In a little thatched cottage at the very edge of a small village there lived a little old lady, all alone.
Her husband had died years ago and they never had any children, and so she tended her vegetable garden and a small flock of chickens by herself, and was happy enough most of the day, though sometimes, at night, she grew a bit lonely.
She was a good gardener and had quite a large vegetable patch that kept her in fresh greens throughout the summer and furnished her with potatoes and parsnips and cabbages enough to last through the winter.
But her real joy was in the flower bed that lay at the side of the cottage just beneath her bedroom window. She especially loved the tall, bright tulips that came up each year.
One warm summer evening when the moon was just about to be full, the little old lady finished her supper, cleaned up her tiny kitchen and then went off to say her prayers and go to bed.
She blew out her lamp and climbed into bed as she did each night, then lay quietly looking at the shaft of moonlight that came in through the open window and thinking about her day, and about the days long ago when she was young and used to look at the moonlight on her blankets before she went to sleep.
And then she heard something.
It sounded like a baby giggling, far away, and then another, and another, soft and faint.
Now, there are many animals that can sound in the night like a baby crying, but there aren’t any animals that sound like a baby giggling in the night. The little old lady listened to the sound and wondered who was out in the night with babies, and why they were laughing so.
Gradually, the sounds died away and a new sound came to her: the sound of singing, soft and sweet.
The little old lady sat up on the edge of her bed and looked out the window. In the moonlight, she could see the meadow that went from her cottage down to the river, and she could see the dark trees of the forest beyond.
Perhaps a band of travelers had stopped for the night in the woods, she thought. She looked to find a glow from their fires, through the trees or perhaps reflected from the leaves at the top of the forest. But the only light came from the moon.
She lay back down in her bed, listening to the soft, sweet singing, and soon she fell asleep.
The next day, as she worked in her garden, she thought about those giggles, and the soft songs, and she smiled to herself at the memory. Whoever they were, she thought, they had probably moved on now, though she hadn’t seen any caravans come through the village.
But that night, as she lay down to go to sleep, she heard again the quiet sounds of babies giggling, and then the sound of soft, sweet song, and this time she noticed that the singing began just before the giggling ended, and so she knew that, wherever they were, these mothers were softly singing their happy babies to sleep.
She sat up on the edge of her bed and looked across at the forest, but, just as on the night before, there was no glow from fires.
Then, as she sat listening, she realized that the sound was not coming from the forest. She put her head closer to the window. Yes! The soft sound was not distant at all, but came from the flower bed just below.
The little old lady knew better than to put her head out and look. She quietly lay back down and listened to the singing until she fell asleep, and again she awoke with a smile at the memory of those sweet songs.
But the next night, instead of going to bed, she quietly stole out the front door of her cottage and crept up to the corner closest to the flower bed, then slowly peeked around. There she saw the tulips swaying back and forth in the moonlight, although there was no breeze to move them, and soon she heard, coming from inside the tulips, the sound of babies giggling.
And as the moon came out, she saw the tiny fairy mothers, rocking the tulips back and forth as their babies giggled with joy. Then the mothers began to sing sweet lullabies, and to rock the tulips more gently and slowly, until the giggling stopped and their little babies were all fast asleep.
The little old lady quietly crept back into her cottage and went to bed and never again tried to see the fairies, for she knew that, if they found her looking at them, they would leave forever.
Instead, from then on, she simply lay in bed each night from spring to fall, enjoying the sounds of the happy babies and their sweet mothers, and then let those sounds keep a smile on her face all the day after, and all through the long winter besides.
In the village, everyone knew what a fine garden the little old lady kept, but soon they began to remark upon her flower bed, and particularly her tulips, for each spring it seemed they bloomed sooner than they had the year before, and each fall they held their blossoms longer than any other tulips in the village, and each year they grew brighter and taller than ever.
Mortals do not live forever, of course, and after many years the little old lady died and was buried in the village churchyard next to her husband. Her cottage was sold to a man who didn’t care for flowers. He guessed the soil there must be fertile indeed, however, so he dug up all the tulip bulbs and planted herbs instead, hoping to sell them in the market in town.
But nothing ever grew there again, once the tulips were gone.
text by Mike Peterson, c. 2005 - illustrations by Marina Tay, c. 2005