Accordingly Nils applied himself with all his might and main to his music, in the intervals between his work.
He was big enough now to accompany his father to the woods, and help him pile turf and earth on the heap of logs that were to be burned to charcoal. He did not see the Hulder face to face, though he was constantly on the watch for her; but once or twice he thought he saw a swift flash of scarlet and gold in the underbrush, and again and again he thought he heard her soft, teasing laughter in the alder copses. That, too, he imagined he might express in music; and the next time he got hold of the schoolmaster's fiddle he quavered away on the fourth string, but produced nothing that had the remotest resemblance to melody, much less to that sweet laughter.
He grew so discouraged that he could have wept. He had a wild impulse to break the fiddle, and never touch another as long as he lived. But he knew he could not live up to any such resolution. The fiddle was already too dear to him to be renounced for a momentary whim. But it was like an unrequited affection, which brought as much sorrow as joy.
There was so much that Nils burned to express; but the fiddle refused to obey him, and screeched something utterly discordant, as it seemed, from sheer perversity.
It occurred to Nils again, that unless the Nixy took pity on him and taught him that marvellous, airy strain he would never catch it. Would he then ever be good enough to win the favor of the Nixy?
For in the fairy tales it is always the bad people who come to grief, while the good and merciful ones are somehow rewarded.
It was evidently because he was yet far from being good enough that both Hulder and Nixy eluded him. Sunday child though he was, there seemed to be small chance that he would ever be able to propound his three wishes.
Only now, the third wish was no longer a five-bladed pocket-knife, but a violin of so fine a ring and delicate modulation that it might render the Nixy's strain.