Ever since he could remember the hump always had been there. Once he asked his mother about it, but she just gathered him into her arms and said, "There, there, son, mother loves you just the same."
Of course Billy was glad that his mother loved him, but he did wish he could find somebody who would tell him all about the hump. There were so many, many questions he wanted to ask about it. "Perhaps," he would whisper to his little Scotch terrier, "perhaps the angels dropped me when they were bringing me here. What do you think about it, Bobs?" But the little Scotch terrier would just wag his tail and lazily blink his eyes as much as to say, "It's really too big a question for such a little dog to answer," and so Billy found out that he could get no information in that quarter.
One day when he was sitting in the garden in his little wheel chair, he noticed a particularly beautiful rose. As he leaned over and caressed it gently with his thin little fingers, he murmured dreamily, "I wonder if flowers have souls just like people."
"Why, of course we have," he was astonished to hear a voice say, and although he looked everywhere he could. not see a single person.
"Here I am," the voice chirped up. This time Billy looked straight at the rose and was surprised to see a dainty little fairy peeping out from among its petals.
"Why - why - who are you?" gasped Billy, his big eyes very round.
"I'm the soul of this rose," answered the fairy with an airy grace.
"And have all the other flowers, souls, too?" inquired Billy looking rather puzzled.
"Why, of course," said the fairy promptly. I thought everybody knew that."
Suddenly Billy remembered about the hump and wheeling his chair a little closer to the fairy he said eagerly, "Oh, do you think you could tell me about this-" here the little boy swallowed rather hard, "this hump? Why do I have it?"
There was silence in the garden for a moment, then the fairy said very slowly and impressively, "Everything has a purpose, you know."
"But I really don't want it, you see," persisted Billy. "It seems rather silly to have it when it isn't a bit of use," he went on in a plaintive little voice, "and, besides, I can't play and have a good time like other little boys."
"I don't know whether I can do anything for you or not," said the fairy. "However, I will call a meeting of the fairies tonight and we will talk it over."
"And will you tell them that I want to be straight and strong like other boys?" came in tense tones from Billy.
The fairy nodded her head and said, "Be here tomorrow afternoon and I will let you know the answer." Then the rose petals closed up and the little creature was lost to view.
Just then some visitors sauntered into the garden and catching sight of Billy, one of them, a very beautiful girl, murmured, "How dreadful!" She didn't mean Billy to hear, but he did catch the words, and later, when his mother went to get him, she found him a quivering little bundle of wounded feelings.
"Why, Billy, son !" she exclaimed. "You mustn't cry so. See - you are making mother feel bad."
"But - but, she looked at me so, mother." Then he sobbed out his story in her arms.
"Listen, son, his mother said quietly. "Your body is only the little house in which you live. It's your soul inside of you that really counts."
Then Billy's face cleared because he remembered about the fairy and all the way to the house he kept whispering, "Tomorrow, I'll know - tomorrow I'll know."
As his mother tucked him in bed that night she wondered at the happy, peaceful look on his face. When she bent over to kiss him, she said tenderly, "What makes my little boy so happy tonight?" And Billy murmured sleepily, "It's a secret, mother dear - perhaps - tomorrow," and his voice trailed off into dreamland.
The next day he was in a fever of excitement. He could hardly wait for the afternoon to arrive so anxious was he to see the fairy again. When his nurse placed him in his wheel chair she noticed his flushed cheeks and said with great concern, "I do hope, Master Billy, you are not catching anything."
"Oh, I 'm all right, nurse," returned Billy, his eyes shining. "But I do wish you would hurry." Then he gave her careful directions as to where he wished his chair placed.
Just as soon as the nurse had disappeared into the house, Billy cried softly, "I'm here, fairy-rose," and the next instant the fairy's face came peeping through the petals.
"What did they say?" began Billy eagerly.
"S-sh," whispered the fairy. "The Queen decided to hold a meeting right here in the garden and here she comes now."
Looking up, Billy saw a fairy coming down the path. She was dressed in shining raiment which glittered when she walked. She stopped in front of Billy 's chair and said, "Are you the little boy who wants to be made well and strong?" Billy nodded, too overcome to speak.
The Queen then waved her wand over the garden and immediately little faces peeped out from all the flowers.
"Listen, fairies." commanded the Queen. "Here is a little boy who wants to be made straight and strong. As the fairies started to talk she held up her wand and said, "Wait! We will let him speak for himself."
Billy felt rather shy at being the center of so much attention, but he knew they were waiting and so he began: "I - I want to be like other boys so that I can play all of their games. Besides, if I didn't have any hump the people wouldn't look at me and say, 'How dreadful!' Please, fairies," cried Billy appealingly, "please take away the hump!"
The fairies talked among themselves for some time and although Billy listened intently he could not make out a word they were saying.
At length there was silence and then the Queen spoke: "Billy, I'm afraid we shall not be able to take away the hump, but we will help you to build such a beautiful soul that people will love you wherever you go - just for yourself, and they will forget all about the hump."
Of course Billy was disappointed - bitterly disappointed. He kept his face hidden for some time because he knew it was stained with tears, and he was rather ashamed to let the fairies see that he had been crying.
Presently the Fairy Queen continued: "And we will give you such a wonderful imagination that you will be able to make up games that other boys would never think of. And whenever you wish you may enter 'Make-believe land,' and have the most wonderful adventures there. You see this land is meant for little boys like you. The door is locked to boys who are straight and strong."
And suddenly Billy felt a wonderful peace steal over him, and he became very, very happy. When he lifted his head he discovered that the Queen and all the fairies had disappeared and that his nurse was coming for him.
"Why, Master Billy," she exclaimed in astonishment. "You - you look different somehow!"
"I feel different and I am different, nursie dear," replied Billy sweetly as he leaned back in his chair. "After this I am going to be the happiest boy alive." On his face a strange, sweet expression rested which comes only to those who have sensed the reality of holy things.