flew to her with the bit of crystal rock and said—
“Mermaid, mermaid, here is a chip from the Crystal Mountain. Take it for me, and dip it into the darkest and deepest deep of the blue sea.”
So the mermaid took the crystal chip and dived down with it into the darkest and deepest deep of the blue sea.
Now, it is well known that whatever is touched by the deepest deep of the sea is changed by it for ever, and becomes itself a part of the sea. And so, when the mermaid brought the chip of crystal back to the fairy it had become like a chip of the sea—shining and gleaming and deep, deep blue.
And that was the first sapphire.
And when the second fairy left the Crystal Mountain with his little bit of rock under his arm, he flew to the great forest where the wood-pixies lived.
“Pixies, pixies,” he called to them, “here is a chip from the Crystal Mountain. Take it for me into the darkest and deepest deep of the green forest, and do not bring it back to me till the green of the forest has sunk into its very heart.”
Of course you must have noticed that the wood-pixies have the gift of making things green; for every one knows that in the forest where they live everything is green—the trees and the grass and the soft moss. And the shade under the trees is dark, dark green, and here and there where the sun peeps through, the green is very bright. So the pixies took the chip of crystal away with them into the darkest deep of the forest and laid it in the green moss where the green shadows were darkest under the green trees. And after a time the magic of the pixies began to work, and the greenness of the forest sank into the very heart of the crystal. Then they carried it back to the fairy, and he saw that the greenness of the deep shadows had sunk into the heart of the crystal, and because the sunshine had peeped through the trees there was a glint of light in it.
And that was the first emerald.
When the third fairy left the Crystal Mountain with his little bit of rock under his arm, he flew away to that other mountain where the fire-gnomes worked underground. At the top of the fire-mountain there was a great hole, and when the fairy stood at the edge and looked in he could see the gnomes at work, keeping the fire alight that warms the world. So he called out to them—
“Fire-gnomes, fire-gnomes, here is a chip from the Crystal Mountain. Take it for me into the hottest and deepest deep of the fire, and keep it there until its heart is glowing red.”
So the fire-gnomes took the chip of crystal and carried it down, down into the deepest deep of the fire that warms the world. And the fire sparkled and glowed and wrapped it round. And before very long the crystal began to glow too as it lay in the fire, for of course a fire that is hot enough to warm the world is hot enough to warm a chip of rock. So the fire-gnomes picked it up again and carried it back to the fairy who was waiting at the edge of the great hole; and he saw that the heart of the crystal chip was crimson and glowing like a fire.
And that was the first ruby.
Then he flew away from the fire-mountain with the ruby safely tucked under his arm, and went back to the Dear Princess. At the same moment the fairy with the emerald arrived from the forest, and the fairy with the sapphire came back from the sea. They flew to the feet of the Dear Princess, and held out the beautiful stones to her.
The Princess clapped her hands and cried—
“Oh, how splendid, how splendid they are! The blue is like a bit of the dark sea, and the green is like the shade of the forest with the sun peeping in, and the red is like the red heart of the fire!”
Then the first fairy laid the sapphire against her dark hair.
“You must wear it on your wedding-day,” he said.
But the second fairy held up the emerald and said—
“No, no, this is what you must wear!”
And the third fairy laughed and cried—
“How silly they are! Any one can see that red is the colour to wear in your dark hair!”
The Princess looked from one to the other and was puzzled. She thought all the stones were so beautiful that she would have liked to wear them all; but she did not think they would look really nice all together.
“What am I to do?” she said, puckering up her forehead. “How can I choose when they are all so beautiful?”
Then there was a very long discussion about it. Each of the three fairies wished his own stone to be worn, and the Princess could not tell what to do.
“Each of them is quite beautiful,” she said, “but, dear fairies, I am obliged to say that I do not like the look of them all together!”
All this time a very small fairy had been sitting quietly in the corner, saying nothing, but thinking a great deal. He came forward now and spoke.
“Give the stones to me,” he said, “and I will settle the question.”
So he took the three stones and flew away, far up into the sky, above the Princess’s dark head, above the houses and the trees, above the Crystal Mountain even, into the misty sunshine behind the clouds.
Then he called to the sun-fairies—
“Sun-fairies, sun-fairies, melt me these stones in your furnace. Melt them, and mix them, and make them into one stone. And soften their colours with mist of sunshine, so that my Dear Princess may wear them all together in her hair.”
So the sun-fairies carried the three stones away, and melted them all into one, and mixed them with mist of sunshine, and it lay over the colours like a cloud. And then there was only one stone, but it was a great big one, and as beautiful as all the others put together. For, you see, that was just what it was.
The small fairy took it carefully into his tiny arms and flew down again through the clouds, past the Crystal Mountain and past the tops of the trees, to the feet of the Dear Princess.
He held up the great gleaming stone to her, and she thought she had never seen anything so beautiful. For the blue of the sea was in it, and the green shade of the forest, and the red heart of fire. And over the colours the mist of sunshine lay like a veil.
And that was the first opal.
Of course the Dear Princess of the Crystal Mountain wore the great opal on the day that she was married to the Prince of the Far Land over the Hill. And when she was an old, old Princess, with white hair instead of dark, she often showed the opal to her grandchildren, and told them how it was made of blue sea, and green shadows, and fire, melted all together by the fairies and mixed with mist of sunshine.